In an unprecedented interview, a former senior Iranian cleric and current opposition figure spoke with an Israeli television news channel Monday night from Tehran, and called for an end to hostilities between the countries.
“It is time for the Iranian regime to stop inventing enemies that don’t exist,” the former ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani told Israel’s Channel 12 news.
Masoumi-Tehrani, who had the honor of the “ayatollah” title revoked by Tehran due to his disagreements with the regime, said he has “no problem” with the Jewish state.
He also derided the Islamic Republic’s frequent declarations of its intention to destroy Israel: “Don’t forget, these slogans were also said by [late former Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein, and we know where he is today.”
Masoumi-Tehrani said the Islamic Republic is a dictatorship that stifles dissenting opinions and freedom of speech.
Asked if he feared for his life for speaking to an Israeli TV station, he told interviewer Ohad Hemo: “I have been speaking clearly for 20 years. If they don’t like that I’m talking to you or anyone else, it’s their problem.”
“Iranians and Jews have many years of friendship,” he said. “I haven’t met Iranians who don’t have a positive opinion of Israel.”
“We don’t have a problem — not with Israel and not with any other country in the world,” he added.
He said he would come to Israel if his health allows it, adding that his longtime wish has been to go to Jerusalem and “pray at the Western Wall.”
“With God’s help, if I stay alive, I would love to meet you and witness the end of the illogical hostility between the Iranian and Israeli peoples,” he said.
Masoumi-Tehrani published a religious ruling against the appointment of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the 1980s, and told Channel 12: “From my prior knowledge of him, I argued that he will surely ruin both the religion and the country. For that and for opposing him, I served five years in prison. That disagreement continues to this day.”
The cleric has been arrested many times over his opposition to the regime. He is a prominent advocate for separation of church and state, for minority rights, and for the right to protest against the leadership.
An accomplished calligrapher, Masoumi-Tehrani recently wrote a Hebrew copy of the Bible’s book of Ezra, the TV report said. He said he has been questioned multiple times over many issues, including his Hebrew calligraphy.
Iran severed all ties with Israel following the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Khamenei and other Iranian leaders frequently advocate the elimination of the Jewish state.
While Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, Israel, the US and much of the international community believe Iran has been working toward a nuclear arsenal. Israel’s Mossad smuggled a trove of Iranian documentation out of Tehran in 2018, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said proved that “Iran lied” when denying its nuclear arms goals. Netanyahu has vowed to prevent Iran from attaining the bomb.