First person

How Neda Amin came to Israel

Fearing deportation from Turkey, possibly back to Iran, a Times of Israel Persian blogger pleaded for Israel to let her in. Our country’s response was admirable

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Neda Amin is welcomed by Times of Israel's David Horovitz at Ben-Gurion Airport, August 10, 2017. (Times of Israel staff)
Neda Amin is welcomed by Times of Israel's David Horovitz at Ben-Gurion Airport, August 10, 2017. (Times of Israel staff)

I barely knew Neda Amin’s name before late last month. An Iranian-born journalist, blogger and rights activist who was critical of the regime, she had left Iran for Turkey in 2014, and had written a single freelance piece for The Times of Israel from there last year. I had never met her. I hadn’t even spoken with her.

But then she contacted us, and told us her life was in danger. She had been blogging frequently on The Times of Israel Persian, one of our foreign language sites. And her writing for an Israeli news site, along with her other writing elsewhere, had apparently made life difficult for her in Turkey.

She told us — in writing, and in a few very short phone conversations — that her life was in danger. She had been questioned repeatedly by Turkish police, and had now been told that she faced being kicked out of the country. Furthermore, if no country would take her in, she said she was told, she would be sent back to Iran — where the worst could happen.

She said that she was supposed to have protection from the UN, but she did not believe that this would keep her safe. She had not written against the authorities in Turkey, but it had been made clear to her that her public criticism of the Iranian regime, and her writing for an Israeli site, were not tolerable.

She also contacted the Israeli authorities, and made a plea that she be allowed to come here.

Neda speaks a little English. It was enough for her to say to me, on the phone, “Mr. Horovitz, please save me.”

After gathering more of her details, I contacted a few people — Israeli and others — who I thought might be able to advise me, and to help Neda.

And they did. The readiness to help was quite remarkable. Almost nobody told me there was nothing they could do or nothing to be done.

She said she has Jewish heritage — that her late father’s mother was Jewish. I don’t know if that was a factor in the Israeli response; I tend to think not.

I don’t know which of the people I turned to played the critical roles. (And I wasn’t the only one acting on her behalf: The NGO UN Watch started a petition for her, and the Jerusalem Journalists Association wrote directly to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.) What I do know is that very soon after I shared the details of Neda’s case, the Israeli authorities wheeled into action. Whatever checks needed to be made were evidently made. Whatever decisions needed to be taken were evidently taken.

At the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, Consul-General Shai Cohen and Yaffa Olivitski, who handles consular affairs, established contact with Neda, and went far out of their way to help. Paperwork was organized. And I was told that Neda was going to be allowed to fly to Israel, with an appropriate visa.

I had felt that since Israel in general, and The Times of Israel in particular, was a factor in her life being in danger, we had an obligation to try to ensure that no harm came to her. The State of Israel clearly felt the same.

Her departure was not entirely smooth. When she was first due to fly to Tel Aviv, and went to the airport, it turned out that she was missing a form that needed to be issued by Turkish police. She wasn’t allowed to fly without it. Unfortunately, her mobile phone was out of power at this point, and she wasn’t able to update us. She was off the radar for a few hours, and somebody somewhere put two and two together to make five, and leaked word to the Hebrew media that she had been arrested.

She hadn’t. And she wasn’t. And two days later — in the early hours of Thursday — she returned to the airport, form in hand, and was able to board her flight to Tel Aviv. With her dog, I might add — a 27-kilo German Shepherd named Chika who is the love of her life.

Iranian-born journalist Neda Amin at the The Times of Israel's Jerusalem office, August 10, 2017 (Tamar Pileggi/TOI)
Iranian-born journalist Neda Amin at The Times of Israel’s Jerusalem office, August 10, 2017 (Tamar Pileggi/TOI)

I spent part of Thursday with Neda, hearing more of her story.

By her telling, the past year and a half has been difficult to terrifying. She says she was called in for questioning by Turkish security authorities no fewer than six times, accused of being a spy, offered large sums of money to work for them, threatened with deportation to Iran.

At one session, she asked them, “Is it illegal to write for Israeli media?” No, she was told. “So why all the investigations?” Because, came the answer, “We don’t like working with Israel, and we don’t like you working with Israel.”

She said her apartment was broken into recently; she thinks Chika scared off whoever it was. For the past few weeks, she had not been sleeping at home — too scared to do so.

She was told she would face deportation on or after August 5, and was fighting that order in the Turkish courts when Israel opened its doors to her.

I’m sure there’s a lot more to her story. I have no idea how it will continue from here.

But as a journalist who is frequently critical of much that is done here, who worries about many aspects of where this country is headed, I feel rather proud of the State of Israel today.

We believed that a life was in danger, and we acted to ensure that the danger was averted. A little episode in the life of our nation. A good little episode.

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