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Iran president’s Jewish New Year wishes weren’t in Persian

Hassan Rouhani’s ‘Shanah Tovah’ greeting on Twitter only sent out in English, suggesting international audience

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stands next to a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as he leaves at the end of a press conference in Tehran on June 13, 2015. (AFP Photo/Behrouz Mehri)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stands next to a portrait of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as he leaves at the end of a press conference in Tehran on June 13, 2015. (AFP Photo/Behrouz Mehri)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s greetings to the Jewish people on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, were tweeted only in English and not in Persian.

In a message on his official Twitter account on Sunday, Rouhani wrote: “May our shared Abrahamic roots deepen respect & bring peace & mutual understanding. L’Shanah Tovah. #RoshHashanah”

The message was accompanied by a 2006 Reuters image of Jews praying in Yousefabad Synagogue in Tehran. L’Shanah Tovah is Hebrew for, May it be a good year.

But the comment did not appear on the Persian language version of Rouhani’s Twitter account, suggesting the Iranian president was targeting his comments toward an international audience at a time when the Iranian nuclear deal with world powers faces ratification amid strong Israeli opposition.

This is not the first time that a Rosh Hashanah greeting has been attributed to Rouhani. In 2013, a message claiming to be from Rouhani was posted on Twitter, reading “As the sun is about to set here in #Tehran I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah.”

Iran denied that the president, who had taken office not long before, had tweeted the greeting.

“Mr. Rouhani does not have a tweeter (sic) account,” presidential adviser Mohammad Reza Sadeq was quoted by Iran’s Fars news agency as saying on the matter.

But the Twitter handle in the 2013 greeting is the same as the one that is today widely acknowledged to be Rouhani’s official account, which was the one used in Sunday’s “Shanah Tovah” tweet.

Iran had between 80,000 and 100,000 Jews before the 1979 Islamic Revolution but most have since fled, mainly to the United States, Israel and Europe. There are now only about 8,500, mostly in Tehran but also in Isfahan and Shiraz, major cities south of the capital.

Since Rouhani took office, his government agreed to allow Jewish schools to be closed on Saturdays to mark Shabbat, the day of rest. Rouhani also allocated the equivalent of $400,000 to a Jewish charity hospital in Tehran and invited the country’s only Jewish lawmaker to accompany him to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2013.

Iran does not recognize Israel and supports anti-Israeli terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei routinely urges the Jewish state’s extinction and anticipates its demise.

With one designated member of parliament, Iran’s Jewish community is one of three officially recognized religious minorities. Armenian Christians have two designated MPs, while Assyrian-Chaldeans and Zoroastrians have one each.

Still, many Iranian Jews complain they are not treated equally under the law, Homayoun Sameyah Najaf Abadi, the head of Tehran’s Jewish community and a doctor at Tehran’s Jewish Hospital, said earlier this year. Key positions in government are off-limits and there is some legal discrimination.

AFP contributed to this report

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