At the United Nations General Assembly last week, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani declared that “a new chapter has started in Iran’s relations with the world.”
Here at The Times of Israel, we couldn’t be happier, because his announcement happens to coincide with the launch of The Times of Israel Persian.
Unfortunately, Rouhani’s ostensible outreach to the world has not extended to Israel. Last year, at a World Economic Forum in Davos, for instance, he said Iran was ready to engage in diplomatic relations with all countries, but when subsequently asked if that included ours, he elaborated: “We wish for a better future and to have beneficial relations with all that we recognize” (my italics). Iran most certainly does not recognize Israel, and its supreme leader Ali Khamenei — Rouhani’s boss — repeatedly calls for Israel’s elimination.
By contrast, The Times of Israel’s Persian edition is emphatically aimed at opening communications with all Persian speakers, inside and outside Iran, and reflects our conviction that decent journalism is potent in reducing hostility and smashing stereotypes. Israel and Iran had close ties not so many decades ago. Even today, despite systematic religious persecution by the Islamic regime, Iran has the largest number of Jews in the Middle East after Israel — lingering evidence of a Jewish connection to Persia that dates back almost three millennia. There is no sense in Israel of a profound quarrel with the people of Iran — only with a regime that relentlessly demonizes the Jewish state.
Our goal for The Times of Israel Persian is to report accurately and engagingly for Persian-speaking readers, with material that focuses on events and developments in Israel, Iran and beyond. We aim to show Israel and the Jewish world in all its diversity to Persian readers, and to give them access to information about Iran that they may not find elsewhere.
Our Times of Israel Persian editor, Avi Davidi, and his team will be publishing exclusive material from our English site, as well as original reporting in Persian, including from inside Iran. Already, as we have geared up for launch, we have published articles on Khamenei attempting to gain greater control of Iran’s cyberspace and smartphones, on the arrests of converts to Christianity, on the abiding, post-nuclear-deal presence in Tehran of huge posters and murals demanding “Death to America,” and more.
As with The Times of Israel in other languages, we’re also hoping that our blog platform will prove a popular and stimulating part of the Persian site and draw articles from across the spectrum of opinion. We invite Persian-speaking readers with something of value to say to blog on our pages, respecting the parameters of legitimate debate, joining our marketplace of ideas.
We’re interested to see how The Times of Israel Persian is going to be received in the Persian-speaking world. No other Israel-based news site has attempted anything like this. But the portents are good.
Since we launched The Times of Israel on February 14, 2012, the news has spread — via word of mouth, email, and social media — and we’ve seen our readership grow steadily around the world. After three and a half years, we currently average 18 million monthly page views and over 3.5 million unique monthly users — three and a half million people, that is, who regularly come to The Times of Israel to get their news, devour features and analyses, and read and contribute opinion pieces. That is a frankly astounding testament to your interest and to the efforts of everyone working and contributing here. We now publish in French, Arabic and Chinese as well as English; we have 140,000 daily email subscribers and 4,500 bloggers. The Times of Israel is strong and growing.
I asked Avi Davidi to give me his thoughts on why Times of Israel Persian matters. He reeled off several compelling insights: The Times of Israel Persian gives readers in the Persian-speaking world direct interaction with Israel. It offers a nuanced Israeli narrative — the vibrant, complex state, warts and all — in contrast to the relentless diet of hostility conveyed in the Iranian media. It tells Persian readers things about Iran that the regime-controlled media does not want them to know. It constitutes nonpartisan, non-regulated journalism — hopefully a breath of fresh air for readers.
Avi reminded me that relations between the Jewish people and the Iranian people actually extend 2,700 years to Biblical times — back to Cyrus the Great and the Persian Empire. As the monarch who put an end to Jewish captivity in Babylon, and authorized the construction of the Second Temple, Cyrus is hailed in Isaiah, uniquely for a non-Jew, as a messiah or anointed one.
Today’s Iran is still home to anything up to 20,000 Jews. In contrast to Cyrus, however, the ayatollahs are emphatically not supporters of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land. We hope The Times of Israel Persian will help pave a return to that earlier positive mindset and heritage.