A US State Department body expressed concern this week over a report that Iranians were threatening to raze an ancient shrine revered by local Jews as the burial place of the biblical Esther and Mordechai, in an act of revenge against Israel and Washington.
According to reports in the Iranian press earlier this month, members of the hard-line student Basij group in Hamadan province, where the shrine is located, released a statement threatening to tear down the building and replace it with a Palestinian consulate, amid anger over the Trump administration’s peace plan released last month.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom said on Twitter that it was “troubled by reported threats to the tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamadan, Iran, and emphasizes the Iranian government’s responsibility to protect religious sites.”
According to the Alliance for Rights of All Minorities, a US-based group which pushes for religious freedom in Iran, reports had included Iranian authorities calling for the site to be torn down, though the veracity of this could not be immediately verified.
USCIRF is troubled by reported threats to the tomb of Esther and Mordechai in Hamedan, Iran, and emphasizes the Iranian government's responsibility to protect religious sites.
— USCIRF (@USCIRF) February 19, 2020
Anti Defamation League chief Jonathan Greenblatt called the reports “disgusting.”
It’s disgusting that the Iranian government would violate a sacred Jewish site to press their political agenda. With less than a month before #Purim, people of all faiths should speak out before this desecration takes place. https://t.co/pJ69Migo2N
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) February 16, 2020
Ali Malmir, the head of Hamadan’s tourism office, told the regime’s ISNA news outlet on February 7 that turning the shrine into a consular building would not be possible, noting that the site was protected as a work of historical heritage under Iranian law, and could not fit the needs of a diplomatic office.
However, the head of the Hamadan Basij told the outlet that Iranian officials should see defending Palestinian rights as a more important cultural heritage.
The building is believed to hold the tombs of Esther and Mordechai, the heroes of the Jewish Purim story, in which they frustrate plans by a Persian viceroy to destroy the Jewish community there. The holiday of Purim, commemorating the events, is celebrated next month.
While the site is protected under Iranian law, officials in 2011 reportedly downgraded its status, weeks after a protest was held at the site in response to claims that Israel was threatening to tear down the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.