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 Posted Tuesday, June 15, 1999

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ON Monday, June 14, Moshe Ronen, the national president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, had a letter published in the Toronto Globe and Mail. The letter will seem a lot like similar letters sent by Ronen and other leaders of organized Jewry to media over the years airing grievances and concerns.

Imagine our surprise when on the following day a fellow-Jew is quoted in the Globe's letters page denouncing Mr. Ronen's cries of alarm and indignation as both "'frightening'" and "unconscionable." Jacob Schiff's letter (below) is, in effect, a stern rebuke to what he perceives as Mr. Ronen's intolerable Jewish chauvinism. In fact, he even suggests an equivalence between Mr. Ronen and the Iranians whom he took aim at in his June 14 letter.

Toronto, June 14, 1999


The world is watching

Re Alleged Spies Face Death In Iran (Globe, June 12)

IRAN's Jewish community is one of the oldest in the world. The Iranian Revolution of 1979 respected this status, allowing Jews to continue practicing their religion and living in relative harmony with their fellow Iranians.

How a country treats its Jewish community is an important indicator of the degree to which it is prepared to operate civilly and humanely. Thus, the decision by Iran to indict 13 Jewish citizens (including rabbis, teachers and students), under arrest since Passover, on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and the United States -- conviction for which carries the death penalty -- is a frightening development.

We appeal to President Mohammed Khatami and his government to effect the immediate release of the imprisoned Jews.

Moshe Ronen,
national president, Canadian Jewish Congress


Toronto, June 15, 1999

Human first

by Jacob Schiff

AS a human being first and a Jew second, I take exception to Moshe Ronen's comment that "how a country treats its Jewish community is an important indicator of the degree to which it is prepared to operate civilly and humanely."

For Mr. Ronen, it appears that the Iranian case is noteworthy because the accused are Jewish. I agree that indicting citizens on "trumped-up charges . . . is a frightening development." But it frightens me not because the accused are Jewish, but because they are humans. It is their inherent humanity that causes me to recoil at the treatment they are receiving, as human beings and not as Jews.

Mr. Ronen seems to be implying that the treatment of a state's Jews as Jews is somehow of greater significance then the treatment of its Jews as citizens, of the Iranian state and of humanity. While I understand that Mr. Ronen may be under considerable pressure to make statements such as the one I have quoted above, his failure to acknowledge the larger picture of universal human rights is just as "frightening" and unconscionable as the apparent denial of such human rights by Iran in this case.

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