Even as American Jewish leaders were saying for the first time they would be receptive to a private meeting with visiting Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to press for the release of 10 Jews convicted of spying for Israel, they organized a press conference here Monday at which the state’s top political and Jewish leaders hammered home the same message.
"The Iran 10 need justice," said Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, speaking outside the Iranian Mission to the UN. "President Khatami, let my people go. Let them go now. There is no evidence [against them]. Tell the UN that the Iran 10 will be released."
Khatami, who arrived in New York here to attend this week’s United Nations’ Millenium Summit, met with representatives of England’s Jewish community last week and assured them that the religion of the 10 had played no part in their conviction.
An Iranian appeals court had been slated to release its decision Tuesday after reviewing the conviction, but a senior judiciary official said the decision had been delayed. He said the judges continued to be split on whether the charges of which the men were convicted are actually crimes. Malcolm Hoenlein, vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he understood the decision would be released early next week. The men, who were convicted behind closed doors July 1 by a judge who also acted as prosecutor, were sentenced to prison terms ranging from four to 13 years. They have already been in prison for 18 months.
Khatami spoke with a select group of Iranian emigres Monday at the UN (including some Jews) but the Presidents’ Conference was not invited. Hoenlein said American Jewish leaders are interested in securing the release of the Iran 10 and in "assuring the rights and security of the Jewish" population in Iran, which now numbers 27,000.
In a meeting with Mehdi Kharroubi, the speaker of Iran’s parliament, Hoenlein asked that he look into the condition of 11 other Iranian Jews who are believed to have been held in an Iranian prison for the last seven years after allegedly trying to sneak out of the country. It was believed they were executed after their arrest, but according to Hoenlein, a recently released prisoner said he saw several of them in prison. The Jews would now be in their mid- to late-20s. Kharroubi promised to look into the matter, said Hoenlein.
Gov. George Pataki, who attended the Monday press conference, said the 10 imprisoned Jews "do not stand alone. We are in solidarity with them. Because of the simple fact of being Jews, they are being held in prison in Iran. That is intolerable."
"We welcome you to New York," Pataki continued. "You claim to be a reformer, show it by releasing the 10 Iranian Jews."
Rep. Rick Lazio of Long Island, the Republican senatorial candidate, called the Iranian proceedings a "show trial, a farce, a travesty." City Comptroller Alan Hevesi said the "10 innocent Jews [were tried] for political purposes" because of an internal struggle between reformers and hard-liners. And the city’s public advocate, Mark Green, said: "Never again will the Jewish people and people of all faiths stand silent in the face of tyranny and genocide."
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-Westchester) said that if the reformers in Iran become stronger, "they will have to figure out a graceful way to get out of this."
Among the others calling for the release of the Iran 10 were Stephen Solender, president of the United Jewish Communities; Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler of Manhattan, and Gedale Horowitz, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.