During the 1970s, in the era of the Jewish refusniks, this joke emerged from the Soviet Union:
Papa was able to get his family out of the Soviet Union, but he ended up staying behind, hoping for an opportunity to follow them. Until then, he promised he’d write. The code he used to keep the family abreast of live in the Soviet Union was a simple one. Don’t pay too much attention to the letter’s content. The real message would lie in the ink color. Papa would write his letter in red ink if things weren’t going well. Eventually, the family received a black ink letter from Papa, which read as follows:
My dear ones,
It is a shame that you had to leave our wonderful Soviet homeland to suffer in the West. Here, we have everything in abundance. Spacious homes, cars, clothes and more food than one could ever imagine. It is almost unbelievable that, in the midst of this land of plenty, we could actually be missing such a little thing as red ink.
As you know, I don’t usually tell jokes randomly. I’m telling this one because of Jonathan Tobin’s masterly attack on Roger Cohen’s rose-colored view of Iran, and especially of Jewish life in Iran — a view that readily qualifies him for this year’s Walter Duranty award. With regard to Cohen’s cheerful burbling about happy Jewish life in Iran, Tobin has this to say:
In “What Iran’s Jews Say,” published on February 23, he quoted a 61-year-old antiques dealer in Isfahan who leads the service at one of the remaining synagogues in the city as saying he was not worried about the chants of “Death to Israel” that “punctuate” Iranian culture. “‘Let them say ‘Death to Israel,’ he said,” Cohen related. “‘I’ve been in this store 43 years and never had a problem. I’ve visited my relatives in Israel, but when I see something like the attack on Gaza, I demonstrate, too, as an Iranian.’”
Morris Motamed, who previously served as the token Jew allowed to sit in Iran’s toothless parliament, told Cohen that he was not a “Quisling.” While the “Death to Israel” chants “bothered” Motamed, he was just as bothered by the “double standards” that allowed other countries, including Israel, to have a nuclear bomb, but not Iran.
What Cohen did not write, though he admitted it in his Los Angeles talk, is that his interviews of Iranian Jews were conducted through a government-appointed translator and handler (Cohen does not speak Farsi) who he acknowledged would report to his masters in Tehran about both the journalist and those he met. Given the penalty for bucking the Islamist line about Israel for any Iranian, let alone a member of a despised minority, a less credulous journalist would not have taken the fruit of such interviews at face value. But Cohen not only reported the answers of his interlocutors as if they were a genuine reflection of Jewish opinion in Iran, he inflated them into a rationale for the Iran policy he wishes the United States to follow.