WASHINGTON/TORONTO - As Iranian diaspora members rally around the world in solidarity with recent anti-government protests in Iran, they are getting a boost from another diaspora that sees Tehran as a threat — Canadian Jews.
Hundreds of Iranian exiles have staged solidarity rallies in dozens of cities in North America, Europe and Australia since the demonstrations erupted across Iran on Nov. 15. In one notable rally, Iranian diaspora activists in Canada's largest city, Toronto, co-organized their gathering with B'nai Brith Canada, a 144-year-old Canadian Jewish human rights group that strongly supports Iran's main regional foe, Israel.
B'nai Brith Canada told VOA Persian that at least 300 people attended Sunday's rally in Toronto's Mel Lastman Square. Among them were several prominent Jewish community members, such as B'nai Brith Canada's chief executive Michael Mostyn and Canadian lawmaker Michael Levitt of the ruling Liberal party. Participants, most of them Iranian Canadians, waved Iran's pre-1979 Islamic Revolution flag and chanted slogans and held signs denouncing the Islamic republic's clerical rulers as brutal dictators.
In a statement released Monday, London-based rights group Amnesty International said it had received credible reports of Iranian security forces killing at least 143 protesters in dozens of cities since Nov. 15, "almost entirely" through the use of firearms. Iran has declined to provide its own tallies for those killed, wounded and arrested in the unrest, although it has said several security personnel were among the dead.
Iran's government sparked the protests by implementing a 50% increase in the price of subsidized gasoline, further straining the finances of many Iranians in an economy already weakened by U.S. sanctions and government corruption. It proceeded to cut off the nation's internet access for almost a week to prevent angry Iranians from sharing images of the protests and the crackdown with the outside world.
"It is so important to show the solidarity of grassroots Jewish Canadians with the Iranian people here in Canada and with the Iranian people that are suffering under the brutality of the Islamist regime in Iran right now," Mostyn told VOA Persian at the rally.
"Iran has been involved since 1979 in some of the worst terrorist acts in the world. They don't just target Israel through their terror proxies and through the regime itself, they've actually gone after Jews in various parts of the world," Mostyn said.
He cited as an example the July 18, 1994, suicide car bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association (AMIA) in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The attack on the Jewish community center killed 85 people.
"So we understand some of the suffering that is going on inside of Iran," Mostyn added. "We are going to demand that our government and other governments stand up and do something about this."
Argentine prosecutors long have said they believe Lebanese militant group Hezbollah carried out the AMIA attack on the order of its Iranian government patrons. Tehran has denied involvement in the AMIA bombing. It also has described itself as a victim, rather than a perpetrator, of terrorism.
In June, B'nai Brith Canada joined the Council of Iranian Canadians, a co-organizer of Sunday's Toronto rally, in calling on the Canadian government to blacklist Iran's most powerful military force, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist entity. The Trump administration sanctioned the IRCG as a foreign terrorist organization in April.
"As leaders representing Canada's Jewish and Iranian communities, we are passionate about supporting democracy and peace in Iran, so that its policies coincide with Canadian values," wrote Mostyn and Council of Iranian Canadians president Avideh Motmaenfar in a newspaper op-ed. "Not only does the IRGC frequently target Jews while continually threatening to eradicate Israel, it also harshly punishes and harasses Iranians who oppose the Islamist regime," they said.
A spokesman for Canada's Public Safety Minister told the Toronto Sun in June that the government was carefully considering intelligence reports to determine whether the IRGC meets the legal threshold for being designated a terrorist group. He also noted that Canada already has designated Iran a state sponsor of terror and put the IRGC's Quds Force on its terror entity list.
Levitt, the Canadian ruling party lawmaker, had tough words for the Iranian government as he addressed the Toronto rally.
We will not be silent as the Iranian regime tramples on the human rights of protesters. We stand w/ brave women & men who have taken to the streets to have their voices heard. Canadians support their calls for freedom & democracy & an end to brutality & repression. #IranProtests pic.twitter.com/XkQkRWG0qG— Michael Levitt 🇨🇦 (@LevittMichael) November 24, 2019
"As Canadians, we stand with the Iranian people and condemn the regime's atrocities," Levitt said. In reference to Iran's Islamist rulers, he added: "Know that we will always continue to raise our voices loud here in Canada. They need to see not just Iranian Canadians but all Canadians standing for the rights and freedoms and aspirations of the Iranian people."
In an interview at the rally, Motmaenfar said she and her fellow activists were determined to tell the world what Iran's leaders are doing to the country. "They cannot just oppress people and cut them off from the rest of the world and massacre them and arrest them and do whatever they want," she said.
In a message to VOA Persian on Monday, Motmaenfar said her partnership with B'nai Brith Canada is aimed at combating what she said is Tehran's effort to sow division between Iranians and the Jewish people. Iranian leaders frequently have called for the destruction of Israel, the only Jewish state.
"The more we strengthen this friendship [with the Jewish community and Israel], the weaker the Islamic regime becomes, and the more determined our fellow Iranians inside Iran will become to continue their fight against this regime," she said.
This article originated in VOA's Persian Service.