Cornwell's Popes

A front-page story in the Sunday, October 17 New York Times alerted readers to the arrest of thirteen Iranian Jews accused of spying for Israel. The prospect of show trials designed to inflame anti-Israel feeling among Iran’s fundamentalist Muslim majority now threatens that nation’s small but venerable Jewish community. "Human-rights groups outside of Iran have suggested that the charges have been trumped up for political reasons," the Times ominously reported. "In Iran, spokesmen for Jewish organizations have mostly avoided discussing the case, saying that protests from Jews, here or abroad, would only make matters worse."

On the face of it, the situation presents rather stark choices. If the Iranian Jews are convicted on trumped-up charges and hanged by Iran’s "revolutionary" court, those who publicly protested the arrests may be accused of having indeed made "matters worse." On the other hand, if the quiet negotiations of Iran’s Jewish community save the thirteen, the wisdom of exercising prudence and pursuing diplomacy in the face of lethal hostility will be vindicated. If quiet diplomacy fails, however, those who advocated such a course may well be charged with complicity or worse in the state’s crimes.

Although such intractable moral tradeoffs are not necessarily exculpatory, it is important to keep them in mind when trying to evaluate the accuracy of John Cornwell’...

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