Pro-Palestinian Canadian Jewish Activist’s Speech on the Legacy of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini

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Ken Stone
Ken Stone’s tribute to Ayatollah Khomeini, 2016

Ken Stone is a founding member of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), IJV-Hamilton member, Hamilton Mountain NDP (New Democratic Party) member and the treasurer of the Hamilton Coalition To Stop The War. Stone was a speaker in al-Quds Day rallies held in Toronto in 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2013 and 2012.

On May 13, 2016, Ken Stone was a keynote speaker at an event, organized by the Islamic Society of York Region, commemorating the 27th  anniversary of Imam Khomeini’s death. The event was entitled “Imam Khomeini – Liberator and Reformer of the Masses.”

Excerpts from Ken Stone’s speech , May 13, 2016.

Moderator: “Our keynote speaker for today is a champion of human rights who stood up against racism and Zionism for over four decades. As someone who lost many family members in Poland and Russia during the reign of Hitler, Ken Stone vowed to always stand up against racism and against Israel positioning itself as a representative of Jewish people. I would like to request Mr. Ken Stone to please come on the stage to share his thoughts.”

Ken Stone: “Good evening brothers and sisters. It’s a great pleasure to have been invited here to the Islamic Society of York region and to add my voice to all those voices raised in appreciation of the legacy of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

“I have four things to say. The first one is I appreciate his contribution to the support of the Palestinian people. Ayatollah Khomeini strongly condemned Zionism, and he strongly supported the rights of the Palestinian people.

“He made a famous statement and I quote: ‘The regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the pages of time. This statement was mistranslated purposely by the Zionists and the Western media to say that Iran believes that all the Jewish immigrants to Palestine should be thrown in the sea, that this Israel should be wiped off the map. All those statements were lies. All those statements were lies, brothers and sisters.’

“What the Ayatollah meant, and correctly meant, was that the criminal regime, the criminal Zionist regime in Jerusalem had to be disposed in the same way that the criminal apartheid regime in Johannesburg had to be disposed of, and it was done so in South Africa without any bloodshed. The regime and the Soviet Union disappeared from the pages of time, again without bloodshed, and so what the Ayatollah Khomeini was saying was that the government, that the apartheid system, that the Zionist colonial project in Palestine had to end and he was absolutely right in doing so.

“Not only did he say that, but he changed, his revolution changed Iranian foreign policy. He turned it on its head. Previously the Shah of Iran was an American stooge. He was an ally of the Zionist state, the state of Israel. In fact, Iran was one of the three pillars of American foreign policy, of the empire in the Middle East: Iran, the state of Israel, Saudi Arabia. The Ayatollah Khomeini changed all that. He changed the way that even the religion is practiced around the world of Islam.

“I look around the room here today, and I see friendly faces. I see in the summer every year the third Saturday I think it is of Ramadan. I see Zafar [Bangash]. I see Munir, Siraj, a lot of friendly faces that I meet behind Queen’s Park every year when we march on Al-Quds Day. And I understand people march now in 60 or 70 cities around the world. This is a legacy of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

“As I said he changed foreign policy. One of the things that I personally experienced in the changing of the Iranian foreign policy is that I attended the Fifth International Parliamentary Conference on the Palestinian Intifada. I was the only Canadian who went, and when I arrived in the hall, which I believe was the former parliament building, there were just as there is here in this mosque today, a big portrait of Ayatollah Khamenei on one side, and the other side a big portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini.

“To open the conference, Ayatollah Khamenei took the stand, and I want to read you just a few words of what he had to say that day about Palestine.

“He said:

‘Among all the issues that deserve to be discussed by religious and political figures from across the world of Islam, the issue of Palestine enjoys special prominence. Palestine is the primary issue among all common issues of Islamic countries. This issue has unique characteristics.

‘The first characteristic is that a Muslim country has been taken away from its people and entrusted to foreigners who have come together from different countries to form a fake and Mosaic society. The second characteristic is that this historically unprecedented event has been accompanied by constant killings, crimes, oppression, and humiliation. The third characteristic is that the Muslims first Qibla [direction of prayer] and many respected religious centers which exist in that country have been threatened with destruction sacrilege and decline. The fourth characteristic is that the most sensitive spot of the world of Islam, this fake government and society has played the role of a military security and political base for the arrogant states.’

“He meant the Western states. Since the outset up to the present time, and the access of the colonial West, which is opposed to the unity, development, and progress of Islamic countries for various reasons, has always used it like a dagger at the side of the Islamic Ummah [nation]. The fifth characteristic is that Zionism, which is a great ethical political and economic risk for human community, has used this foothold as a tool, a stepping-stone to spread its influence and hegemony in the world.

“And so what did Ayatollah Khamenei have to say about resolving this problem at that conference in Tehran. What he said was that there was not going to be our classic war on Israel. There was not going to be the throwing of the Jewish immigrants into the sea. There was not going to be a partition of Palestine.

“On the contrary, he used the slogan, quote: ‘All of Palestine for all of the Palestinian people.’ End of quote. His solution was a referendum to be held by all the residents of current Palestine, plus those millions of Palestinian refugees who have been living in the diaspora, many of them in miserable conditions for 68 years, three generations. All those people should decide the future of Palestine. It was a one-state solution that the Ayatollah Khamenei presented, including the right of return of the Palestinian refugees with peace and social justice. It was a solution that could work because it involved peace and social justice. When he finished speaking the hall rang with the chant in English: “Palestine will be free from the river to the sea,” and this, my friends, is one of the main legacies of Ayatollah Khomeini concerning Palestine.

“The second legacy that I would like to talk about of Ayatollah Khomeini was his example of humility. While I was at this conference the organizers of the Majlis, the Iranian parliament, took the delegates and their wives on a tour of Tehran and they promised to take us to one of the Shah’s palaces in Tehran, and they explained that the Shah had nearly 100 palaces spread out throughout the whole country of Iran.

“But before they were going to take us to the palace of the Shah, they said first we’re going to take you to the home of Ayatollah Khomeini. And they did, but you know this was not what I expected. The tour bus could not get into the neighborhood because the streets are too narrow. We had to walk down.

“Many of you have been there, but if you haven’t been there, I suggest you go, have to walk down a street and then up a hill, and when you get to the top of the hill, there’s a little house and in the house there’s a little apartment of that house, and that’s where the Ayatollah Khomeini lived even after the revolution till his death. And you can’t go in the house, but they have a big picture window looking into the living room, and then you look in the living room.

“You don’t see what you would see in my living room or probably your living room; you don’t see a T.V. You don’t see a wall unit with all the latest stereophonic equipment. You don’t see, I have a Persian rug, but he didn’t have a Persian rug. You don’t see lamps. You don’t see chandeliers. You don’t see fancy curtains. There wasn’t anything in this room. There were two sticks, two pieces of furniture in the Ayatollah Khomeini’s living room. There was a wooden chair and a beat-up old couch, maybe two meters wide, and that’s all. There was in that room, and that’s all there was when he was living there, and when leaders of government heads of state came to visit the Ayatollah Khomeini, they would sit on the couch, and he would sit on the wooden chair, and all the photographers would take pictures.  Heads of government, presidents, prime ministers would be sitting on this beat up old couch with Ayatollah Khomeini sitting on a wooden chair.

“I was very impressed by that. I was told that the rent that the Ayatollah Khomeini paid for this apartment sixty dollars a month on rent. That was the rent that the leader of the country paid for his accommodation. Next to the Ayatollah’s rental apartment is the mosque he had attended. The mosque is probably a tenth the size of this room, and it has no fancy chandeliers, no nice carpet either. And the Iranian government built him a ramp from his apartment to the balcony of the mosque where the Ayatollah used to make statements, official statements from the balcony of that little mosque.

“Today, if you go to Iran, to Tehran, you will see that a huge mosque has been built, I think it’s on the south side of town and it is the final resting place of the Ayatollah Khomeini and his son. It’s a huge mosque; it’s beautiful, it’s made of sandstone, it’s got marble, it’s gorgeous, it’s got huge minarets. I think you probably should go and visit and pray there.

“But in my opinion the humility shown by the Ayatollah‘s accommodation, his little mosque shines to me brighter than the marble in the new mosque. And if you go, there’s a little museum next door to the mosque, and in it there’s a picture of the Ayatollah’s triumphal entry into Tehran in 1979. If you’ve ever seen paintings of Roman emperors entering Rome with chariots and stuff like that, you would be very surprised to see the picture that sits central in that little museum there, and that is the Ayatollah coming into Tehran and he’s not in a limousine, and he’s not on the back of an armored vehicle. He’s in the middle of the front seat of a pickup truck. This impressed me greatly, and I think that is one of the great legacies.

“I saw the palace of the Shah with all its inlaid mother of pearl and its mirrors with jewelry and so on. But we know very well that the legacy of the Ayatollah Khomeini far exceeds that of the previous Shahs of Iran and will continue to exceed that.

“The third thing I wanted to say was about the position of Jews in Iran, and this interests me a lot because I’m Jewish. I’m very glad and proud that the Ayatollah Khomeini treated the Jews of Iran well and still does. And the government still does. The Ayatollah Khomeini showed that he understood the teachings of the Prophet Mohammad, may rest in peace, and in that he showed respect to the teachings of Judaism and Christianity.

“There are about 25,000 Jews left in Iran, and they have been there for three thousand years. They have a special status under the government that was created by the Ayatollah Khomeini. If you go to Tehran, there are 11 synagogues. There are two kosher restaurants. There is an old age home. There is a functioning cemetery.

“If you go to Isfahan there are 15 synagogues. Jews are allowed to have wine in Iran for religious sacraments. There is ritual slaughter, kosher food. There is a mikva, a ritual bath for the women. The Iranian government recently built a community center for the Jewish community in Tehran. Jews serve in the army in Iran. There’s no discrimination in educational institutions against Jews. There are many Jewish doctors, lawyers, and engineers in Iran.

“Many Iranian Jews participate in the demonstrations against the Israeli government whenever they have one of their murderous bombing campaigns against Gaza. The Iranian government takes on the responsibility of the upkeep of Jewish shrines, the tomb of Esther and Mordekhai, the burial place of the prophet Daniel, the monuments of the Prophet Habakkuk. And most interesting of all, the Jews of Iran, even though there’s only 25,000 of them, they have one member of parliament. They get to vote for a Member of Parliament, which in my opinion gives the Jews in Iran a special status.

“On December 16, 2014, a reporter from The Washington Post attended the unveiling of a monument to the fallen Jewish Iranian martyrs, the soldiers who fought in the long war against Iraq. The Washington Post reported that Siamak Moreh Sedgh, the Member of Parliament who speaks for the Jewish community, said: ‘We are not tenants in this country. We are Iranians, and we have been here for thirty centuries.’ The reporter from The Washington Post also quoted a Jewish shopkeeper as saying: ‘There is a false distinction between us as Jews and the state of Israel. We consider ourselves Iranian Jews, and it has nothing to do with Israel whatsoever. This is the country we love. The state of Israel has offered many bribes to the Iranian Jews to come to Israel, and they are consistently turned down.’

“Now contrast to the special status that Iran accords to Jews with the kind of treatment by the followers of the Saudi despots, the Saudi monarchy, I’m speaking about those brutal barbarians the takfiris [Sunni Muslims who accuse other Muslims of apostasy] in Syria and Iraq, I was just in Syria a few weeks ago. Compare that way to the honorable way, the correct way that Ayatollah Khomeini treated and respected Jews and Christians with the way that these takfiris come to communities. They’re paid for by the Saudi government. They’re armed by the United States. They come in and they destroy, they take over, they occupy whole cities or whole sections of cities. They kill Christians and even Muslim religious leaders. They behead people in the streets. They butcher people and eat organs. They destroy monuments. They destroy convents. They destroy the churches. They destroy mosques. So the difference between them and the Wahabi, this deviant form of Islam that emanates from Saudi Arabia, and the proper Islamic treatment of people of other faiths could not be more clearly demonstrated than by the practice of the Ayatollah Khomeini towards the Jews of Iran. So that is another legacy of the Ayatollah Khomeini.

“The last thing I want to talk about is Syria from where I just returned three weeks ago. Under the Ayatollah Khomeini, there was on an alliance built over some years between Iran and Syria. It started during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, it started actually during the war when Saddam Hussein was egged on with 5 billion dollars from the Arab oil states and the U.S. to attack Iran, and Syria was actually one of the first countries to recognize the new government of Iran,  Syria was one of the few countries to side with Iran during that war. In 1982, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Syrians and Iranians stood together against the Israeli invasion and they both encouraged the success of Hezbollah in taking over the parts of the country that were occupied by the Zionist invader. An axis of resistance was built, and the powerhouse of that axis of resistance and in my opinion was Iran.

“I can’t speak as to the global legacy of the Ayatollah Khomeini. I don’t claim to know about the contributions he made to Islamic thinking or many other aspects of his work, but as a Jew and as an antiwar activist, I can honestly say I greatly appreciate the contribution that the Ayatollah Khomeini has made to the modern world at this particularly dangerous time for humanity.”

On August 4, 2016, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) issued a statement referring to Ken Stone’s statements on Iran. Here are excerpts from IJV’s statement:

In its third attack, BBC [Bnai Brith Canada] alleged that IJV promotes the Khomeinist regime in Iran. It based this claim on the fact that a single rank-and-file IJV member, Ken Stone, has publicly supported the Khomeinist regime. A video linked to in the BBC release shows Mr. Stone speaking at an event honoring Ayatollah Khomeini. Mr. Stone was not speaking on behalf of IJV, but the video erroneously put “independent Jewish voices” [sic] in brackets next to his name as he begins his talk. We have been informed that the video has temporarily been taken down and will be edited by the Islamic Society of York Region to correct this error on their part. IJV had no knowledge of this event, and Mr. Stone—who never claimed to be speaking on IJV’s behalf—made no mention of IJV in his talk. Mr. Stone’s support for the Iranian government does not reflect the views of IJV. IJV does not, and never has, supported any regime in Iran. Nor has IJV supported the government of any other country. Even after Mr. Stone stated clearly that he was not speaking on behalf of IJV at this year’s Al Quds Day rally in Toronto, BBC referred to IJV as being Mr. Stone’s organization, implying that his comments there reflected IJV’s positions.