Meet the Iranian Embassy in Jerusalem

A group of artists and activists are staging a unique project in the capital, as part of an attempt to show the more positive side of relations between the Jewish state and Tehran.

Emil Salman

A group of activists and artists in Jerusalem are planning to open their own “Iranian embassy” in the capital next month.

The project, to be held in French Hill, in the north of the city, is organized by Hamabul Art Collective. It aims to highlight the warm relations between the two countries before 1979’s Islamic Revolution in Tehran, which saw the removal of the West-friendly Shah.

The group’s Facebook page says it plans to present a “positive movement,” instead of the “negative trend, which divides and frightens us.” The embassy will “show different aspects than those the media has been feeding us,” it says.

The organizers want to “leave the conflict at the level of the leaders and not between the peoples,” says Matan Pinkas, who devised the idea when his Iraqi grandmother discovered her father was Persian.

“Before the revolution, Israel made a mistake when it supported the Shah of Iran, who hurt his people. We’re saying, ‘We made a mistake, we hurt you.’ That is something you can do in the presence of the Iranian ambassador to Israel. In every Knesset election, the security issue concerning Iran comes up again and again. We wanted to challenge the very essence of an embassy – by establishing an embassy that will represent a culture, not a government.”

Even though his idea actively embraces Iran, Pinkas still has his feet firmly on the Israeli ground and understands that everyone won’t respond to the initiative warmly.

For example, when he bought Iranian flags in Tel Aviv, Pinkas soon attracted criticism from passersby. “A man with a soda and bourekas was standing there and asked me, ‘What do you have in the bag?’ When I told him an Iranian flag, he didn’t believe me. When I told him we’re establishing an Iranian embassy, he was really angry. He said, ‘You’re a traitor to your country!’”

As part of the project, the organizers plan to wave Iranian flags in various Israeli city centers. The plan got off to an inauspicious start. “I waved the Iranian flags a bit in Tel Aviv, to create a teaser,” relates Pinkas. “People said to me, ‘It’s better to burn that flag.’ Because of the angry looks I was getting, I put the flags back in the bag so they wouldn’t take them away from me. I hope they won’t respond aggressively to the embassy.”

Indeed, some of the artists in the project believe Pinkas may have been wiser to choose an earlier version of the Iranian flag, rather than the Islamic republic’s present flag.

The embassy itself will include an “official” office, an exhibition by artists of Iranian descent from all over the world, and an area for Persian tea ceremonies.

For now, the main job is to finding an ambassador. Three weeks ago, there was an audition with five possible candidates. They all answered a post on the group’s Facebook page, as well as announcements Pinkas sent out to the Iranian-Israeli community here.

“To Iranians living in Israel and around the world, culture lovers and actors: We invite you on an interesting journey as we open an ‘Iranian embassy’ in Israel,” the invitation stated.

Roles up for grabs include embassy “employees” (such as secretaries, administrators and, of course, the ambassador).

In addition to actors, the project also needs production staff such as researchers, producers, an assistant director, cameraman and more.

“Unfortunately this is not a paid role,” the post warns. “If you are interested, please come dressed for the part.”

When asked if he fears that, in the era of left-wing-bashing Culture Minister Miri Regev, the city will veto his plan, Pinkas has a surprising response. “I think Regev will be happy and connect with it,” he says.

“I’m trying to reach her,” he says. “We’re not taking away from the Jewish identity, but showing a positive side of the Iranian people.”

Pinkas says those responsible for art programs in city hall, who provided the space, are happy: “One of the managers said he will film his Persian mother for us.”

Before the revolution, Iran bought land in Tel Aviv for a future embassy, which was supposed to be built on the corner of Remez and Yellin (near Kikar Hamedina). Since international law does not allow for the expropriation of land from countries with which there are no longer diplomatic relations, a temporary park was built on the site.

The (Israeli) Foreign Ministry declined to comment on this article.