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April 19, 2016

The Iranian Regime Has Not Changed

By Jonathan Green­blatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League

This blog originally appeared on Medium

Iran Deal-condensed

Talks in Geneva over the Iran Deal in 2015.

A little over a year ago, the Anti-Defamation League reacted to the newly announced parameters of the agreement between the world powers and Iran, saying it left us with “many unanswered questions” about Iran’s nuclear program and the Islamic Republic’s intention to fully and transparently uphold its commitments. “The Iranian regime has not changed, “ADL said then, “and we do not expect a change in its behavior.”

A year later, and months into the implementation of that agreement, there is no clear evidence that Iran is violating its commitments, although our questions on Iran’s true intentions regarding its long-term nuclear ambitions remain.

These questions are more important than ever with ongoing debate taking place in Washington over whether the Obama Administration should take more steps to facilitate international banking transactions and trade between Iran and other states.

With this discussion underway, it’s timely to review the predictions made by some experts that the agreement would lead to a more moderate and constructive Iran. Some opined that the deal would usher in a new approach, making it a fitting member of the community of nations. The steady pace of commercial and diplomatic delegations visiting Tehran might lead one to believe that there is a glasnost afoot.

Yet while there may be improved p.r., the regime has changed very little. It continues to display little regard for the human rights of its own citizens. It maintains its policies of regional aggression including weapons development and testing. And it has not slowed its support of terrorism and spread of base hatreds against Israel and its Jewish people. Indeed, just this week the supposedly reformed minded President Hassan Rouhani called for vigilance “against the danger of the Zionist regime” and accused it of “continued massacres.”

So much for change.

Unceasing Human Rights Violations

Iran’s failure to change, despite hopes for greater “openness” and “moderation” is most evident in its abysmal human rights record. As the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, recently told the U.N. Human Rights Council, there “is an alarming surge in the rate of unlawful executions in the country, and ongoing arbitrary arrests, detentions and prosecutions of individuals for the exercise of their fundamental rights.“ In 2015, according to official government records at least 966 people were executed — the highest number since 1989, and 10 times as much as a decade ago. Grassroots reports provide higher rates.

Amnesty International reports that Iran is the world’s leading executor of juveniles — and at least 160 individuals under the age of 18 are currently on death row. The Special Rapporteur reported that just since January, “at least 47 journalists and social media activists were reportedly detained in the country …and over 272 internet cafe businesses were reportedly closed in 2015 for their alleged ‘threat to societal norms and values.’”

Iran continues to persecute religious minorities, particularly the Baha’i community, restricting their rights, as the Special Rapporteur said, to “openly manifest their beliefs, to educate their children, and to earn a living.” One recent example: Iran imprisoned a young Baha’i woman whose sole crime was protesting the policies that prevented her from pursuing higher education.

A legal system established by a government that accords second class status to a specific category of its own citizens, restricting their access to basic services like education and shrinking their basic civil rights is unacceptable.

Pushing the envelope on aggressive weaponry

President Obama recently said that while “Iran, so far, has followed the letter of the (nuclear) agreement” it is undermining the “spirit of the agreement” with its “provocative” actions. Most egregiously, Iran thumbed its nose at the international community with its March launch of long-range ballistic missiles — an action restricted by UN Security Council Resolution 2231.

An aerial view of a heavy-water production plant, which went into operation despite U.N. demands that Iran roll back its nuclear program, in the central Iranian town of Arak, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2006. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared Saturday, after the inauguration of the plant, that his nation's controversial nuclear program poses no threat to any other country, even Israel "which is a definite enemy."  (AP Photo/ ISNA, Arash Khamoushi)

An aerial view of a heavy-water production plant, which went into operation despite U.N. demands that Iran roll back its nuclear program, in the central Iranian town of Arak, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2006. (AP Photo/ ISNA, Arash Khamoushi)

Four of the six world powers who signed the Iranian agreement — the U.S., U.K., France and Germany — sent a letter to the heads of the U.N. and Security Council calling Iran’s ballistic missile operations “inconsistent with” and “in defiance of” the Security Council resolution which bars missiles that could carry nuclear weapons. In an ominous wink to the country Iran has most publicly threatened, the Iranian news agency Fars said one of the missiles tested on March 6 had “Israel must be wiped off the Earth,” written along its side in Hebrew.

And it’s not just ballistic missiles. In a recent Iranian news report, Brigadier General Hossein Salami of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards threatened: “The Zionist regime will collapse in the near future. When Hezbollah has stockpiled over 100,000 missiles, it means Iran has tens of times more than that. Iran is in possession of different classes of missiles, and this power is unstoppable.” Around the same time, officials in the city of Lamard held a military training program for children with the goal of “conquering Tel Aviv.”

And the weapons proliferation is not just related to Israel. Three times in the last two months, U.S. Naval ships have seized large caches of weaponsbelieved to be sent by Iran intended for Houthi rebels in Yemen. And others have reported extensively on the continued training and weapons deployment in Syria in support of the Assad government whose brutalization of its own citizenry instigated the civil war that continues to wrack the country and destabilize the region.

Continued campaign to destroy Israel and its Jewish population

Meanwhile, even as Iran puts on a public face to court international business and investment, its propaganda machine churns out base conspiracy theories about Jews and Israel. A recent absurd allegation asserted that imports of “genetically modified products are a ‘Zionist plot’ to infect Iranians with diseases and a ‘serious example of infiltration.’ And, while President Rouhani has not touted the issue like his predecessor President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had, it is apparent that Holocaust denial and mockery are very much alive and well within Iranian society, with academic examinations of the issue and cartoon contests.

The Jewish festival of Purim, which commemorates ancient Persia’s Queen Esther and Mordechai’s saving of the Jews from the evil Haman who planned to kill them all, has long provided anti-Semitic fodder in Iran. Pointing to the Book of Esther’s telling that after Haman was killed, 75,000 Persians were slain, Iranians have manipulated this ancient story and presented it as a “holocaust” and “genocide” perpetrated by the Jews against Iranians, and the real source of alleged Jewish hostility toward Iran.

Iran - Anti-Israel Slogan Blog 2015

In a recent article entitled “Purim: the Iranian Holocaust by Jews, A Celebration of Half a Million Iranian Massacred” in Ghatreh, asserted: “Zionists’ hatred and jealousy of the ancient history and glorious civilization of Iran for their scientific advances and their historical achievements, particularly after the Islamic Revolution is not something they can hide. The Zionist’s inferiority feeling toward the greatness of the Iranian nation has a historical root. By one glance to the historical context and events that happened between Iranians and this people prove the fact. After Cyrus as a ruler who was a seeker for justice, released captive Jews from Babylonia, he never imagined the same people after few years would carry out a creeping coup against Iran and Iranians and respond to the kindness of Iranians, would be brutal slaughter of them.”

It is galling to see the Islamic Republic gain accolades for tweets in English around Rosh Hashanah while its supporters use Farsi to issue such anti-Semitic screeds that seem like updated versions of the Protocols of Zion.

In conclusion, a year after the path was forged to the nuclear agreement with Iran much has changed. President Rouhani traveled to Rome and Paris to promote trade and economic partnership with Iran. Iran was a key participant in the talks leading to a ceasefire in Syria — much to the consternation of its Persian Gulf rivals. Iran finally released four American prisoners it had been holding, including Washington Post bureau chief Jason Rezaian.

But when it comes to its internal illiberal policies, human rights violations, the spreading of hate against Jews and its continued militancy against its neighbors, the past year has made no difference. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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July 3, 2015

Yes, Justice Thomas, the Government Can Deprive People of Dignity

The word “dignity” appears 30 times in last week’s Supreme Court marriage equality case, Obergefell v. Hodges. Describing the same-sex couples who aspired to marry, Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 5-4 majority, stated:

Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. supreme-court-civil-rights




In a bitter dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas demurred, stating that “the Constitution contains no ‘dignity’ Clause.” He argued that the government is “incapable of bestowing dignity,” stating flatly that” human dignity cannot be taken away by the government.”

Astonishingly, Justice Thomas then attempted to prove his dubious proposition by citing two extreme and reprehensible government actions that were actually designed to deprive victims of “equal dignity under the law” – slavery and the incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II:

Slaves did not lose their dignity … because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them.

But the government did not “allow” blacks to be enslaved – the laws of the time facilitated and empowered slave owners and enforced slavery.

And the Japanese American Citizens League was rightly “appalled” by Justice Thomas’ blindness to the impact of the government’s shameful and unwarranted forcible relocation and incarceration of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent, the vast majority of whom were citizens.

In 1942, just 10 weeks after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued his Execution Order 9066, providing the legal authority for this deprivation of liberty and dignity. Roosevelt’s executive action was issued against the backdrop of widespread, baseless fears that Americans of Japanese ancestry might pose a threat to the U.S – anxiety that was certainly fed by a long history of prejudice and xenophobia direct against Japanese Americans.

Those incarcerated in the camps were uprooted from their communities, separated from their families, their homes, and their possessions, and lost their personal liberties and freedoms until the end of the war.

Tragically, the president’s executive order was bolstered by additional congressional enactments. And when the constitutionality of these actions was challenged in two main cases before the U.S. Supreme Court – Hirabayashi v. U.S. andKorematsu v. United States – the Court held that these clearly discriminatory actions by the government were, in fact, justified and constitutional.

Now, 73 years later, the Anti-Defamation League uses the cruel and unwarranted wartime treatment of Americans of Japanese descent as a teachable moment for our nation on the dangers of stereotyping, prejudice, and racial profiling. While we can honor and admire individuals that can retain their personal dignity under the most adverse conditions, there should be no doubt, Justice Thomas, that the government can deprive people of their “equal dignity.”

Fortunately, a Supreme Court majority has now held that the Constitution mandates that same-sex couples are entitled to equal treatment – and marriage equality.

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June 17, 2015

White House Hosts Conference on Combating International LGBT Hate Crimes


On June 12, the White House hosted a “Conversation on Combating Bias-Motivated Violence against LGBT Persons Around the World.”  Bias-motivated violence against LGBT individuals remains disturbingly prevalent, as documented by a May 2015 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics Act report.  The problem is compounded by inconsistent definitions of hate crime and inadequate hate crime data collection efforts, according to a 2013 ADL/Human Rights First report on hate crimes in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) region.

Randy Berry, the State Department’s Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons,announced a number of new Administration initiatives at the conference, which fell during LGBT Pride Month.  He highlighted existing partnerships and pledged to expand international law enforcement training and technical assistance, as well as efforts to empower civil society and LGBT education and advocacy organizations. The Administration will continue to draw on existing expertise across the US Government to enable organizations and agencies abroad to request assistance to launch new local and national initiatives.

The White House program included panels focused on the impact of community-based organizations, the role of law enforcement and the judiciary, and government actions and best practices – which was moderated by ADL Washington Counsel Michael Lieberman.  The meeting built on a December 2011 Presidential Memorandum on “International Initiatives to Advance the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons.” Federal agencies – especially USAID, the Justice Department, and the State Department – have done a lot of work on the issue.  The State Department released a report in May 2014 detailing its progress on carrying out the President’s Memorandum.

ADL works to address discrimination and violence against LGBT individuals in the United States and abroad, filing amicus briefs in Supreme Court cases, conducting workshops and training for educators and law enforcement officials, and encouraging the collection of hate crime statistics that help local and federal law enforcement track and address this issue. ADL representatives also helped craft the seminal OSCE publication, Hate Crime Laws: A Practical Guide, and maintain relationships with many human rights groups to track anti-Semitism, hate crimes, and violence and discrimination against LGBT persons at home and abroad.  ADL Washington Office Director Stacy Burdett, who also attended the conference, leads that work.

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