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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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April 13, 2016

Anti-Semite Ken O’Keefe On A U.S. Speaking Tour

Ken O’Keefe, an anti-Zionist ex-Marine and anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist with a substantial following on YouTube, is currently on a national tour of the United States titled “F-ck the USSA/TSA/ Homeland Security Tour.” He is scheduled to visit cities all over the U.S., as well as Canada.

O’Keefe proudly announced that he would embark on this tour, taking Amtrak instead of flying. In announcing the tour, he claimed that the security polices of the TSA and Homeland Security violate people’s rights by “ordering” them to undergo a body scan, which he termed “radiation crap.” However, while ostensibly focused on security policies, his talks mostly promote anti-Semitic and anti-Israel themes.

Ken O'Keefe

Ken O’Keefe

For example, at a talk in Berkeley, California, on March 17, hosted by the conspiracy theorist group 9-11Truth.org, O’Keefe promoted a vast array of conspiracy theories vilifying Jews and Israel. He alleged that a small group of individuals—later referred to as Jewish bankers—controls the world’s money. He called these individuals traitors, psychopaths, sociopaths, pedophiles and “otherwise corrupt, immoral, lacking in empathy people” who “bought everything and everyone that can be bought.”

He went on to say that Jews control the media and Hollywood. He also claimed that Israel operates within “Talmudic dictates” and alleged that the Talmud allows for Jews to rape non-Jewish three-year-old girls.

Later, when talking about Israel’s 1967 accidental attack on an American ship, the U.S.S. Liberty, O’Keefe asserted that Israel can do anything with impunity. He added, “They even abduct, torture, have sex with and ritually sacrifice young children.” He also promoted the conspiracy theory that Israel would take the “Samson option,” and exterminate the world “if it feels that its existence is threatened.”

Earlier in the week, at a program in San Diego, also hosted by the 9-11Truth.org, O’Keefe expounded on similar anti-Semitic themes. He claimed that Israel and Mossad were behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. O’Keefe’s tour continues into the end of April, and he has stated that he plans to reach 17 cities across the U.S. and into Canada.

In 2014, O’Keefe attended Iran’s New Horizon Conference, which drew anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers from the U.S. and other parts of the world. He has also appeared on Press TV, the anti-Semitic English language station run by Iran, and has written articles for Veterans Today, an anti-Semitic conspiracy-oriented website.

O’Keefe has been an anti-Israel activist for many years. His YouTube videos, some of which have garnered hundreds of thousands of views, feature anti-Jewish and anti-Israel themes. He supports the Palestinian cause and has claimed both Irish and Palestinian citizenship. He was on a flotilla in 2010 that was stopped by Israel before the ship made it to Gaza. A number of activists on that ship were killed by Israeli armed forces and O’Keefe was arrested and deported. In addition, he was on a flotilla that entered Gaza in 2008. He was also jailed by Israeli authorities in 2004 when he attempted to enter the Gaza Strip to discuss with Palestinian representatives his proposed plan to bring 10,000 activists to the West Bank and Gaza.

As O’Keefe travels the country, it is likely that he will continue to promote virulent anti-Semitic conspiracy theories to his audiences. The sponsors of his talks often tout him as a peace activist and ignore his anti-Semitism. In some cases, they have been receptive to his anti-Semitic tropes, as they were in Berkeley, and even applauded his rhetoric.

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March 11, 2016

In Iran, Holocaust Denial and Mockery are Alive and Well

Despite the international community’s reengagement with a more “open” and “moderate” Iran, some things in Iranian society haven’t changed, including the prevalence of Holocaust mockery and denial. While President Rouhani hasn’t touted the issue like his predecessor Ahmadinejad had, recent announcements indicate that the questioning of the Holocaust is very much alive and well within Iranian society.

In December, the Tehran International Cartoon Biennial announced an international Holocaust cartoon contest, with the winning entry getting a $50,000 reward. Now, the Islamic Association of the University of Isfahan has announced that it will hold its own Holocaust cartoon contest. The Islamic Association held a similar contest in 2015. In announcing this year’s contest, the Islamic Association explained that its goal is to demonstrate sympathy with oppressed Palestinians and show hatred towards the Zionist regime and “the child killer Israel.” The organizers claim the contest is “not anti-Semitic,” but rather an effort to question such a disgraceful and false phenomenon – the Holocaust – something which no one in the Western world dares to do.

Islamic Association of  Isfahan University Holocaust Cartoon Contest

Islamic Association of Isfahan University Holocaust Cartoon Contest

They also claim their goal is to empower talented individuals with skills they can use to educate students and others about the fallacy of the Holocaust.

Additionally, a recent confab for NGOs including social service agencies in an unnamed Iranian city titled “The International Conference on Cooperation and Humanitarian Aids”, which included a session promoting Holocaust denial. A report published following the session stated that there is “no proof for Zionist claims about the Holocaust and Jews.” Mohammad Javad Khosrave, a Holocaust “expert” and Emad Najar, Zionist and Media “expert”, were among the attendees.

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