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Setting the Record Straight On NIAC


By Hooman Enayati


A new battle front has emerged in the war for Iran and this is a battle that Iranian-Americans should pay close attention to. The National Iranian American Council (NIAC), a non-profit Iranian-American organization based out of Washington D.C., has been the target of a multi-pronged attack campaign in recent weeks. Below I will analyze the validity of these accusations and why it all matters to you.


First, let us examine the groups and individuals behind these accusations. The most public face of the campaign against NIAC is an Iranian-American by the name of Hassan Daioleslam. Behind Daioleslam is an American journalist by the name of Kenneth Timmerman. These two individuals are perhaps the most vocal opposition against NIAC. A small but influential conglomerate of Americans and Iranians are part of this anti-NIAC coalition, and we will get into exactly who they are below.


The case against NIAC has been made by arguing that it has suspicious relations, it has violated the law, and is not a group loyal to the United States.  The charge that NIAC lobbies for the Iranian regime is the central charge around which all others directly revolve. Let us examine each of these accusations in turn.


As far as NIAC's associations go, the group's founder, a Zoroastrian by the name of Trita Parsi, has been accused of ties with two Iranian businessmen. The argument is that because these businessmen with ties to Dr. Parsi set up a consulting firm in Iran on the belief that US-Iran relations would improve under Khatami, and worked with Parsi on the idea of creating an Iranian lobbying group before the creation of NIAC, they must have done so in order to open relations between the US and Iran and benefit financially. In an article titled "Sane Iranians Attacked," Time magazine's Joe Klein points out that these are not suspicious characters.


"The fact that Parsi was in contact with them is a sign that he was on the right track--consulting with the members of the Iranian business community most threatening to the Khamenei Regime, i.e. those who wanted closer relations with the rest of the world. As we've seen in recent months, the regime finds such relationships subversive. So do I, so should you. If the Supreme Leader is denied his Satans, Great and Small, he loses the rationale--and the public constituency--for repression." One of the individuals does not live in Iran and the other has been detained following the election for alleged anti-Ahmadinejad remarks.


The more serious charge regarding Trita Parsi's associations is the allegation that he suggested that former Iranian Ambassador Javad Zarif meet with members of Congress. But close examination of this accusation shows that Trita Parsi did not set up a meeting at all. In fact, it was American lawmakers that approached Parsi for help. At the peak of US-Iran tensions during the Bush administration, American lawmakers often complained that the administration was bent on war and that they had to pursue their own diplomacy vis-a-vis Iran. The lawmakers who were head of the Dialogue Caucus in Congress wanted to pursue dialogue with Iran, Cuba and others that the Bush administration would not talk to. In researching his book Treacherous Alliance, Dr. Parsi interviewed over a 130 high-level Israeli, Iranian and American officials, one of whom was Ambassador Javad Zarif. At the behest of these American lawmakers, Parsi introduced Ambassador Zarif but never set up any meeting.


The newest accusation came recently in an article by Eli Lake in the reliably partisan Washington Times. The allegation is that NIAC lobbies more than what it is legally allowed to as a 501 c3 organization, namely more than 20% of its budget. This is more of a technical question than anything else. The term "lobbying" has a very strict legal definition. NIAC's detractors argue that their educational activities and advocacy in general is a part of their lobbying. NIAC often holds conferences in Washington D.C. with US lawmakers in order to raise awareness about Iranian violations of human rights or why war would be detrimental to US interests. None of this legally constitutes lobbying.


One must suspect however if this charge really has to do with whether NIAC should classify itself as a 501 c3 or a 501 c4, or if the real reason behind this accusation is that, as Eli Lake points out, NIAC has "emerg[ed] as a major player in Washington and leading voice for engaging Iran and ultimately lifting U.S. sanctions." NIAC's financial records are transparent and open to the public, and assuming that this charge had some validity it would still be a misdemeanor at best.


The central issue however seems to be NIAC's staunch opposition to a US-Iran war and crippling sanctions against Iran. NIAC's position has been that "war between the US and Iran would devastate the region, be counter to US national interests, undermine America's position in the region, strengthen rather than weaken the Iranian regime and lead to tremendous loss of innocent life on both sides." Incidentally, NIAC arrives at its positions via what their membership decides, and the NIAC membership overwhelmingly opposed war with Iran. Because of these policies, and more importantly because of NIAC's success in getting its way in Washington, opponents have accused NIAC of lobbying for the Iranian regime because those particular positions align with the positions of the Iranian government.


In early 2008 when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert came to Washington D.C., he advocated that the US conduct a naval blockade of Iran, a move that would be tantamount to a declaration of war. AIPAC and others in the Israel lobby wasted no time in helping putting together a resolution for Congress to pass just that. However, through NIAC's extensive lobbying efforts in Congress, the resolution that would have paved the way for a US-Iran war was defeated. This rare defeat for AIPAC, America's most powerful lobbying organization, was enough to make NIAC a target of many anti-Iran hawks.


Lastly, there is this charge that NIAC's founder, Trita Parsi, is not loyal to the United States. Before I address this, it may be useful to examine who are the ones behind these charges, and who the anti-NIAC coalition consists of.


Almost all of the attacks against NIAC have come from four broad sources. In the Iranian-American community, the Mujahedin-e Khalgh Organization (MKO) and pro-monarchist exiles have strongly opposed NIAC. Outside of these two groups, what is known now as the Israel Lobby and the Neoconservatives have also worked tirelessly to discredit NIAC.


Hassan Daioleslam has been reported by multiple sources to be affiliated with the MKO, the terrorist group with close ties to the former Saddam regime. One of the leading experts of the MKO is a former member by the name of Massoud Khodabandeh. Regarding Daioleslam he wrote "I can say without doubt that Hassan Daioleslam is a member of what I call for accuracy 'the Rajavi cult' [referring to MEK leaders Massoud and Maryam Rajavi]. In this respect he is obedient to the Rajavi leadership and would not act in a way inconsistent with their requirements and certainly not without their knowledge or consent (if not to say actual order). The term 'membership' describes his relationship to the Rajavis. The MKO, just like Al Qaida, does not have 'membership cards'. But I doubt very much the MKO would deny that he is a member, just as they never have denied that Alireza Jafarzadeh is a member. Daioleslam's writing is on the MKO websites. They do not publish just anyone's writing. Only those obeying organisational constraints."


In a 2007 article by Mohammad Hussein Sobhani, the former high-ranking MKO member says the following, "Hassan Daioleslam, who is also considered as a member of the Mojahedin Khalq Organisation (Rajavi Cult) had been under harsh criticism for a long time by the cult leader Massoud Rajavi because he would not leave the USA and join the cult under the rule of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. But now, in the new circumstances in which the remnants of the Rajavi cult after the fall of Saddam Hussein find themselves in western countries, Hassan's social position and his ability to speak English has grabbed the attention of Rajavi. He seems to be next in line to be consumed [for the group's interests]."


Mehdi Noorbakhsh, a professor at the Harrisburg University also comments that Daioleslam "was living in Europe for several years until he moved to the United States in Phoenix, Arizona. He was re-bought by MKO one more time and he is now active in selling and defending the positions of this terrorist organization. Those who know him know well that his commitment to MKO is opportunistic." Daioleslam's brother and sister are also members of the MKO.


But Daioleslam is merely the public face of the anti-NIAC coalition. Behind him is the American Jewish journalist Kenneth Timmerman who has made a career of being anti-Iran. Timmerman accuses the Islamic Republic of being behind the 9/11 attacks, and predicted in his book "The coming nuclear showdown with Iran" that Iran would be testing nuclear weapons by 2006.Timmerman is a member of a number of Neoconservative organizations such as the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs. In 2006 Timmerman was a strong advocate of the resolution authorizing a naval blockade against Iran, the same resolution that NIAC helped defeat.


Another leading individual in the attacks on NIAC is former AIPAC staffer Lenny Ben-David. Ben-David, who is now an Israeli settler in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, has been directing his attacks from his West Bank home against NIAC and the new left wing pro-Israel group J Street. The attacks on the two share many similarities. Ben-David has also been rebuked by members of the Jewish community for his viciously anti-Arab racist comments.


Since Daioleslam and Timmerman's articles have appeared almost exclusively in Neoconservative publications, it may be useful to quickly review what this ubiquitous yet very misunderstood term means.


Most of the first-generation Neocons were liberal Democrats, or even socialists and Marxists, often Trotskyites. They drifted to the right in the 1960s and 1970s as the Democratic Party moved to the antiwar McGovernite left. And concern for Israel loomed large in that rightward drift. As political scientist Benjamin Ginsberg puts it:


"One major factor that drew them inexorably to the right was their attachment to Israel and their growing frustration during the 1960s with a Democratic party that was becoming increasingly opposed to American military preparedness and increasingly enamored of Third World causes [e.g., Palestinian rights]. In the Reaganite right's hard-line anti-communism, commitment to American military strength, and willingness to intervene politically and militarily in the affairs of other nations to promote democratic values (and American interests), neocons found a political movement that would guarantee Israel's security."


From the time of the 9/11 attack, Neoconservatives, of primarily (though not exclusively) Jewish ethnicity and right-wing Zionist persuasion, have tried to make use of 9/11 to foment a broad war against Islamic terrorism, the targets of which would coincide with the enemies of Israel.


The Neoconservatives have tended to look at foreign policy through the prism of Israel. This group of perhaps no more than 400 individuals was arguably the strongest driving force behind the Iraq war. Their Jewish ethnicity and their strong attachment to Israel color their views on foreign policy. It is no surprise than that their closely aligned views with the right wing in Israel is a motivator behind their desperation to see a US war with Iran. So it is even less surprising that they view the discrediting of NIAC as an integral part of this.


In an undisclosed email that is part of the NIAC lawsuit against Daioleslam, he writes to Timmerman that "I strongly believe that Trita Parsi is the weakest part of the Iranian web because he is related to Siamak Namazi and Bob Ney." Daioleslam goes on to say, "I believe that destroying him will be the start of attacking the whole web. This is an integral part of any attack on Clinton or Obama."


It is not surprising that the chief aim of Daioleslam, Timmerman, and the Neoconservatives is not NIAC per se, but the entire anti-war strategy of the Obama administration. Some of the most vicious accusations have come from other Neoconservative publications and individuals such as one by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic who questions Trita Parsi's loyalty because the NIAC founder was raised in Sweden and only has permanent residency in the United States as of today. This smear is the most insulting to all Iranians in America whether they are citizens or not. Goldberg never provides evidence for his disgraceful attacks, and also fails to mention that he left the United States to serve in the Israeli army. Goldberg who presents himself as an impartial analyst of Iran and Middle East affairs, never bothered to join the American army, navy, or air force. It is very hard to imagine someone joining the military of another country by choice if he wasn't utterly devoted to that country and the interests of that country. It is most interesting then that Goldberg feels qualified to question the loyalty of others, and even present himself as an analyst rather than an advocate.


Neoconservatives like Timmerman and Goldberg have often been referred to as part of Israel's "fifth column" in the United States, a loose coalition of American Jews who put Israel first and in doing so advocate for wars against Iraq and now Iran that may be in the interests of Israel, but come at great expense to the United States.


This chorus of voices has no problem with lobbyists per se, in fact they constitute a very powerful lobbying effort in support of Israel, but they somehow seem to get worked up over the exact percentage of lobbying work that NIAC does. To them, anything less than hysterical condemnation of all things Iranian is enough to allow them to label one an agent of the Islamic Republic.


One of the greatest ironies about the Neoconservative attacks on NIAC is their efforts to make the case for war against Iraq based on claims that Saddam had ties with terrorist groups, and their new alliance with the MKO terrorist organization (which also had ties to the Saddam regime). This gives new meaning to the phrase "Treacherous Alliance."


The most puzzling group that has come out against NIAC however is Iranian-American monarchist exiles. The monarchist satellite TV and radio stations beaming out of California have used their outlets to serve as a platform against attacks on NIAC. They regularly host people like Hassan Daioleslam. In February of 2008 they stormed a NIAC event sponsored by Amnesty International and chanted slogans accusing Dr. Parsi of treason. These monarchist relics of the past "resemble the exiled Cuban community in South Florida, and even more closely the Russian Tsarists in Europe after the October 1917 Revolution, and still fantasize about returning to power, but have no base of support in Iran." 


I do not claim to even pretend to know who is using who in this drama. I can only speculate that Timmerman and the rest of the Israel lobby are using Daioleslam "Chalabi style." The MKO and the monarchists are perhaps being used as pawns, or perhaps they too are desperate for war because of some unfounded belief that it may lead to a collapse of the regime and their return to Iran.


Those who disagree with NIAC's policies on Iran can legitimately disagree based on facts and reason, but the accusers have never offered evidence and must refrain from making unfounded accusations. Is NIAC an agent for the Islamic Republic? Maybe or maybe not, but what is certain is that to date not a scintilla of evidence has been presented to substantiate this claim (in fact all indications suggest the exact opposite). The proponents of war against Iran want to equate opposition to war with lobbying for the Iranian government. Why are they targeting NIAC? Because it is the only credible Iranian voice in Washington and it is increasingly becoming a force to be reckoned with.  Wherever you stand on this issue, on NIAC, or anything else, all Iranian-Americans should consider this, as well as the viciously anti-Iranian accusations being made, as an insult to our community and one that we should not and will not stand for.

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