By Daniel Luban
The campaign against the National Iranian-American Council and its president, Trita Parsi, intensified today with the publication of a long hit piece in the Washington Times by neoconservative journalist Eli Lake. The piece’s unusual length appears to be an attempt to disguise the thinness of the allegations it contains. Most of the claims are based on hearsay and speculation, and only two-thirds of the way through the meandering 3000-word article does Lake actually discuss whether any of the evidence actually shows that NIAC has lobbied for the Iranian government. At which point we get this brief sentence:
Two lawyers who read some of the same documents [on which the allegations are founded] said they did not provide enough evidence to conclude that Mr. Parsi was acting as a foreign agent.
One might be forgiven for thinking that this fact is relevant enough to be included in the first few paragraphs. Similarly, despite the thousands of pages of documents that were leaked to him, Lake is unable to show any evidence of a financial relationship between NIAC and the Iranian government. (It’s also worth noting that the question of whether NIAC engages in lobbying is separate from the question of whether it engages in lobbying on behalf of the Iranian government. Lake, who conflates the two questions, provides little evidence for the former and even less for the latter.) In any case, the question of whether any of the allegations might actually be true is then dropped, not to be pursued again for the remainder of the piece. Instead, we get bizarre fixations on facts like Parsi’s Swedish citizenship (which is about as relevant for his standing to work for an Iranian-American organization as Martin Indyk’s Australian citizenship was for his standing to work for an American Jewish organization.)
NIAC has issued a response giving background to Lake’s piece. The documents in question were provided by NIAC during the discovery phase of a lawsuit the group filed against journalist Hassan Daioleslam (or alternately, Hassan Dai) over allegations he made that NIAC was lobbying for Iran. So far the case has been going poorly for Daioleslam, with the judge denying his motion to dismiss the bulk of the charges; it seems plausible that the knowledge that he was likely to lose the case led Daioleslam to leak the documents in question to Lake as a Hail Mary. NIAC accuses him of trying “to litigate the case in the media rather than in a court of law.”
While it may be entertaining to indulge in this innuendo and speculation, we might shed more light on the question of whether NIAC lobbies for the Iranian regime by examining the organization’s actual actions. As I noted a few weeks ago, NIAC has taken a leading role in denouncing the regime’s crackdown on protesters, calling for new elections, and demanding that human rights issues be put on the engagement agenda. Furthermore, the group’s blog played a key role in disseminating information about this summer’s protests and their repression, much of it deeply damaging to the regime. To state the obvious, it is hard to see how these actions are consistent with a desire to further the regime’s interests. But perhaps Lake will explain to us how disseminating videos of the regime shooting and clubbing protesters is simply a cunning plot by the devious Parsi to win support for Ahmadinejad in Washington.
The campaign against NIAC should be seen for what it is — an attempt to delegitimize any Iranian-American voices that are insufficiently hawkish for the neocons’ liking. Hawks in Washington and Jerusalem are faced with the inconvenient fact that few Iranians, even those harshly critical of the regime, desire to see their country get bombed or invaded, or for Iran’s most vulnerable citizens to die under the weight of sanctions that do nothing to help the cause of the Green Movement. Hence the attempt to portray any Iranian who opposes sanctions or war as a stooge of the regime — and the hawks’ recent turn against the Iranian opposition itself, for refusing to play Chalabi and tell them what they want to hear. As the battle over Iran continues in Washington, it is likely that the attacks on NIAC and other dovish voices in the Iranian-American community are only going to get worse rather than better.