The Attack on HSBC’s Factoid about Iranian Filmmakers

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin has added her voice to the neoconservative uproar over the recent HSBC ad, which contains a factoid about Iran’s film industry. The ad, which Ali has already dissected on this blog, makes the relatively innocuous statement that “Only 4% of American films are made by women. In Iran it’s 25%.” From this bit of trivia, Rubin is offended: “The implication that Iranian women — who are tortured, beaten, murdered and imprisoned for exercising rights of free speech — are better situated than their American counterparts was simply preposterous.”

The only problem with her outrage is that HSBC implied no such thing.

HSBC responded to Rubin in a restrained–given the charges that Rubin was laying against them–and cogent statement.

HSBC offers no opinion on the lives of artists in any country. This is not a topic that’s germane to an ad campaign for a global bank. The ad needs to be considered in the context of our “Unlocking the World’s Potential” campaign. As with our prior “Values” campaign, this campaign intentionally makes no judgment. The intent is only to emphasize surprising facts based on geographic diversity, as a way to facilitate a conversation about the world’s potential. Other surprising facts featured in this campaign: Holland earns more exporting soy than Japan; USA has more Spanish language newspaper readers than Latin America.

Rubin does have some dirt: she lists some recent letters citing HSBC by a pair of members of Congress, and quotes a September 24 cease and desist order from a U.S. regulator imposing more rigid risk management systems on the bank. HSBC tells Rubin it “continue(s) to follow the letter and spirit of laws, regulations and sanctions related to Iran, in all jurisdictions.”

“It is not clear precisely what business activity HSBC continues to conduct in Iran,” Rubin admits high up in her piece. She concludes by making an unsubstantiated claim that HSBC is “continuing to do business with a murderous regime.”

As Ali pointed out last week, neoconservative responses to the ad—it was first tweeted by the Emergency Committee for Israel’s Noah Pollak—are “intellectually dishonest, utterly lacking in empathy, short-sighted, sloppy and hypocritical.” Rubin’s response manages to incorporate all of these elements in her hard-charging—yet factually challenged–response.

HSBC did not imply that women in Iran are “better situated” than American women. Rubin’s willingness to distort the text of the ad shows a total lack of empathy for the challenges that Iranian female filmmakers have overcome to hold an astonishing 25% of the film-making market. And her inability to celebrate the accomplishments of female filmmakers in Iran shows a striking short-sightedness, sloppiness and hypocrisy considering her supposed concern for the conditions faced by women in Iran.

But then again, perhaps her concern for human rights is overshadowed by a deeply irrational hatred and fear of everything — and anyone — Iranian.

Rubin turns to former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) spokesperson Josh Block, now a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, who validates her stance:

It defies logic and common decency that HSBC would engage in this outrageous pro-Iran, anti-American propaganda at a time when the regime in Tehran is the leading human rights violator and state sponsor of terror in the world.

So the cycle begins again. The ad (which HSBC has now pulled) was not “anti-American.” Given the apparent truth of the statistics reported, it was not propaganda. Nor was the ad defending Iran’s human rights violators. Rubin, Block and Pollak’s argument are sticking to a script that necessitates a mindset of intellectual dishonesty, a lack of empathy, short-sightedness, sloppiness and hypocrisy. These aren’t the limited faults with Rubin, Block and Pollak’s argument.  They are the foundation of it.

*Ali Gharib contributed to this post

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.



  1. Could someone please explain to me the reasons for the knee-jerk, irrational (for me, anyway) hatred of all things Iranian.

  2. RE: “a mindset of intellectual dishonesty, a lack of empathy, short-sightedness, sloppiness and hypocrisy” – Eli Clifton
    MY SNARK: Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown. Er…I mean,’Neocon town’.
    “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but facts will never sway us.” – Neocon Creed

  3. Oso Politico, I give you in a nutshell two reasons why there is such hatred for Iran (especially with the ‘right or wrong, its my Israel’ crowd, and the ‘bomb them into democracy’ Neocons.

    First: Iran has in the past decades consistently defended the rights of the Palestinian people on their own state, and of those neighbours who have been on the receiving end of Israeli aggression. Just think of the continuing occupation of the Westbank and the Golan, ‘Cast Lead’ and the blockade of Gaza and the devastating invasion of Lebanon in 2006.
    Although it can be argued that Israel only strengthened its enemies (Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah) by these actions, it is blaming Iranian support as the real cause. The stand of Iran has made it very popular with the people in the Middle East, though not with the Western orientated autocratic regimes in that area. That is why Israel, and it supporters hate Iran; Iran’s stand is an impediment on the plans they have to reshape the region into their own interest. Occupiers and invaders always call those who resist ‘terrorists’, so Iran is also accused of supporting or spreading terrorism.

    Second: Iran stands on its right granted under the N.P.T. to enrich its uranium for energy and medical purposes. Because of its political views, suspicion has been raised by Israel, and in its trail by the US and other western powers, about the true intentions of its nuclear development program. Iran has declared many times it has no interest to develop nuclear arms, and the IAEA in its inspection reports has declared it has not found any evidence that Iran is doing so. In spite of these facts, a campaign has been waged in the western media to vilify Iran. Based on unsubstantiated rumours, unverifiable statements by exiles, defectors and intelligence agencies, coupled in some cases with outright fabrications, the US was able to convince the Security Council to implement several rounds of sanctions against Iran.
    So far Iran is holding on to its right to enrich uranium. By the way this is a second reason why Iran is popular with the people of the Middle East: it withstands Western (and Israeli) pressure and military threats to defend what it considers its sovereign right.
    Don’t get me wrong on Iran. I am no sympathiser of their system of government. I think a secular and liberal democratic political system would give the Iranians more freedom and stop the human right abuses, but is up to the Iranian people to change that. It may take a long and hard political struggle by the Iranian advocates for reform to win a majority, but that is preferable over interference or intervention by foreign powers. Covert actions or war will make matters only worse for everybody involved, as is proved by the examples of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.

  4. Well…let Rubin and the other hate mongering neos keep building their bonfires higher and higher.
    I am 99.99% certain the fires will eventually spread to encompass them.

  5. Ah yes, the lying liars are lying again about Iran. Must be a Tuesday, no wait, Wednesday…I mean, Thursday or Friday…

    Next thing we’ll hear is how Israel’s Deputy PM warns of an Iranian nuclear bomb in about three years. Oh wait, nevermind. That just happened.

    Just add that new prognosis to the list:

    Happy New Year, Eli and Ali. Your work is vital and much appreciated.

    All the best!

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