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. Some facts please. What is the % of Americans, executed, or shot and killed by police, and the corresponding figures for Iran?

  2. Great comment by Polderman, although I am 99.9% certain that the Iranian are seeking a bomb or at least the ability to quickly go nuclear. But extremely well put nonetheless!

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