Image: Larry Cohler-Esses
12 August '15..
No serious observer contends that the Iranian people, like any other group on the planet, all speak with one voice about any issue. Nor is it extraordinary to learn that some of them might express a wide range of views about Israel and the United States. But to contend that the existence of some level of dissent in Iran from the positions of its government shows that the country’s policies are changing or that it is not actively seeking the destruction of Israel is to tell a lie. That’s exactly what the New York Times did today when it published a story headlined, “Reporting from Iran, Jewish Paper Sees No Plot to Destroy Israel.” The “Jewish Paper” is the Forward, which dispatched reporter Larry Cohler-Esses to the Islamist state for a weeklong visit. Cohler-Esses’ story has something of the feel of the articles produced in the past by those who visit tyrannical states in the hope of producing favorable coverage intended to blunt the revulsions of the democratic world. But while there is much to criticize in the piece, it does not claim to prove that there is “no plot to destroy Israel.” That is entirely the Times’ invention. It demonstrates how the flagship of the mainstream liberal media will seize upon the pretext to back up President Obama’s false characterizations of Iran and its leadership as posing no real threat to Israel.
Coming to grips with the reality of the anti-Semitism and hate that is at the heart of Iranian foreign policy is a difficult problem for the administration. It has struck an agreement with Iran that, at best, merely postpones the moment when the Islamist regime will get a nuclear bomb while granting its nuclear program international approval. It also gives it a lucrative cash bonus in the form of perhaps $100 billion in unfrozen assets and the relaxation of sanctions that will enrich the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism. The fact that this deal will give material aid to Iran’s terrorist campaign against Israel while leaving open the door to it eventually gaining the ability to wipe out the Jewish state with a nuclear weapon ought to trouble President Obama’s supporters. Some, like The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, struggle to justify the blithe assertions from Obama that Iran’s Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is “just a politician.” Obama and Secretary of State Kerry treat Khamenei’s ideology, statements and even Iran’s history of acting on his murderous goals as unimportant. They believe the chance for détente with the West, which is obviously in Iran’s best interests will always override other considerations.
Goldberg wrongly claims there are no real alternatives to the Iran deal but, unlike Obama, he understands that concerns about Iran are not purely the function of fear but rooted in reality. Just as important, he is aware that by framing the argument about Iran as one between “Jewish special interests” and “the rest of the world,” the administration and its cheerleaders are empowering anti-Semites in the Middle East as well as possibly here at home.
Unfortunately, Goldberg is too much a prisoner of his own liberalism and support for Obama’s vision to draw the proper conclusions from this or the flaws in the Iran deal. He thinks it would be a good idea if it made more of an effort to signal that it knows it is dealing with vicious anti-Semites and terror supporters. But that is exactly what Obama and Kerry can’t do because they are so wedded to their vision of détente with those anti-Semites.
Which leads us back to Cohler-Esses’ story.
Let’s acknowledge that his piece is not an updated version of Roger Cohen’s disgraceful whitewash of Iranian anti-Semitism published in the New York Times in 2009. The Forward seems to be aware that by sending a reporter to Iran, it was opening itself up to a charge of engaging in that kind of pilgrimage journalism. There is enough context and disclaimers in the piece to insulate Cohler-Esses against accusations of being another Cohen, let alone a new Walter Duranty (who won a Pulitzer Prize for the Times with reports from Stalin’s Soviet Union that denied the terror famine in Ukraine in order to burnish the image of the Communist state).
Cohler-Esses interviewed an interesting cross-section of Iranians and found that many were not interested in conflict with the United States or to wage war on anyone. Their attitudes toward the U.S. government and Israel were negative — and a product of Iranian government propaganda — but that vestiges of the gentler sentiments of pre-revolutionary Iran toward the Jews and perhaps even Americans are still there.
The Forward writer’s personal memories of life in Iran before the revolution (he taught English there for two years in the 1970s) make him far too sympathetic to his subject to be viewed as an objective observer of the nation. He seizes on any hint of moderation — whether toward accepting Israel’s existence or skepticism or opposition to the Iranian government — to give us an account of life in the country that puts such dissent in the context of a tyrannical state where human rights are not respected. It’s a sloppy mix of reporting, opinion and analysis that confuses as much as it enlightens. But for all of its problems and his obvious sympathy for the concept of détente with Iran, this is not a Duranty-style whitewash.
We shouldn’t be surprised that a lot of Iranians are willing to say things that contradict at least some of what their government puts out. After all, we all saw the pictures of tens of thousands of Iranians taking to the streets of Tehran to protest a stolen election and the status quo in the summer of 2009. Who can blame them for hoping that more contacts with the West and the prosperity that the relaxation of sanctions will bring might make their lives better?
Yet Cohler-Esses’ interviews tell us nothing about the prospects for domestic change in Iran, let alone a halt to its foreign adventures.
After all, the proof of Iran’s “plot to destroy Israel” won’t be found in interviews with Iranians at Cyrus’s tomb or in bazaars. It can be found in Iran’s state media that broadcasts anti-Semitism or in Khamenei’s new book laying out his plans to eliminate the Jewish state. It can be found along Israel’s border with Gaza where Iranian funds and equipment are helping Hamas dig new tunnels to facilitate terror raids to murder and kidnap Jews. It can be found along Israel’s northern border as Iranian personnel help Hezbollah set up missile launching sites in Lebanon as well as Syria aimed at raining down terror on Israel towns and cities. And it can be found in Iran’s military and nuclear facilities, where nuclear research, whose only purpose is a bomb that would wipe out Israel, continues. Cohler-Esses can tell us nothing about any of this. Even worse, the administration and the Times are actively seeking to distract us from these truths.
The point about Iran is not that many of its people don’t want change but that they have no way to change their government’s policies. More to the point, far from undermining the theocratic regime, the influx of cash and business will strengthen its leaders and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and their support for terror far more than it will enrich its people. That is why the nuclear deal is dangerous and why the push for détente that is the real point of administration policy is based on a misunderstanding about the nature of the Islamist state.