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August 13, 2015

Global Post Omits Key Facts While ‘Interviewing’ Iran’s Jews

USA Today featured reporting by Peabody award-winning reporter and GlobalPost special correspondent Reese Erlich (“Iran’s Jewish community gets behind nuclear deal with U.S.,” August 7, 2015) that omitted key details on the treatment of Jews in the Islamic Republic of Iran. By uncritically relaying comments of a people under surveillance and failing to fully note the threats they face, the article misleads readers.

Interviewing Jews in Tehran, Erlich asserts that “most Iranian Jews strongly disagree with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu” over his objections to the agreement between the United States, Germany, Russia, France, China, the United Kingdom and Iran over the latter’s purported nuclear program. The reporter bases his claims on responses from individuals in the “city’s small Jewish community” he interviewed.

But, why is Iran’s Jewish community now so “small”?

Erlich briefly mentions that “over 100,000 Jews lived in Iran prior to the 1979 revolution, but many left right afterward”—leaving a population of only 12,000 to 30,000. Not only does he fail to account for the discrepant estimates of the current Jewish population, he fails to elaborate why so many Jews fled—in some instances perilously over mountains and desert—and why those who remain might be reluctant to publicly identify themselves as “Zionists.”

After taking power in 1979 and ushering in the Islamic Revolution, some wealthy Iranian-Jews found themselves put on show trials. The first private citizen to be executed by tribunal was Habib Elghanian, an Iranian Jew who stood accused of “economic imperialism” and contacts “with Israel and Zionism.” As Moment Magazine noted, “his real crime was that he had failed to follow established custom for Jews and maintain a low profile.” (“How Jew-Friendly Persia Became Anti-Semetic Iran,” Nov. 2006)

This relevant background may have something to do with why Iranian Jews stressed to Erlich that they “consider themselves Jews but not Zionists.” Not only does Erlich fail to provide context, he also uncritically notes the comments of an Iranian Jew who tells him, “There (is) no need for guards in front of our synagogues.” This omits that one possible reason is the iron fist of the regime, which suppresses all sectors of society and uses controlled violence for its own ends. The brutal suppression of peaceful protests in 2009 over the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is perhaps the most conspicuous example of Iran’s enforced police state conformity.

In other words, a reporter was granted access to the dwindling members of a Jewish community suppressed since the 1979 Islamic Revolution that brought the mullahs to power and—not surprisingly—they stated publically that they support the nuclear deal and that conditions in their community are just fine. One can imagine—in a country that persecuted other minorities, the baha’i’s for example—what would have happened to Jews quoted by Global Post/USA Today if they expressed anything but support for the theocratic government.

The annals of journalism record other instances of reporters failing to appreciate the nature of the leaders and regimes they covered. Dispatches from The Nation journalist Lincoln Steffens in 1919 infamously lauded the “imagination” of dictator Vladimir Lenin and were filled with testimonies from people throughout Russia supporting the newly-created Soviet Union and what was a rapidly decreasing crime rate —while failing to note the brutal means used to stabilize and support the regime

Outlet—i.e. Kansas City Star journalist Edgar Snow—whose exclusive access during China’s civil war in the 1930’s to Chinese Communists and their leader Mao Zedong, but not the opposing Chinese Nationalists whom he privately disdained—led the reporter to look past despotic tendencies already in evidence. Instead he wrote approvingly of future mass murderer Mao and his Communists as “agrarian reformers” who sought peace.

Similarly, New York Times reporter Herbert Matthews—labeled by biographer Anthony DePalma as “the man who invented Fidel”—was granted access to rebel and future Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Matthews claimed in 1959 that the future Communist leader was “not only not a Communist, he is decidedly anti-Communist.”

Perhaps most infamously, exclusive access to another of the twentieth centuries largest mass murderers—Soviet dictator Josef Stalin—led to New York Times reporter Walter Duranty becoming an apologist both for Stalin’s show trials against regime opponents and his forced starvation of Ukrainian peasants.

Erlich—who previously wrote an article with actor and counterculture iconoclast Peter Coyote referring to the terrorist-supporting regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al Assad as a possible “ally”—would have better served Global Post and USA Today readers by disclosing in greater detail the history of Iranian Jews under the mullahs. Had he provided more context—instead of transcribing statements uncritically—readers would have been much better informed.—Sean Durns

Posted by ER at August 13, 2015 03:07 PM

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