Wednesday 19 August 2015

Ghattas’s adventures in Ayatollah-land

Vice-President Masoumeh Ebtekar and Kim Ghattas

What do you think of the reports we’re getting from the BBC’s Kim Ghattas?
It’s part of “the Iranian regime’s media charm offensive”; that’s not my cynical take on it - it’s from an article in the Guardian. 

Jon Leyne

There have been several articles about the softening of Iran’s hard-line attitude to things western. 
The hard-line attitude that led, for example, to the expulsion in 2009 of the BBC’s Jon Leyne, who sadly died in 2013 at the age of 55. He’d been reporting from Iran since 2007 but was chucked out of the country in 2009 after which he reported on matters Iranian as best he could, from exile.
This is from his Guardian obit: 
“In 2007 came his most difficult posting – Tehran. The Iranian government was suspicious of foreign reporters, particularly after massive street protests erupted in response to disputed presidential elections in June 2009. Despite continued threats that the BBC bureau would be shut down, Leyne refused to dilute his coverage, exhibiting much bravery. Eventually, he was expelled when the authorities accused the BBC of fomenting revolt. Shortly after his departure, a pro-government Iranian newspaper accused him of hiring thugs to kill Neda Agha-Soltan – who was shot dead during election protests – so that he could make a documentary.”
Anyway, along with Iran’s (possible) ‘coming in out of the cold’ there has been a considerable easing of its ban on foreign correspondents. In fact they’ve been encouraged to visit in a sort of rebranding exercise. Trust us! We wish you no harm!
“According to the Fars news agency, 17 foreign media organisations have been granted press visas this month alone, including the Forward, France’s Arte channel, Science magazine, Le Monde and France Culture, as well as the BBC.”
Of Kim Ghattas’s visit the Guardian says:
“But arrangements for Ghattas’s trip reflected continuing Iranian sensitivities: she was apparently selected for the assignment because she is Dutch and not a UK national. It was also agreed that none of the material would be broadcast on the BBC Persian TV channel, which is extremely popular with ordinary Iranians but strongly disliked by the government.
The only BBC journalist to have visited Iran since 2009 was its chief international correspondent, Lyse Doucet, who travelled to Tehran with the party of the EU’s foreign policy chief after the nuclear agreement in Vienna.” 
Perhaps the most surprising visit by a foreign correspondent was by a reporter from ‘Forward” a Jewish publication; Larry Cohler-Esses.
His lengthy and lavishly illustrated article includes a video of Iranian people saying they want to be friends with the rest of the world, they don’t dislike Jews - “only Zionists”, and “occupiers must go out of those lands”. 
“My visit, coming after two years of seeking a journalist’s visa to report from Iran, represented something special: I was the first journalist from a Jewish, pro-Israel (if not always pro-Israel government) publication to be granted a journalist’s visa since the 1979 Revolution. Whether this was a reflection of increased openness by the government I cannot say. My visa came only after a former representative of Iran’s Jewish community in the country’s parliament wrote a letter on my behalf.”
Iranian 'man in the street'

Cohler-Esses believes the Iranians have no desire to attack Israel, and although they do have an ideological objection to the Jewish state they would accept a two state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians if the Palestinians were to negotiate one and approve it in a referendum.
Of course if we’ve been reading Elder of Ziyon, we would be familiar with the infamous Referendum. 
How the Ayatollah duped The Forward (and how the NYT plays along) 

This "referendum" that they are referring to would be open to all who identify themselves as Palestinian around the world, at last count some 12 million. Jews could only vote if their ancestors had lived in Ottoman Palestine and they still live in Israel. The "referendum" would then be to decide what to do with the Jews who moved to Israel since 1948. Those millions of Jews don't have a vote. The Ayatollah knows that the results of this "referendum" would be to expel all the Jews who have lived in Israel for less than a century. 
"Referendum," when used by Iranians, is a codeword for the ethnic cleansing of Jews from Israel. And they admit this freely for people who bother to read their writings.
But there may be an infinitesimal theoretical chance that these "Palestinians" would vote to allow a Jewish state on land that they claim as being stolen from them.
This is what these clerics and officials are saying, and dupes like Larry Cohler-Esses is too ignorant of the facts to understand that he has been made into a fool. 
This is explicit in the Ayatollah Khamenei's writings. But the Forward journalist is too enamored of the idea of a moderate Iran that he doesn't even know the basics of how Khamenei wants to destroy Israel - something that his interviewees agree with but were not asked.

Michael Totten is always worth reading, and he pays the same compliment to Larry Cohler-Essen’s piece, but finds it “a bit on the naïve side”.
The article by Larry Cohler-Esses is interesting and worth reading, but it’s also a bit on the naïve side. Reporting from police states on a journalist visa doesn’t always take nerves of steel (such countries are generally not dangerous places for foreign visitors if permission to work there has been granted), but it does require heavy doses of skepticism.
“Though I had to work with a government fixer and translator,” he writes, “I decided which people I wanted to interview and what I would ask them.”
Perhaps, but he has no way of knowing if the translations are accurate, and meanwhile I know for a fact that both the translator and the fixer reported on him to the government. They were required by law to do so. For all he and I know, they worked for the Ministry of Intelligence.”
Totten doesn’t buy the excuse that Iranians don’t dislike Jews and that their objection is only to Zionists, and that they merely disagree, in a most reasoned and logical fashion, with the Israeli government’s policies
“Iran’s official line right now to Western audiences is that the government is increasingly moderate, reasonable, and flexible. (That’s probably the only reason a reporter from The Forward was given a journalist visa in the first place.) 
Anyway, it makes no sense that Iran only objects to Israeli policy. Iranian leaders routinely scream Death to Israel. They also routinely scream Death to America.”
There are valuable passages in Cohler-Esses’s article too. He quotes people who doubt that the easing of sanctions will benefit ordinary people. The power holder will not allow it. 
“So Cohler-Esses’ naiveté is balanced out to an extent with this sort of reporting. It’s also countered by an accurate analysis of who’s really in charge.
He ably dissects what he calls the Deep State—Khamenei and the instruments of power he controls directly, such as the Revolutionary Guard Corps. It’s the Deep State that executes dissidents, throws demonstrators into prison, and backs Iranian terrorist proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, and Iraq. And the Iranian people, try as they might, have no leverage to stop it, not even when they “elect” a relative moderate.”
Michael J Totten

I find some of the comments below articles I’ve read on this topic almost as revealing as the articles themselves. Too many are extremely ill-informed and some are outright antisemitic.

L King, a regular commenter on Totten’s blog, replies to one of several supporters of the deal with Iran as follows:
“And it is a facade. The Iranian "referendum" mentioned in the article would exclude Jews who could not prove ancestry in Israel before 1918, but no such restriction on Palestinian Arabs. No criticism from the likes of you. The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is a racist apartheid regime which has a similar mantra of ethnically cleansing Jews from Jerusalem and the west bank, not unlike Hamas and Islamic Jihad who, if they were given the opportunity would extirpate the whole. No criticism from you. 
The Arab nations have treated Palestinians as junkyard dogs, penning them in concentration camp like conditions and denying them the possibility of integration into their own societies. No criticism from you. And some 850,000 Jews were made refugees from Muslim countries as Arab nations turned on their Jews, many of whom had lived there since long before Mohammed was a gleam in his father Abdullah's eye. No criticism from you. 
The Arabs have turned an naksa (setback) into a nakba (catastrophe). There was no good reason other than the discrimination placed on them by their fellow Arabs that they could not have recovered their social well being in the same manner as Indians, Pakistanis, Greeks, Hungarians, Jews, Croats, Vietnamese and other countless others have done in the wake of adversity. No criticism from you. 
We're fed up with being your scapegoat of choice, Mr Cross. We didn't kill Jesus, we don't control the banks, the newspapers nor the governments of the world and never have. It's tiresome to listen to people like you repeat this. We've continually tried to find a mutually acceptable accommodation with the Palestinian leadership which they've rejected time and again. Neither Gaza nor the PA is set up as liberal or democratic, and after several failed attempts perhaps its best to wait and see what the next generation will bring about. 
Finally Israel is a liberal and conservative multicultural pluralistic middle eastern western Jewish and democratic society. Your demagoguery and claims have been examined and considered more often than they have warranted. It's time you stopped abusing others and find yourself a new hobby.”
Most fans of the Iran deal tend to regard Israel as disposable. They have convinced themselves that Iran doesn’t really mean it when it threatens to make “the occupiers get out of these lands”, but even if Iran did mean it and began to implement it by slow or fast means, they still wouldn’t care one whit. It would be for what they see as the greater good. 
I’m pretty sure the BBC thinks along those lines too. Even if the official BBC position is to deny that, claiming they don’t ‘take sides’ I think their Israel-bashing over the years has led to a chilling indifference to Israel’s future, and in some cases outright hostility to the concept of Israel as a Jewish state or a safe haven for Jews.
I wonder whether Kim Ghattas feels restricted and whether she was tailed by minders who report back to the regime? I wonder whether she believes she’s hearing genuine, freely expressed, heartfelt answers? Her reporting certainly feels like spin and wishful thinking. Is she trying to make the Iran deal look positive. Is that on the BBC’s agenda? Maybe that’s just my skeptical, suspicious attitude, and everything will work out fine. 


  1. What do I think of Ms Ghattas's appeasing questioning of an arch-terrorist, persecutor of gays and religious minorities and violator of international law? I am effing outraged.

    I also deeply offended by the appeasing wearing of the black rag demanded by the Iranian authorities - not part of our cultural norms but it seems the BBC is happy to step into line with the Ayatollah's demands.

    And what did we learn from these interviews? Precisely nothing, except that Iranians think they are masters of dissimulation, when their subterfuge could in reality be spotted by a 12 year old child (if not a BBC reporter).

  2. The BBC seems to running into a bit of trouble with its favourite 'impartiality' mantras these days, not least because what many, many BBC people (inc. DGs and Trust chairs) say, proven fact and independent assessment intrude with a dose of reality.

    Running puff-pieces on behalf of those overseas? They very idea. Thank you, OFCOM.

    Yet their ongoing responses to accusations of ensuring impartiality struggle from the get-go and never cease to amaze.

    Be it heading up the febrile ME desk with a chap who by zero stretch could be seen to have any warm feelings to a key player (justified or not, Bowen commentating still on matters pertaining to Israel is insane), to sending a (appropriately decked-out) shill to go sister-to-sister (Evan, Eddie or even Grayson perhaps deemed unsuitable) and avoid any tricky stuff, if only for self-preservation.

    She, the BBC, and all their pretences are a bad, dangerous joke.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.