Shai Franklin's Distorted Discourse on Iranian Dissidents
On Monday, June 17, 2013, Shai Franklin, currently senior fellow for United Nations Affairs at the Institute on Religion and Public Affairs, penned a critique for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency entitled "Stop pretending to care about Iranians' rights." In it, he roundly criticized Professor Irwin Cotler and Illinois U.S. Senator Mark Kirk for their essay, "Stand with the dissidents of Iran," published in the JTA on Friday, June 14, 2013. Franklin condemned the Cotler-Kirk call for support of the newly formed Iranian Political Prisoners Global Advocacy Project as counter-productive. He proclaimed that their appeal for support "actually undermines the cause of dissidents who are risking their lives and being tortured daily just for the basic dignity that most JTA readers take for granted."
Mr. Franklin may be an expert in many areas of Middle-East affairs -- his background certainly implies such -- but on this issue he is woefully ignorant. No, this writer is not an eyewitness to the Iranian prison system, thank God. But he does have regular contact with scores of former prisoners who have been part of the Iranian dissident movement for over three decades. And their testimony consistently calls for greater international scrutiny of the Iranian prison system.
Mr. Franklin criticized Cotler and Kirk for publishing their essay in a Jewish newspaper. He wrote: "But when Cotler and Kirk call on Jews to demand democracy and human rights in Iran -- implicitly branding it as a pro-Israel priority -- it actually undermines the cause of dissidents who are risking their lives[.]" I have read the Cotler-Kirk essay multiple times; nowhere does it address the Jewish community to act on behalf of Israel. In fact, nowhere in their essay do they address their words exclusively to the Jewish community! Publishing in the JTA in today's world is no more of an intention to address an exclusive faith/ethnic community than was my 2008 publication of essays about Iraq in the AINA press an address limited to Iraqi Christians or my essay about Syria in 2009 in Ashraq al-Arabi an exclusive to the Arab world. But Mr. Franklin should understand something: leading advocates as well as lawyers for the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) -- the leading opposition movement to the Tehran regime, with supporters both in and outside Iran -- are Jewish. And some of us support the NCRI because we care about human rights, and some of us do so because we believe that it is in Israel's interests to see regime change in Iran, and some of us are involved for both reasons.
Franklin suggests that "not only do most of the brave Iranians Cotler and Kirk claim to be helping not want their help, they would probably continue much of the terrorist and nuclear enterprise the current regime is pursuing." It appears that Franklin doesn't remember the words of the young dissidents in the streets of Tehran during the summer and fall 2009 riots: "Obama ya ba oona ya ba ma" -- "Obama: Are you with us or with them?" -- and "Na ghazeh na lobnan janam fadai iran" -- "Neither Gaza nor Lebanon is our business; no to Gaza and no to Lebanon. Iran is our business, and I give my life for that!" He also seems to be uninformed about the current pro-democracy demonstrations in the capital this past weekend where hundreds of Tehranis, mostly young people, staged a march in which they were chanting, "free all political prisoners," "we don't want a government with guidance patrols," "Sattar Beheshti, we will continue your path," "Neda Agha Soltan, the lady of Iran, your path is continuing," and "don't be afraid, we are all together" -- or a similar demonstration Monday in Hamedan, where the crowd chanted, "Political prisoners must be released" and "Cannons, Tanks, Bassijis are effective no more." Does Franklin need to be reminded that one of the first places that Neda Soltan's fiancé, Caspian Makan, came to visit after his escape from Iran was Israel?
Ninety percent of Iranians hate the regime and everything for which it stands. Yes, ten percent support the regime and would like to see Israel destroyed, but the vast majority of Iranians reject the regime's policies. Unfortunately, the ninety percent is the group without the guns.
Franklin says that Iranian dissidents aren't asking for "us to isolate and strangle their country economically and politically." Maybe Franklin isn't looking at or listening to the right dissidents. My sources report that many Iranians are calling for stiff sanctions and boycotts of products that bring income to the regime.
Franklin further states his belief that most Iranians will want nuclear arms even if the regime is overthrown. He writes: "But even a complete change of regime -- whether by internal revolution or external force -- would be unlikely to produce a cooperative government that renounces Iran's inbred aspirations to regional hegemony." Obviously Mr. Franklin is not very familiar with the National Council of Resistance of Iran or its nominal leader, President-Elect Mrs. Maryam Rajavi. The NCRI's 2012 annual convocation in Paris drew over 100,000 attendees from around the world; the 2013 convocation next weekend promises to feature a larger attendance yet. The NCRI "Ten Point Plan for Future Iran" specifically rejects nuclear weaponry for Iran and calls for regional harmonious relations. That doesn't sound like an aspiration to regional hegemony.
Mr. Franklin's portfolio calls for him to promote human rights; that's an admirable goal. As he is a Jewish professional, I assume that he is committed to Israel's safety and survival. The two are not mutually exclusive, despite what he seems to think. And if he would get out into the field and see the work of the NCRI and its subsidiary, the PMOI (People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran), he might come to realize that regime change not only is desirable, but, if led by the popular NCRI, will result in amicable relations between Iran and Israel, as was the case prior to the 1979 Khomeini revolution.
Rabbi Dr. Daniel M. Zucker, author of over ninety articles on the Middle East, is founder and Chairman of the Board of Americans for Democracy in the Middle-East, a grassroots organization dedicated to teaching the public and its elected officials of the need to promote genuine democratic institutions throughout the Middle-East region as an antidote to the dangers posed by Islamic fundamentalism. He may be contacted at contact@ADME.ws.