By Jonathan Greenblatt
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League
This blog originally appeared on Medium
A little over a year ago, the Anti-Defamation League reacted to the newly announced parameters of the agreement between the world powers and Iran, saying it left us with “many unanswered questions” about Iran’s nuclear program and the Islamic Republic’s intention to fully and transparently uphold its commitments. “The Iranian regime has not changed, “ADL said then, “and we do not expect a change in its behavior.”
A year later, and months into the implementation of that agreement, there is no clear evidence that Iran is violating its commitments, although our questions on Iran’s true intentions regarding its long-term nuclear ambitions remain.
These questions are more important than ever with ongoing debate taking place in Washington over whether the Obama Administration should take more steps to facilitate international banking transactions and trade between Iran and other states.
With this discussion underway, it’s timely to review the predictions made by some experts that the agreement would lead to a more moderate and constructive Iran. Some opined that the deal would usher in a new approach, making it a fitting member of the community of nations. The steady pace of commercial and diplomatic delegations visiting Tehran might lead one to believe that there is a glasnost afoot.
Yet while there may be improved p.r., the regime has changed very little. It continues to display little regard for the human rights of its own citizens. It maintains its policies of regional aggression including weapons development and testing. And it has not slowed its support of terrorism and spread of base hatreds against Israel and its Jewish people. Indeed, just this week the supposedly reformed minded President Hassan Rouhani called for vigilance “against the danger of the Zionist regime” and accused it of “continued massacres.”
So much for change.
Unceasing Human Rights Violations
Iran’s failure to change, despite hopes for greater “openness” and “moderation” is most evident in its abysmal human rights record. As the Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran, Ahmed Shaheed, recently told the U.N. Human Rights Council, there “is an alarming surge in the rate of unlawful executions in the country, and ongoing arbitrary arrests, detentions and prosecutions of individuals for the exercise of their fundamental rights.“ In 2015, according to official government records at least 966 people were executed — the highest number since 1989, and 10 times as much as a decade ago. Grassroots reports provide higher rates.
Amnesty International reports that Iran is the world’s leading executor of juveniles — and at least 160 individuals under the age of 18 are currently on death row. The Special Rapporteur reported that just since January, “at least 47 journalists and social media activists were reportedly detained in the country …and over 272 internet cafe businesses were reportedly closed in 2015 for their alleged ‘threat to societal norms and values.’”
Iran continues to persecute religious minorities, particularly the Baha’i community, restricting their rights, as the Special Rapporteur said, to “openly manifest their beliefs, to educate their children, and to earn a living.” One recent example: Iran imprisoned a young Baha’i woman whose sole crime was protesting the policies that prevented her from pursuing higher education.
A legal system established by a government that accords second class status to a specific category of its own citizens, restricting their access to basic services like education and shrinking their basic civil rights is unacceptable.
Pushing the envelope on aggressive weaponry
President Obama recently said that while “Iran, so far, has followed the letter of the (nuclear) agreement” it is undermining the “spirit of the agreement” with its “provocative” actions. Most egregiously, Iran thumbed its nose at the international community with its March launch of long-range ballistic missiles — an action restricted by UN Security Council Resolution 2231.
Four of the six world powers who signed the Iranian agreement — the U.S., U.K., France and Germany — sent a letter to the heads of the U.N. and Security Council calling Iran’s ballistic missile operations “inconsistent with” and “in defiance of” the Security Council resolution which bars missiles that could carry nuclear weapons. In an ominous wink to the country Iran has most publicly threatened, the Iranian news agency Fars said one of the missiles tested on March 6 had “Israel must be wiped off the Earth,” written along its side in Hebrew.
And it’s not just ballistic missiles. In a recent Iranian news report, Brigadier General Hossein Salami of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards threatened: “The Zionist regime will collapse in the near future. When Hezbollah has stockpiled over 100,000 missiles, it means Iran has tens of times more than that. Iran is in possession of different classes of missiles, and this power is unstoppable.” Around the same time, officials in the city of Lamard held a military training program for children with the goal of “conquering Tel Aviv.”
And the weapons proliferation is not just related to Israel. Three times in the last two months, U.S. Naval ships have seized large caches of weaponsbelieved to be sent by Iran intended for Houthi rebels in Yemen. And others have reported extensively on the continued training and weapons deployment in Syria in support of the Assad government whose brutalization of its own citizenry instigated the civil war that continues to wrack the country and destabilize the region.
Continued campaign to destroy Israel and its Jewish population
Meanwhile, even as Iran puts on a public face to court international business and investment, its propaganda machine churns out base conspiracy theories about Jews and Israel. A recent absurd allegation asserted that imports of “genetically modified products are a ‘Zionist plot’ to infect Iranians with diseases and a ‘serious example of infiltration.’ And, while President Rouhani has not touted the issue like his predecessor President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had, it is apparent that Holocaust denial and mockery are very much alive and well within Iranian society, with academic examinations of the issue and cartoon contests.
The Jewish festival of Purim, which commemorates ancient Persia’s Queen Esther and Mordechai’s saving of the Jews from the evil Haman who planned to kill them all, has long provided anti-Semitic fodder in Iran. Pointing to the Book of Esther’s telling that after Haman was killed, 75,000 Persians were slain, Iranians have manipulated this ancient story and presented it as a “holocaust” and “genocide” perpetrated by the Jews against Iranians, and the real source of alleged Jewish hostility toward Iran.
In a recent article entitled “Purim: the Iranian Holocaust by Jews, A Celebration of Half a Million Iranian Massacred” in Ghatreh, asserted: “Zionists’ hatred and jealousy of the ancient history and glorious civilization of Iran for their scientific advances and their historical achievements, particularly after the Islamic Revolution is not something they can hide. The Zionist’s inferiority feeling toward the greatness of the Iranian nation has a historical root. By one glance to the historical context and events that happened between Iranians and this people prove the fact. After Cyrus as a ruler who was a seeker for justice, released captive Jews from Babylonia, he never imagined the same people after few years would carry out a creeping coup against Iran and Iranians and respond to the kindness of Iranians, would be brutal slaughter of them.”
It is galling to see the Islamic Republic gain accolades for tweets in English around Rosh Hashanah while its supporters use Farsi to issue such anti-Semitic screeds that seem like updated versions of the Protocols of Zion.
In conclusion, a year after the path was forged to the nuclear agreement with Iran much has changed. President Rouhani traveled to Rome and Paris to promote trade and economic partnership with Iran. Iran was a key participant in the talks leading to a ceasefire in Syria — much to the consternation of its Persian Gulf rivals. Iran finally released four American prisoners it had been holding, including Washington Post bureau chief Jason Rezaian.
But when it comes to its internal illiberal policies, human rights violations, the spreading of hate against Jews and its continued militancy against its neighbors, the past year has made no difference. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same.