By Reza Behrouz
On its website, the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) claims to be “a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the voice of Iranian-Americans.” NIAC further contends that since its inception, the organization “has given the Iranian-American community a powerful voice.” Many Iranian-Americans beg to differ. There seems to be a consensus among a large number of Iranian-Americans that NIAC is a lobby organization for Iran’s Islamist regime and has little to do with the welfare of Iranians living in the US. Indeed, NIAC’s history and actions over the years tend to support this notion.
NIAC was founded in 2002. Documents and interviews by people familiar with the organization’s history suggest that NIAC was established in close collaboration with the Iranian regime. In fact, a “political analyst” who was among the original founders of NIAC once claimed that the group was created under the direction of Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s then ambassador to the United Nations and current foreign minister. Court records from a defamation lawsuit also substantiate this relationship. Direct attachment to the mullah regime aside, the reason as to why many Iranian-Americans do not endorse NIAC as their representative stems from the organization’s position on various sociopolitical issues affecting the Iranian community.
For starts, NIAC has traditionally demonstrated an affinity for politicians with unseemly reputation and character. This pattern began with Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH), who was convicted in 2007 on charges of corruption and sentenced to 30 months in prison, and on to Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) whose relationship with Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam is common knowledge. Additionally, Rep. Ellison last year faced allegations by a former girlfriend of sexual and psychological abuse. NIAC has also shown a staunch support for Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) whose incessant anti-Semitic innuendos have sown controversy in Washington and across the nation. Iranian-Americans find anti-Semitism particularly objectionable since roughly 6% of the community identifies as Jewish. NIAC’s obsessive disparagement of Israel on social media mirrors Rep. Omar’s comportment; equally controversial and reprehensible.
Although NIAC claims to be non-partisan, the organization has increasingly taken on a far-left posture in the past few years. NIAC supports socialist politicians, such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), as well as socialist candidates running for office. NIAC’s far-left nature is tangible in the propaganda it disseminates and thrives on. The organization’s messages are often extreme, exaggerated, and divisive. It is as though NIAC is trying to exploit an already divided society to its benefit. The organization has adopted a doctrine based on identity politics, in which its opponents are automatically labeled as “neoconservatives,” “Islamophobes,” “bigots,” “Trumpists,” and “warmongers.” In addition, NIAC tends to almost indiscriminately associate its Iranian-American critics to the Mojahedin Khlaq Organization (MKO), an Islamomarxist opposition faction with unfavorable standing among the Iranian people. One of NIAC’s deceptive propaganda techniques is to use the MKO’s unpopularity and portray this organization as the only alternative to the current regime. In other words, the MKO is characterized by NIAC as a “boogey-man” to frighten the Iranian people of the prospect of regime change and what it will be replaced with. Another scare tactic persistently used by NIAC is apocalyptic forecasting of an imminent war with Iran.
Aversion to NIAC also emanates from the group’s lackadaisical stance on human rights in Iran and antagonistic posture towards secular, democratic movements. Although NIAC claims it works “to ensure that human rights are upheld in Iran,” its record suggests otherwise. In 2008, at a Middle East Policy Council forum, when NIAC’s president was asked about the organization’s position on human rights in Iran, he replied, “NIAC is not a human rights organization. That’s not our expertise.” Until several years after its formation, NIAC was completely oblivious to the issue of human rights and was resolute in its mission to defund US government’s programs for promotion of democracy in Iran. The organization has also vehemently opposed the designation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group by the US government. The IRGC is the regime’s principal apparatus for repression of democratic and civil rights movements in Iran. It is further responsible for spending billions on proxy wars and destabilizing activities throughout the Middle East.
NIAC has an unremitting habit of disparaging and undermining Iranian democratic movements, including dissidents and opposition figures. During and in the aftermath of Iranian protests last winter, NIAC steadfastly sought to shift the blame from the regime’s corruption and economic mismanagement to President Trump’s decommissioning of the nuclear deal. In addition, NIAC and its associates have embarked on a smear campaign against Iranian dissidents in the diaspora, as well as opposition leaders. These dissident groups are trying to find a pathway for peaceful and effectual transition of power in Iran. NIAC’s behavior towards dissidents has prompted an outcry from the Iranian-American community, many of which are deeply opposed to the regime in Tehran and its human rights record.
Many Iranian-Americans view NIAC as an organization that tries to convince the West to accept the legitimacy of the ruling mullahs, rather than support the aspirations of the Iranian people for a secular, democratic nation. They also see NIAC as a self-serving, parasitic entity that preys upon the society’s divide, disarray, and despair. It is worth emphasizing that NIAC’s conduct over the years has led Iranian-Americans to reject — and perhaps be embarrassed by — the group’s claim of being their representative. Fortunately, the Trump Administration’s repudiation of the nuclear deal has essentially rendered NIAC dysfunctional, ineffective, and devoid of a meaningful cause to exist and fight for.