The impasse between Iran and the west has produced a bumper crop of Iranian opportunists who’ve latched onto a western gravy train as analysts, media commentators, political consultants, and think tank pundits. As opposed to genuine independent analysts with their own sources and expertise, this group caters to the interests of whichever particular group offers the most lucrative funding opportunities.
There is also an effort, often by pro-Israel interests, to parachute these individuals into the Beltway political mix. One of those who’s succeeded admirably at self-promotion and maximizing his meager credentials into a career as a B-list analyst of Iranian politics is Meir Javedanfar. According to the meager biographical details he’s offered, he was born in Iran and left in with his family 1987. There is a relatively large Iranian community in Israel so he may’ve emigrated to Israel though his bio doesn’t make this clear.
His academic career took him to Lancaster University, where he earned an MA in the International Relations and Strategic Studies program. A bio published at a speaker’s bureau says he has another MA in information management, but doesn’t name the school. Javedanfar doesn’t mention this degree in any of his other online biographies.
He has published in few, if any peer-reviewed academic publications as far as I can tell. He has no permanent academic position, though he teaches one course on Iranian politics at the Inter-Discipliniary Center in Herzliya, Israel’s private college. He has only one book, one that he co-wrote with former Haaretz security reporter, Yossi Melman. Like all of Melman’s other work , the Nuclear Sphinx of Teheran is full of conspiratorial theories that paint Iran in the worst possible light and pose the nuclear threat in the most extreme terms. In Gareth Porter’s review, he wrote:
The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran takes on the highly charged issue of Iran’s nuclear program — a tricky project even under the best of circumstances, given the interests of all the relevant parties to the dispute in promoting their own version of reality. A critical challenge in carrying out such a study is to avoid becoming captive of an official propaganda line, and co-authors Yossi Melman and Meir Javedanfar have failed to surmount that challenge…[It] tilts sharply toward the official Israeli view on virtually every question surrounding the Iranian nuclear program…
The thesis of the book is clearly stated in the first four chapters: President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is a dangerous Islamic extremist whose determination to exterminate Israel and belief in the coming of the Twelfth Imam (the Mahdi) adds up to a desire for war against Israel, with nuclear weapons if possible.
Porter charitably posits that “his [Melman’s] analysis has dominated in the conversation between the two coauthors.” But even if you consider that Melman wrote all this conspiratorial nonsense and Javedanfar served as little more than translator of the Farsi-language documents used in the preparation of the book, this still means the Iranian allowed himself to be sucked into a project involving extremist fear-mongering. I’m certain he did so willingly because associating himself with a figure like Melman would lend himself further credibility. Credibility is the currency of opportunists like Javedanfar.
The Iranian “analyst” did write the Iran chapter for the PSI Handbook of Global Security and Intelligence, co-edited by Prof. Shlomo Shpiro, who specializes in national security issues at the Begin-Sadat Center at Bar Ilan University. It is known as Israel’s Orthodox institution of higher learning, with a generally right-wing political and academic orientation.
His bio says he worked for BBC Persian, was a member of the Club of Rome “tt30″ (Think Tank 30),” where he ran its Beyond Oil economic forecast group, and was an analyst for Jane’s Intelligence Digest. The only evidence of a Beyond Oil entity associated with TT30 is a blog whose last post was in 2005. Jane’s Intelligence Digest no longer exists and hasn’t been printed for a number of years.
He falsely infers an affiliation with Columbia University’s School of International Studies by virtue of his membership in the Gulf 2000 Project, a listserv maintained by Gary Sick, who is on the faculty:
A member of Gulf 2000 Project, which is run by the School of International and Public Affairs of Columbia University in New York City and staffed by internationally renowned experts in Persian Gulf states
Membership in the listserv confers no special distinction and Javedanfar typically exaggerates his bona fides. I know this because I too was once a member, but left precisely because some poseurs like Javedanfar, with little or no academic qualifications in the field, espoused especially robust pro-Israel views which were never rebutted by other members. There is a separate academic program associated with Gulf 2000 which hosts conferences and papers, but I’ve found no evidence that Javedanfar participated at that level.
With such lean academic credentials, Javedanfar has done an excellent job parlaying them into TV and print media gigs for such outlets as BBC, Sky News, the CBC, RAI Italia, ABC Australia, Voice of America, Al Jazeera, Voice of American, the Boston Globe and Ha’aretz.
On his website, he boasts of his participation in a BBC Persian panel at the London School of Economics. The Israeli foreign ministry has engaged him to speak at various local Latin American universities. He spoke at a 2007 conference on Iran co-sponsored by The Israel Project on Iran in Latin America. He is also listed as a potential speaker in the group’s list of those able to provide the suitable pro-Israel political line to American Jews on a variety of topics.
To give you a sense of TIP’s political orientation, Josh Block, formerly chief media enforcer for Aipac, is its new director. What’s shocking about the TIP event at which Javedanfar spoke, is that it was co-sponsored by the Hebrew University’s Truman Center, a well-respected academic institution. This is yet another example of how the ideologically driven pro-Israel advocates have co-opted the academic sphere; and how operatives like Javedanfar succeed in penetrating it as well.
One speaker’s bureau lists his fee as between $5,000-6,000. If you add all-extense paid travel to exotic places around the world, this gets to be quite a cushy gig.
He also claims to have been consulted by the State Department and Pentagon and lists further accomplishments:
He has briefed government and intelligence officials from no less than 10 countries about Iranian politics, economy, security affairs and the nuclear program.
Mr Javedanfar currently serves as a political advisor to the Spanish Embassy in Israel and also works as the in house Israeli affairs expert for BBC Persian.
But somewhat oddly, his own corporate consulting companies website lists no clients at all. This is, to say the least, unusual for someone claiming to be a distinguished international consultant. Though of course it could indicate an individual conducting his career by the seat of his pants.
Javedanfar has a blog, Iran-Israel Observer, which catalogs his anti-regime views. He also publishes prolifically online at a variety of sites most of which have a distinct right-wing orientation. In that sense, he’s a bit like Daniel Pipes, who earned a PhD at a prestigious academic institution, but has eschewed academia for agitprop and pamphleteering. But unlike Pipes, Javedanfar can be taken into respectable company. He wears a suit at the dinner table and espouses views that are acceptable because they are not bellicose or outrageous.
At the pro-Israel, neocon-funded Pajamas Media he published scores of articles between 2007-09. He is also a contributor to RealClearWorld, a conservative news aggregator akin to Huffington Post. He blogs at Times of Israel, a newish right-wing English language news site. The financing for the venture comes from a right-wing U.S. Jewish hedge fund manager. The blog editor avoids any responsibility for the accuracy or editorial content of posts published by pointing to the policy that offers little or no editorial oversight of the product at all. This of course is a boon to people like Javedanfar or David Abitbol (Jewlicious), who spews his venom there as well.
Javedanfar has no strongly held views or discernible political orientation. You couldn’t say he’s liberal or conservative. He’s neither Likud nor Labor. While he’s certainly pro-Israel, he’s pro-U.S. as well. One of the few points that are clear is that he’s anti-regime in terms of Iran. He also favors the harshest possible sanctions (though this is a no-brainer since that is a western mainstream consensus position). Such a program is driving ordinary Iranians into penury. It is hard for me to see an Iranian with sympathy for his own people advocate such suffering.
Beyond that is less clear: does he favor regime change; attacking Iran; a democratic secular Iran (à la MEK); or a moderate Islamic state. You’d never know about these questions since he’s too smart to allow himself to be pigeon-holed. To do so would limit his value to his sponsors.
To all of this, Javedanfar responds by claiming the criticism comes from those who support the Iranian government. This is a false claim. I don’t support the regime. But I also don’t support hare-brained schemes advanced by Israeli intelligence to grind Iran’s will into submission; or to engage in Israeli or U.S. sponsored regime change.
His views remind me of a jellyfish–soft and squishy. He can wriggle through any opening. That is the only way I can fathom that a Beltway think tank staffer advocated hiring Javedanfar as an Iran specialist. Thankfully, the idea was scuttled. Presumably, there are others who voiced their own shock that such a questionable figure could be given such a platform.
Perhaps the worst sin Javedanfar is guilty of is falsely attributing a quotation from the New York Times to an IAEA report about Iran’s supposed nuclear weapons’ ambitions. He committed this journalistic sin in no less a form than the Guardian, where he propounded the questionable notion that Iran was hellbent on getting a nuclear weapon (“Last week brought new indications that the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran want to make a nuclear bomb”). The evidence? A new IAEA report which, on further consideration, didn’t at all support the far-reaching conclusions that Javedanfar and Israeli intelligence wished to propagate.
That didn’t stop Javedanfar from inserting this fraudulent claim in his own article:
It [the IAEA report] stated that “Tehran has conducted work on a highly sophisticated nuclear triggering technology that experts said could be used for only one purpose: setting off a nuclear weapon”.
As Nima Shirazi wrote in Wide Asleep in America (link above):
Seems simple enough. But it’s a lie. The quote Javedanfar uses is not from the IAEA report at all despite what he writes; rather, it is swiped wholesale from the New York Times article lede on the IAEA report, written a few days earlier by the Times‘ resident Judith Miller clones, David Sanger and William Broad. The actual IAEA report does not make this claim. In fact, the words “evidence” and “trigger” are nowhere to be found in the IAEA report
The fact that Israeli intelligence provided much of most incriminating “evidence” for the IAEA report and that Javedanfar published an op-ed that piggybacked on this questionable claim may not be an accident.
The $64,000 Question is why someone with such lackluster credentials would find the doors of power open to him. There is only one answer: he is Israeli-Iranian. He’s a twofer, representing the two different poles of this conflict. As such, he’s viewed as having a particular authenticity as a spokesperson for both sides. In reality, Javedanfar–who, despite his claims to the contrary, has few if any contacts inside Iran–is not an authentic Iranian representative. Leaders of the Iranian-American community with whom I’ve consulted have scoffed at this notion. They consider him, at best, an opportunist, and not a very convincing one at that.
Anyone who associates with this man or hires him should know that he’s little more than a cipher. He may be sincere and speak for himself. He may be on someone’s payroll. Either way, he represents nothing of substance or integrity. He’s an empty suit.
What especially annoys some who truly represent an Iranian-American constituency, is that there are a limited number of seats at the table inside the Beltway at policymaking venues. Those seats are filled with the usual suspects: administration officials, think-tank scholars, politically connected academics. But few of them are truly independent voices that represent an alternative to the consensus discourse. When someone like Javedanfar is offered one of those seats there’s one less for legitimate figures. That serves to limit the diversity of debate over issues of moment like sanctions, military assault, nuclear proliferation, etc. If Israel can succeed at doing this then its own extremist views will be an easier sell.
That’s why it’s especially outrageous that a liberal think tank staffer advocated offering him one. It’s why it’s outrageous that a liberal news outlet like the Guardian includes Javedanfar as a regular contributor to its blog; or The Atlantic offers him a perch, where he sits alongside another Israel-booster, Jeffrey Goldberg. He’s been interviewed by DC center-left think tanks like the International Affairs Forum, on whose editorial board Steve Clemons sits. Last September, Robert Wright’s BloggingheadsTV featured him paired with Matt Duss (Javedanfar did several other video gigs there as well), one of those Center for American Progress analysts who seem to have been cowed by the housecleaning last year that got rid of Israel critics like Ali Gharib, Ziad Jilani and Eli Clifford, and also cost M.J. Rosenberg his job at Media Matters (Rosenberg’s moved his blog here). The Iranian pundit was also featured in a J Street video and endorsed the group in his own blog post (likely because he hadn’t been offered any speaking gigs by Aipac).
Meir Javedanfar is simply the Zelig of the Iran punditocracy, a wonder of malleability. It’s shameful that these otherwise respectable media outlets have been taken in by him.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.