Isabel Kershner has published yet another of those odd articles the NYT publishes quite regularly from its Israel bureau. This one profiles a survey of Iranian public opinion carried out by Israel’s leading private university, the Inter-Disciplinary Center (IDC). Dr. Alex Mintz, director of the IDC’s Institute for Policy and Strategy and dean of the Lauder School of Government, conducted the poll. Not surprisingly, it found that huge swaths of Iranian opinion viewed Iran’s interests in a way that was favorable to Israel.
Before getting into the substance of the poll, I wanted to point out this egregious example of non-standard usage on Kershner’s part in this sentence:
Nearly 40 percent of those asked agreed that Iran should recognize Israel if Israel reached a peace accord with the Palestinians and withdrew from the contested territories.
For those attuned to the language of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the standard reference is ‘Occupied Territories.’ This land is Palestine. It is not “contested” nor “disputed” as settler and pro-Israel advocates like to claim. The U.S. and the rest of the world acknowledge that these are lands which will become Palestine, and which have been conquered and occupied by Israel. Why does her Times editor allow Kershner to create new journalistic “facts on the ground” in the pages of the Times? I have e mailed and tweeted Margaret Sullivan about this. We’ll see if there’s a response.
Now as to the poll itself: astonishingly, it is based on fraud and deceit. The pollsters, based in Israel, telephoned Iranians. The former were Israeli-Iranians and native Farsi speakers who allowed those polled to believe they were calling from a local Iranian research institute whose name is close to that of the IDC. If those polled grew suspicious, pollsters offered them a local phone number to call to verify their bona fides. The article doesn’t make this clear (and should have) but clearly the local phone number was a fraud and no one asked to call it.
I’m astonished that the dean of a major research center would put his name on such a project, let alone trumpet it to the world media. It shows once again, that attitudes in Israel about issues like ethics and even national security are miles away from those in western democracies. No legitimate polling outfit in the U.S. either private or academic would associate themselves with such fraudulent methods.
Aside from the deceit involved there are a number of other extreme oddities of this project. First, some of those polled were skeptical about Iranian pollsters asking about whether they would be willing to give up the Iranian nuclear program. They had good reason not only to be skeptical, but they should’ve been outraged. Imagine if the Iranian police or intelligence services discovered which Iranians had been polled. They could charge them with being spies for Israel. This is not a theoretical issue. It’s a very real one in which those participating in the poll were put in great danger.
Second, why would anyone think there was any validity to a poll of Iranian opinion conducted by Israelis from Israel? The questions were formulated by Israelis with little knowledge of contemporary Iran. These two countries are practically at war. The notion that either one could poll the citizens of the other country and get valid results is nearly preposterous. The questions were formulated to get results the pollsters wanted rather than to explore real Iranian public opinion.
Returning to the issue of intelligence, at one point in Kershner’s article, Mintz protests:
Professor Mintz added: “This is not about spying or anything. We are a research center. We wanted to know what the Iranians think.”
Of course it’s not about spying. It’s not like Israeli intelligence would pay for precisely such a survey to ascertain the views of Iranians! The very notion that a research center couldn’t or wouldn’t engage with Israel’s security services on such a project is ludicrous. In fact, my Israeli source confirms that Israeli intelligence (he didn’t specify if it was Mossad or Aman) were “involved” in the survey. There is also a classified portion which he declined to elaborate on. The source also said the survey was prepared with the assistance of an “Iran expert” with “intelligence background.” In fact, a report in today’s Yediot noted that of the five pollsters, four had served in Aman and that the expert’s identity was “secret.” That’s a “tell” that he is involved in intelligence work. When told of this, my source replied: “Of course, how do you expect IDC got such a homogenous group without the cooperation of Aman?”
In this light, imagine the very real danger poll respondents now face? And the callous Prof. Mintz did so all for the greater glory of his academic reputation and in Israel’s intelligence interests!
In response to questions I sent him, Prof. Mintz denied any intelligence participation in the poll:
No intelligence agency has participated in this project. It is an academic project conducted by an academic research center.
There is no classifed portion. Nothing is secret or classified here. It is academia.
To confirm this impression of IPS’s affiliation with Israeli intelligence, just look at the past directors of the Institute, one of whom was Uzi Arad. He was a Mossad agent who “ran” Larry Franklin. He is also a former national security adviser. How about the Institute’s board of directors, one of whom is former Mossad director, Meir Dagan.
There’s a reason the pollsters interviewed by Kershner refused to give their names, and it isn’t precisely the reason offered:
“Most didn’t ask for details. To those who did, we said an institute for policy and strategy. Nobody imagined we were phoning from Israel.” The interviewer requested anonymity, saying that he feared for his safety. Born in Iran, he left for Israel at 13 with his family. Now 27 and a student of Middle East studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he recently finished serving in the Israeli Army where his command of Farsi was put to use in an intelligence unit.
This anonymous fellow served in Aman (IDF intelligence). He is an Iranian-Israeli serving Israel’s intelligence interests against Iran’s. Sure, he’s afraid for his safety. And that of any relatives left behind who’ll now be suspected of being assets of Israeli intelligence.
Now as to the results of the poll: 40% of Iranians said they’d be willing to give up “future” ambitions to produce nuclear weapons in return for an end to sanctions. But let’s examine this question further. What have they asked and what response have they received? Iranians don’t believe their country is producing, or seeks to produce nuclear weapons in the future. Their Supreme Leader has, in fact, said there’s a fatwa against the use of such weapons. So of course, if asked, they’d be willing to give up something which is only theoretical to them. In effect, the pollsters asked a virtually meaningless question and got a meaningless answer. I should add though, that 45% of Iranians said they refused to give up future WMD in return for ending sanctions. Interestingly, Kershner fronts the 40% figure in the first paragraph and places the 45% figure in the third from the last paragraph, entirely divorced from the earlier poll figure. One wonders why?
Other questions asked and the results accord with what’s already known about Iranian public opinion: 40% agreed Iran should recognize Israel if the latter signs an accord with Palestine. This is not news. Various Iranian leaders have been saying this for years. 70% of Iranians support the current nuclear talks. Again, no surprise. The final question as articulated by Kershner seems odd:
…More than 74 percent agreed that Iran should establish full trade and diplomatic relations with the United States, even though many perceived the United States as Iran’s biggest enemy…
There isn’t a hope in hell for Iran to establish diplomatic relations with the U.S. until there is an agreement between the two nations. But if this question was meant to elicit a response that affirmed Iranians favored eventual good relations with Iran–hell, anyone who knows anything about Iran already knows this to be the case. Most Iranians who aren’t hardcore fundamentalists have nothing against the U.S. At least not against average Americans, though they might have quarrels with our leaders who overthrew their prime minister in 1953 and supported the dictatorial Shah until 1979 and shot down a civilian airliner killing nearly 300 Iranians. Until 1979 Iranians had strong and fond feelings toward Americans.
It may or may not be a coincidence that Iran-hater, Meir Javedanfar, teaches one class at IDC. I wonder what role in played in this charade.
I asked Prof. Mintz for the full results of the poll including questions and methodology. He assigned a subordinate to produce the information, which I hadn’t yet received. Mintz asked me if I’d seen the program of the IDC Herzliya Security Conference which begins tomorrow and is the IDC’s crown jewel. In truth, I hadn’t, and told him I would review it.
One thing stood out like a sore thumb. Israel’s leading national security conferences invited exactly two Israeli Palestinians and three Palestinian speakers to address the Palestinian perspective on these issues. In a quick review, I saw a single European Arab speaker. I estimate there are roughly 100 speakers altogether. Only five are Palestinian. Apparently, Prof. Mintz doesn’t believe that Palestinians or Israeli Palestinians (who make of up 20% of Israel’s citizens) play much of a role in such matters.
The second item that stood out was the scheduled Iran Simulation Game: what happens the day after a nuclear deal is reached? The players in the game will represent various countries with direct interests in the outcome. Who’s representing Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States? An American Jewish professor of security studies! Iran? None other than Meir Javedanfar. This is someone who hates the Iranian regime. How in God’s name is he going to represent anything other than his own distorted concept of Iranian interests? Which makes a laughingstock of the entire exercise. The old saying is: garbage in, garbage out. Javedanfar’s perspective on contemporary Iran is precisely that.
He represents the eternal exile: the emigrant driven from his homeland and always pining for it. But pining not for the country that is today, but for the place he left behind as it was then (he left Iran as a small boy). He knows Iran from his vague memories and the stories his parents and relatives told him. Javedanfar knows almost nothing about contemporary Iran, except what he reads in Iranian newspapers. He has virtually no sources inside Iran. He cannot visit. His views are a nostalgic throwback to another era. Knowing that today’s Iran is the antithesis of the Iran he remembers, he harbors resentment against those he perceives as having turned it into something he hates.
This is one of the “experts” who’s going to represent Iran in the IDC simulation!
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.