A video calling for unspecified parties to set a “red line” for Iran’s nuclear program has gone viral thanks to the promotional efforts of right-wing, “pro-Israel” interest groups.
Eli Clifton, last updated: January 24, 2013
American Independent (via LobeLog)
A viral video calling on world leaders to a “set the red line” to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon has garnered over 1.3 million YouTube views thanks to a savvy social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter.
It’s been promoted by conservative bloggers and Washington-based organizations like the Republican Jewish Coalition and The Israel Project. But the 15-minute-long film is leading some experts to question the filmmaker’s message.
The video is part of an “independent, not-for-profit project designed to harness the global voice of humanity for the purpose of a peaceful solution to prevent a nuclear Iran,” say the film’s two principals, Banafsheh Zand and Shraga Simmons, on their website, settheredline.com.
Zand, who narrates the film, was born in Iran and fled the country during the Iranian revolution in 1979.
Her father, Iranian journalist Siamak Pourzand, committed suicide in 2011 after having been imprisoned since 2001 for writing articles critical of Iran’s political leaders.
Set The Red Line’s narration offers a list of reasons why Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program must be stopped, including that “Iranian leaders are on a messianic warpath with the ultimate goal of hastening the Mahdi, the messianic Twelfth Imam, to usher in an era of global Islamic domination.”
“Iran has a plan to take over the world, and they view the United States as the ‘Great Satan,’ which must be destroyed,” Zand warns in the film.
“The Iranian regime will push war because that is [their] mandate and they’ve said it everyday and if westerners think that that regime can be deterred … then they will be in for a surprise because that regime has no intention of giving up its nukes,” Zand told The American Independent in an email.
The film endorses ongoing diplomatic efforts to find a peaceful solution to tensions over Iran’s nuclear program but urges viewers to support a “backup solution” should diplomacy fail.
“We must continue and even intensify the various diplomatic methods that world leaders have worked so hard to implement. But the reality is that Iran’s nuclear clock is ticking faster than the diplomatic clock,” says Zand in the film. “So we need an effective and reliable backup solution. It’s called the Red Line.”
Viewers are urged to participate in a social media campaign to push world leaders to lay down the “red line,” defined in the film as “world leaders make a pronouncement outlining a clear and unambiguous set of criteria that will serve as fair warning to Iran that crossing this line will trigger a devastating military response.”
“Pragmatically, the red line puts us in a much better position of going up against a non-nuclear Iran than having to face the certainty of war against a genocidal and nuclear Iran,” says Zand later in the film.
“The red line is specifically and only for the purpose of getting world leaders to pressure the Iranian regime to give up their nuclear weapons. I do not support any external military action on Iran,” Zand told TAI.
“Why would anyone attack a country whose people loathe it?” Zand asked TAI. “Why would anyone attack a country with suicide bombers deployed around the world?”
“The Khomeinist regime totally intends to kill Westerners, Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs because they believe that they (the Shia Twelvers) are the ‘anointed’ ones and … they believe that it is the duty of all Muslims to die in the name of the Islamic pole that the Khomeinists have decided to head,” said Zand to TAI. “[T]hat regime openly says that it is Muslim duty to die, as collateral damage and that Sunnis have no say in the matter.”
Simmons told TAI that “military action should only be a last resort, when sanctions, diplomatic isolation and negotiations have failed to stop the regime.”
In interviews with TAI, experts questioned the approach outlined in the film.
“The video is conveniently vague so we never know to whom we’ll leave it to draw this red line. The US? Israel? The United Nations Security Council?” said Iran expert and author Barbara Slavin. “All we’re told is that it has to happen before Iran develops nuclear weapons. If Iran crosses this line it triggers a devastating response, say the filmmakers. This sounds more like an argument for war than an effort to prevent it.”
Matt Duss, a policy analyst at the liberal Center for American Progress, also criticized the film.
“Like most of the most hawkish arguments about Iran it’s plagued by a fundamental contradiction,” said Duss. “One is this claim, which is highly arguable, that Iran’s leaders are determined to destroy the west and this is a non-negotiable element of their extremist Muslim beliefs; and we must set a red line. These two things are contradictory. If Iran’s threat to destroy the west is nonnegotiable then why would they take a red line seriously?”
He added, “There’s this idea that Iran’s leaders are all apocalyptic crazies looking to trigger the return of the Shiite messiah, but there’s little evidence to suggest these beliefs drive Iranian policy.”
Zand, speaking in the film, says that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, the UAE, and Iraq “would all fall like dominoes” if faced with an aggressive, nuclear-armed Iran.
But, according to Slavin, “there is absolutely no indication that there would be regime change in any of these places.”
“If Iran got a nuclear weapon the Saudis and all the countries across the Persian Gulf would probably shore up their alliances with the US even more and there would be a vigilant effort to contain Iran,” Slavin went on to add.
Set The Red Line garnered over one million YouTube views thanks to an effective social media campaign, said the film’s director.
“It was very grassroots, which to me is a huge success,” said Simmons. “Thousands of individuals sent the film out to their private email lists and posted on Facebook. We also contacted approximately 1,000 ‘Facebook administrators’ whose groups deal with issues of foreign affairs. I know for certain that a number of very large Facebook groups (with a million followers) promoted it to their lists.”
Neither Simmons nor Zand is new to political activism.
Simmons is senior editor of Aish.com, the online outreach arm of the Orthodox Jewish organization Aish HaTorah. His blog posts frequently criticize what he sees as biased reporting by journalists covering Israel.
Simmons accused CBS’s 60 Minutes of “further demonizing Israel and eroding its support in the West” after the show aired a segment examining the treatment of Palestinian Christians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
In a November 18, 2012, post — written during the Israel Defense Forces’ “Operation Pillar of Defense” in the Gaza Strip — Simmons criticized CNN’s Zain Verjee’s “horribly biased” interview of Israeli government spokesperson Mark Regev. Verjee asked about reports of children wounded by Israeli airstrikes and questioned how the IDF’s actions help bring peace to the region.
Verjee “sounds like she’d be more comfortable on Hamas TV,” wrote Simmons.
Simmons emphasized that his work on Set The Red Line was conducted independently from his job at Aish HaTorah.
“It happens that I am employed as an editor at the Aish.com website,” said Simmons. “I knew that the credibility of the message required full independence, so I took a full leave of absence from that position to enable me to make the film independently, without any organizational involvements whatsoever.”
Zand explained to TAI that she and Simmons spoke on Skype about making the film and shortly thereafter she was flown to Israel to narrate the film.
“I don’t even know what Aish HaTorah is,” said Zand. “We both agree Iran is out of order and intends to kills westerners and Israelis. Neither one of us want war.”
Tax disclosures show that from 2005 to 2010, Simmons served as secretary of Honest Reporting, a group that characterizes itself as “monitor[ing] the news for bias, inaccuracy, or other breach of journalistic standards in coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Honest Reporting apparently participated in the release of Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against The West, a 2005 film that compared the rise of radical Islam to the rise of Nazism in the 1930s.
The film’s website warns, “As we sleep in the comfort of our homes, a new evil rises against us. A new menace is threatening, with all the means at its disposal, to bow Western Civilization under the yoke of its values. That enemy is Radical Islam.”
“[Honest Reporting] now denies any involvement in the production of ‘Obsession.’ But its website promoted it as an Honest Reporting project in 2005, the year it was first released,” reported Sara Posner in a 2008 Jewish Week article.
As Posner reported, an archived version of the Honest Reporting website from June 14, 2006, shows Obsession listed as an “affiliate” project. The site also declared at the time: “HonestReporting’s ‘Obsession’ Wins Award at WorldFest Independent Film Festival.”
The film gained mainstream attention after 28 million DVDs were distributed to swing-state voters via newspaper inserts and bulk mailings before the 2008 U.S. presidential election.
Set The Red Line was Zand’s first collaboration with Simmons but not her first foray into political advocacy.
Her LinkedIn profile states that from February 2010 to October 2012, the month Set The Red Line was released, she worked as a consultant at Iran180, a group that “demand[s] a 180 by the Iranian government on their pursuit of nuclear weapons and the treatment of their citizens,” according to its website. Iran180’s outreach director, Chris DeVito, told TAI that Zand no longer works with the organization.
DeVito declined to offer a detailed opinion on the film but stated, “There are elements of the narrative that are extremely important and entirely valid.”
Eli Clifton is a contributor to the American Independent.
The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC), the hardline “pro-Israel” lobbying outfit supported by Sheldon Adelson, has seen its fundraising efforts achieve “record sums.” RJC executive director Matthew Brooks has attributed the surge in contributions to the Obama administration’s recent spat with Israel over Iran, stating: “There are a lot of folks who are deeply troubled by the actions of this administration and the undermining of the relationship with Israel and with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and as a result, I think, they are engaged and energized in a way I have never seen before.”
Ali Alfoneh is a senior fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies who claims the Obama administration failed to reach a “good deal” on Iran’s nuclear program because it didn’t pursue additional “financial pressure” during negotiations—even though most observers agree such pressure would have effectively ended talks. In a recent interview, he said: “What I think the U.S. voters should be concerned about and disappointed about is that the U.S. government has done such a poor job of bargaining in the Middle Eastern market.”
Eli Lake is a columnist for Bloomberg View who has a lengthy record of advocating aggressive U.S. foreign policies, particularly with respect to the Middle East. Described by Glenn Greenwald as a “neocon/pro-Israel” writer, Lake’s record includes supporting the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, attacking public figures who criticize Israel, and promoting a hardline on Iran. One commentator has quipped that Lake has a “career pattern of credulously planting dubious stories from sources with strong political agendas.”
Former Dick Cheney adviser John Hannah, a fellow at the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has been named as a foreign policy adviser for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Jeb Bush, joining a list of other hawkish advisers who previously worked for Bush’s brother or father. Hannah has denounced the nuclear framework agreement recently reached between Iran and the P5+1, saying that “if we take this agreement at face value, I think it looks very dangerous, very risky.” In January, Hannah wrote a piece for Foreign Policy explicitly calling for a regime change policy against Iran.
A federal judge has given prison sentences to four former guards of the controversial private military contractor Blackwater for their role in the murder of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007. Nicholas Slatten, who fired the first shots and was convicted of murder charges, was sentenced to life in prison, while the others, who were convicted of manslaughter and other crimes, were sentenced to 30 years in prison.
For media inquiries,
or call 202-234-9382.
April 20, 2015
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently spoke bluntly about his aim to rely on “pro-Israel” funding to support his potential run for president.
April 18, 2015
Prominent neoconservatives like Bill Kristol are upset over the watered-down Corker-Menendez bill on the Iranian nuclear negotiations, which President Obama has said he will not veto.
April 14, 2015
United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI), the secretive neoconservative group, is apparently intent on distancing itself from the comments of its own president, Gary Samore, who has spoken favorably of the framework agreement reached with Iran.
April 08, 2015
Hedge-fund billionaire Paul Singer, a major Republican donor and “pro-Israel” hawk, has recently been sounding the alarm about the alleged threat of an electromagnetic pulse attack.
April 07, 2015
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has stated that critics of a nuclear deal do not want a war with Iran, even as a long list of individuals associated with AIPAC have explicitly called for war with Iran.
April 07, 2015
Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) is a major recipient of funding from prominent hawkish donors and AIPAC-aligned political action committees.
April 03, 2015
Now that a final nuclear deal with Iran is on the horizon, Republicans in Congress will have a harder time convincing their Democratic counterparts to sign on to potentially damaging bills.