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Foundation for Democracy in Iran

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The Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI) is a Bethesda, Maryland-based advocacy group that appears to be the personal project of Kenneth Timmerman, an active supporter of a number of hardline “pro-Israel” and neoconservative organizations in the United States, including the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs and the Committee on the Present Danger. Founded in 1995 with support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), FDI claims to "promote democracy and internationally-recognized standards of human rights in Iran."[1]

FDI has emerged as a key backer of a 2011 lawsuit by the families of 9/11 victims alleging Iranian involvement in the 2001 attacks, which awarded the families a default judgment implausibly finding Iran and the Taliban liable for the damages.[2] “The only real effect of the case is to promote right-wing political myths about Iran,” explains journalist Gareth Porter. “One of the peculiarities of such cases is that the witnesses are not subject to cross examination in court. The witnesses have every incentive, therefore to indulge in false testimony, knowing that there will be no one to challenge them.”[3]

Porter singles out Timmerman for his role in the proceedings. “Playing a central role in weaving the tale of Iranian complicity in the 9/11 attacks for the court case was the right-wing author and anti-Iran activist Kenneth R. Timmerman,” Porter writes. “According to the lawyers’ brief on the case, it was Timmerman who sought out one of the attorneys, Timothy B. Fleming, and brought to his attention the three Iranian ‘defectors’ who claimed personal knowledge that Iran was involved in the planning of 9/11.” Porter describes Timmerman as “linked with pro-Likud organizations” and “sympathetic to the hate-Islam movement.”[4]

According to the group’s website, "key FDI personnel" include Nader Afshar, the president of Middle East Consulting Associates who has worked with the now-defunct U.S. Information Agency and the Voice of America Farsi Service, and William Nojay, a former election monitor for the International Republican Institute. FDI lists three former "founding members" of its board: Joshua Muravchik, a leading neoconservative ideologue formerly based at the American Enterprise Institute; Peter Rodman, a Henry Kissinger protégé who, before his death in 2008, had supported the advocacy efforts of the Project for the New American Century and served as a fellow at the centrist Brookings Institution; and the late Mehdi Rouhani, described by FDI as "the spiritual leader of the Shiite community in Europe." The group also lists Frank Gaffney and James Woolsey among its advisory board members.

FDI’s website (www.iran.org) has served as a clearinghouse for human rights updates from Iran, regional news, and broadsides against government or civil society actors deemed insufficiently committed to the cause of regime change in Iran. An unsigned January 4, 2012 post, for example, referred to right-wing anti-tax activist Grover Norquist as a “Mullah’s Ally” who “has used the resources of his Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) organization to help hard-left and pro-Tehran groups lobby against U.S. sanctions on Iran.”[5]

FDI has reserved special enmity for the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) and its president Trita Parsi, who opposes a program of U.S.-led regime change in Iran and supports diplomatic engagement with the Iranian regime. In a May 2011 post, FDI quoted an excerpt from a letter it had written to an organization of retired diplomats urging them to cancel an appearance by Parsi. "The Iranian-American community,” it claims, “considers the ‘self-appointed’ Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) an intellectually dishonest regime apologist and an unofficial and unregistered lobby for the Iranian regime. He contributes to the regime’s agenda and serves the interests of those in power in the Islamic Republic of Iran, not the Iranians, nor the Iranian-Americans. In a recent survey, 96% of the Iranian-Americans expressed that Trita is a lobbyist for the Iranian regime."[6]

The claim that Parsi is an agent of the Iranian regime has become the subject of a defamation suit filed by NIAC against right-wing blogger Hassan Daioleslam.[7] NIAC has attempted to compel testimony from FDI and Timmerman in the matter, but so far without success.

FDI's other activities include publicizing anti-Iran events, promoting "opposition activities" of Iranian-American organizations and exile political groups, and publicizing human rights abuses committed in Iran. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Columbia University in New York in September 2007, for example, FDI promoted a protest rally through an ad on its homepage showing Adolf Hitler and Ahmadinejad standing side by side, reading, "The Torch has Been Passed from One Genocidal Leader to Another."

Unlike many pro-regime change groups, however, FDI explicitly opposes U.S. cooperation with the dissident group Mojāhedin-e Khalq, or MEK, which FDI considers a terrorist organization. “The MEK's track record of murdering Americans in Iran, and its willingness to serve as Saddam Hussein's strike force to attack opposition Kurds and Shiites  in Iraq,” says a May 2011 post, “is a matter of the historical record.”[8] In that same month, the group launched a special resource page documenting its case against the MEK.  This view stands in stark contrast to that of other hawkish advocacy groups like the Iran Policy Committee, which has made removing the MEK from the State Department list of foreign terrorist organizations a central plank of its advocacy.

FDI's website also offers one-year subscriptions to the "Iran Brief," a monthly Iran business newsletter, for $1,100. Stephen Bryen is blurbed on the subscription page promoting the newsletter as "The only source of inside information on what business is doing in Iran … and what Iran is doing to business." Although the offer is made on FDI's website, credit for publishing the Iran Brief is given to Timmerman's Middle East Data Project, which, also via the FDI website, offers a consulting service. It is unclear whether the newsletter continues to be published; the most current issue synopses available on the website date from 1999.

There is little information available on FDI's funding sources. The most recent 990 filing available on Guidestar.com lists only $1,000 in new revenue for 1999; no more recent offerings are available.[9] FDI has received a number of grants from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), including its initial start-up grant in 1995 for $50,000. According to NED's description of a follow up grant of $25,000 in 1996: "The Foundation for Democracy in Iran (FDI) received Endowment support to monitor and document the human rights situation in Iran. FDI acquires much of its information from sources inside Iran, including local Iranian news reports not normally available in the West. FDI will publish regular reports on human rights conditions in Iran for distribution to the international media, other human rights groups, and policy makers. To inform the Iranian public on their basic human and political rights, the information will be aired through international broadcast services such as the Voice of America and the BBC, in both English and Farsi, as well as through television networks. FDI also maintains an Internet Web site that facilitates international dissemination of its reports, including inside Iran."[10]

 

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Sources

[1] FDI, “About FDI,” http://www.iran.org/about.htm.

[2] AP, “Judge: Iran, Taliban, al Qaeda liable for 9/11,” December 22, 2011, http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57347506/judge-iran-taliban-al%20Qaeda-liable-for-9-11/.

[3] Gareth Porter, “Crackpot Anti-Islam Activists, ‘Serial Fabricators,’ and the Tale of Iran and 9/11,” Antiwar.com, December 31, 2011, http://original.antiwar.com/porter/2011/12/30/the-tale-of-iran-and-911/.

[4] Gareth Porter, “Crackpot Anti-Islam Activists, ‘Serial Fabricators,’ and the Tale of Iran and 9/11,” Antiwar.com, December 31, 2011, http://original.antiwar.com/porter/2011/12/30/the-tale-of-iran-and-911/.

[5] FDI, “Grover Norquist, Mullah's Ally.” January 4, 2012, http://www.iran.org/. No permalink provided.

[6] FDI, “DACOR rejections [sic] calls to cancel Trita Parsi,” May 23, 2011, http://www.iran.org/. No permalink provided.

[7] NIAC, “NIAC Files Defamation Lawsuit against Hassan Daioleslam,” May 15, 2008, http://www.niacouncil.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=6135&security=1&news_iv_ctrl=1082.

[8] FDI, “Wall Street Journal highlights MEK publicity campaign,” May 13, 2011, http://www.iran.org/. No permalink provided.

[9] Guide Star, “Nonprofit Report for Foundation for Democracy in Iran,” http://www2.guidestar.org/organizations/52-1950558/foundation-democracy-iran.aspx.

[10] National Endowment for Democracy, "Democracy Projects Database Results," http://www.ned.org/

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Foundation for Democracy in Iran Résumé

Contact Information

Foundation for Democracy in Iran
7831 Woodmont Ave., Suite 395
Bethesda, MD 20814
Phone: (301) 946-2918
Fax: (301) 942-5341
E-mail: exec@iran.org
Website: www.iran.org


Mission (as of 2012)

“The Foundation for Democracy in Iran is a private, non-profit organization established in 1995 with grants from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), to promote democracy and internationally-recognized standards of human rights in Iran.”


Founded
1995


Governing Board (2012)

  • Nader Afshar
  • David M. Beasley
  • William Nojay
  • Herbert London
  • Kenneth Timmerman

 

Advisory Board (2012)

  • Menashe Amir
  • Pooya Dayanim
  • Iman Foroutan
  • Frank Gaffney
  • Amil Imani
  • Dr. Arash Irandoost
  • Reza Kahlili
  • Robert R. Reilly
  • R. James Woolsey


Founding Board Members

  • Joshua Muravchik
  • Peter Rodman
  • Mehdi Rouhani

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