Last month a video showed Iranian Professor Sadegh Zibakalam avoiding stepping on an Israeli flag painted on the floor of the entrance at the Azad University building located in the Iranian city of Mashhad. In the video he also avoided having to tread on the American flag painted on the university floor. The video has set the internet and social media abuzz with excitement as it is uncommon in Iran today to see anyone behave in a manner which is opposite to that of the regime. For those who are unaware, Zibakalam is additionally a political commentator and a popular pundit among the younger generation of Iranians in the country because of his criticism of the Iranian regime’s different policies.
Likewise in a recent follow up online video interview, Zibakalam gave to Aparat.com, an Iran state-sponsored news website, he speaks out against the Iranian regime’s calls for Israel and America destruction. Again his statements have garnered the attention and even praise of some America Jewish publications and Israeli news sites. With the continuous flow of anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and Holocaust denial garbage spewing from the mouths of Iranian leaders, military officials and so-called scholars in Iran every day, Zibakalam’s words are no doubt surprising and refreshing to non-Iranian audiences– especially Ashkenazi Jews living outside of Iran.
Yet as an Iranian American journalist who is fluent in Farsi and has been closely monitoring news or commentary coming from state-run media outlets in Iran, I am honestly not surprised at Zibakalam’s comments or actions pertaining to Israel. I’ve been following his comments and statements for nearly four years and he’s always criticized the Iranian regime’s calls for Israel and America to be destroyed. While I no doubt applaud Zibakalam’s condemnation of the genocidal chants and slogans made by the Iranian regime’s leaders and its supporters against Israel and America, I still seriously question his motives and have doubts about his authenticity in making such comments. Zibakalam’s statements raise major flags for me as far as being genuine because they seem suspect for a number of reasons. By looking at his recent Farsi language interview with the Aparat.com site, things become much clearer about the real Zibakalam. The following are just some of the major reasons why I question Zibakalam’s motives in speaking out against the calls for Israel and America’s destruction:
No repercussions for his controversial statements
My greatest suspicion about Zibakalam is the fact that he has not yet been arrested, torture, imprisoned or executed for repeatedly criticizing the Iranian regime’s leadership including the Supreme Leader who all call for Israel and America’s annihilation every single day of the year. We all know Iran today is a totalitarian dictatorship where average people are arrested, imprisoned, tortured and even execute for making remarks or statements that are deemed against Islam or a “threat to national security” by the Iranian regime’s authorities. On a regular basis we read about journalists, bloggers, political dissidents, filmmakers and others who have even suggested something that was even slightly opposite in view of the Iranian regime, who were all immediately arrested and imprisoned for years by the regime. So my question is why hasn’t Zibakalam been arrested or imprisoned for an extended period of time yet for speaking out against the slogans calling for Israel and America to be destroyed? In my humble opinion I believe the answer to the question is quite simple… Zibakalam is perhaps an agent of the regime or at the very least a sympathetic aid to their effort. For one thing, in his recent Aparat.com interview, he states that he maintains a close friendship with former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a high level cleric in the Iranian regime. Likewise in the interview, Zibakalam also admits that his daughter has married into a prominent clerical family in Iran. It seems as if the Iranian regime will tolerate statements that are not necessarily in line with their views when it is said by someone who is among them and a loyalist at heart. In his recent Aparat.com web interview he is asked by the Iranian journalist why he hasn’t been arrested for making the statements about Israel and America and he replies; “why should they arrest me? I don’t oppose the regime nor do I organize any groups to oppose the regime”. He even goes a step further in the interview and says; “if they (the regime’s authorities) ask me to stop making statements I would do so immediately. They have asked me in the past not to speak to the VOA or BBC programs on the air and I have not done so since then”. Anyone with half a brain should immediately be suspicious of Zibakalam for not being imprisoned or arrested after making the statements he does because in any normal circumstances he would face dire consequences for his comments in opposing the chants for Israel’s destruction.
He’s a regime release valve for public frustrations
Many Americans political pundits and American Ashkenazi Jews in the media have little to zero understanding of the internal situation in Iran today. Today in Iran, the situation for average individuals is very difficult due to the country’s faltering economy and the lack of individual freedoms in their everyday lives. The Iranian regime’s thugs treat the population worse than livestock and pressure them in hundreds of ways as far as their dress, speech, public expression and even usage of social media or the internet. For these reasons the internal situation in Iran is similar to that of a pressure cooker that is constantly boiling and bubbling in turmoil. The regime’s leadership knows very well that if they maintain this heat and pressure on the Iranian society for an extended period of time, then something will eventually blow and people will pour into the streets or even rise up in a movement to remove the Islamic clerics in power. So for their own survival, every once in a while the Iranian regime’s leaders will allow an individual scholar or “moderate politician” to say something controversial that may be in opposition to the state policy so as to indirectly help release the public’s pressure or ease public tensions. Therefore it is my personal belief that Zibakalam serves as one of the few trusted “release valves” for the Iranian regime today. His statements about not calling for America and Israel’s destruction is most likely an indirect attempt by some in the Iranian regime to help release some public tension and pressure from those who are not pleased with the regime’s constant hardline policies and anti-Western propaganda. Zibakalam’s statements about this Israel issue and other issues pertaining to politics in Iran are most likely for internal consumption and essentially a part of the regime’s efforts to indirectly calm the anger or help release built up tension of many in Iranian society.
He’s a great propaganda tool for the Iranian regime
I’ve said it once and I’ll said it a million times more, the Iranian regime’s leadership are masters of propaganda to benefit their image on the world stage! Many of the Iranian regime’s officials and clerics are indeed not stupid and realize they must counter balance or do damage control for the constant anti-Israel or anti-America statements and actions coming out of their country. The regime’s leadership knows very well that Western media outlets are watching and translating their programming or statements. One of the best ways the Iranian regime accomplishes their public relations damage control is again to have an occasional official or “approved scholar” such as Zibakalam to go out in a certain pre-arranged forum or regime approved media outlet and say something that is “friendly” or not critical of America and Israel. This allows the regime’s officials such as Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif to appear on U.S. or European news shows and claim that the Iranian regime supposedly allows freedom of speech since individuals like Zibakalam make public comments condemning the calls for Israel and America’s destruction without repercussions. In essence Zibakalam serves as an excellent propaganda tool for the Iranian regime to try to maintain their false image of a “freedom loving and peaceful” regime.
He’s no friend of Israel
In the past and in his recent interview with the Iranian state-run news website, Zibakalam has always been vehemently critical of Israel and Israeli policies in general. On Iranian state run media forums he has frequently voiced strong support for Palestinian groups and their own moves in fighting Israeli “aggression”. His arguments against the Iranian regime’s calls for Israel and America destruction are not based on any particular support of Israel or America or even based on notion of co-existence with these other nations. In his Aparat.com interview, Zibakalam argues that he opposes the chants for Israel and America’s destruction on a pure logical political stance. He argues; “have the Iranian people voted on and approved a referendum calling on the Iranian government to destroy Israel? Have the Iranian people asked their officials in the parliament to destroy Israel? Have Palestinian groups come forward and said we can’t destroy Israel, please destroy Israel for us? Has the Arab League come forward and said to the Iranian government, we are incompetent so please destroy Israel on our behalf?”. Again from my perspective it looks as if Zibakalam’s statements made about Israel were not out of a genuine support for Israel to exist as a state on its own, but merely based on his own neutral political logic. This does not deserve praise or support in any way since it a neutral stance and not necessarily going against the regime’s official position on Israel.
In the end I believe it is a mistake for American Jewish media pundits or publications to place too much hope in Zibakalam as a supposed new voice of moderation in Iran. Just because he has voiced opposition to the Iranian regime’s calls for Israel and America destruction, this does not make him an overnight saint or a new hope for change among Iran’s academics. Again while I applaud Zibakalam for his statements with regards to the U.S. and Israel, I still have serious doubts about his motives in make such statements and doubt his overall authenticity. If indeed Zibakalam is oppose to the Iranian regime’s calls for Israel and America to be destroyed or opposed to the regime’s anti-Semitic or anti-Israel campaigns, then he should come to a public forum or educational forum in the U.S. or Europe and again condemn the regime’s anti-Israel and anti-America rhetoric. If he is indeed genuine in his beliefs that Israel must not be destroyed by Iran, then he should pen opinion articles published in Jewish or Israeli publications clearly and unequivocally making these statements. If and until Zibakalam takes greater steps to show he is truly genuine in his calls for Israel or America not be destroyed, then perhaps I may give his statements greater credibility. Until then I will remain highly skeptical of him and any similar statements made by others associated the Iranian regime or the regime’s state-run media outlets.