A call for Iran sanctions at Port

Amid the international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, some national groups, as well as Los Angeles-based Jewish community organizations and other Iran human rights activists, have launched a new campaign calling for Los Angeles city officials to bar from the Port of Los Angeles ships that have docked in Iranian ports. During recent months, the campaign’s primary focus has been on L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who since his election has remained mum on the issue, though it is within his authority to ask the port to enact such sanctions.

“It is greatly disappointing that Mayor Garcetti has not even taken a position, let alone provided support or a leading voice on this critical issue,” said David Peyman, an L.A.-based senior adviser to United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), the New York-based nonprofit advocating for tougher economic sanctions on the Iranian regime.

During the mayoral election campaign earlier this year, UANI and six local Jewish organizations, including the Los Angeles offices of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), called on then-candidate Garcetti and his opponent, Wendy Greuel, to support the ban on ships that had previously docked in Iranian ports, following federally mandated Iran sanctions legislation signed into law last year by President Barack Obama.

“Los Angeles is a major U.S. trading hub, and ships that have conducted business with Iran use our ports,” Peyman said. “We are asking the mayor and the port … to force companies to make a decision between doing business with a terrorist-sponsoring regime seeking nuclear weapons or with the Port of Los Angeles.”

Garcetti’s office did not respond to multiple requests from the Journal for comment on the issue.

Many local Jewish groups argue while current sanctions again the Iranian regime are working, more pressure is needed to stop the regime’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

“Iran’s strained economy is the regime’s Achilles’ heel and provides our most effective leverage against its nuclear program,” said Michael Aurit, a spokesperson for the AJC’s Los Angeles office. “It is critical for Los Angeles to take a firm stance against Iranian ships docking in American ports — we can and should do nothing less.”

While local Iranian Jewish groups declined to comment on their efforts to get the mayor to become involved, many Iranian-Jewish activists say they support such sanctions because of widespread human rights violations by the Iranian regime against religious minorities in Iran.

“We Angelenos have a history of standing up for justice and freedom locally and internationally,” said Sam Yebri, president of 30 Years After, an L.A.-based Iranian-Jewish nonprofit. “Much like the South African boycott movement, using economic measures to pressure the Iranian regime advances human rights and democracy for the Iranian people.”

On Oct. 26, the Iranian regime summarily executed 16 Iranian Baluchi prisoners in custody in the southeastern Iranian city of Zahedan on trumped-up charges of drug smuggling. According to Amnesty International, the executions were in direct retaliation for an armed attack by Baluchi insurgents against Iranian border guards.

Strong local support for Iran sanctions at the Port of Los Angeles has also come from Los Angeles’ non-Jewish Iranian groups. Roozbeh Farahnipour, an Iranian Muslim leader of the L.A.-based Marze Por Gohar Party, which opposes the Iranian regime, said many of the city’s 800,000 Iranian residents have been surprised that Garcetti has not taken a stand on the issue. 

“If we want to avoid war with Iran and truly help the people of Iran gain their freedom, we must use nonviolent economic means, such as divestment and sanctions, and the Port of L.A. is the best first step to take on a local level,” Farahnipour said. “When the mayor of Los Angeles has remained on the sidelines and not stepped up against the regime now, how does he want to stand up to the regime if they want to open a consulate office in Los Angeles in the future?”

Farahnipour said he and California state Sen. Joel Anderson addressed the Port of San Diego in 2008 calling for similar Iran sanctions to be implemented, but no steps were taken at that time. Farahnipour also pointed to the regime’s crackdown on the Iranian labor movement as a possible motivator for Garcetti.

“It is a well-known fact that the Iranian regime has imprisoned, tortured and killed hundreds of union leaders in Iran over the years,” Farahnipour said. “So I am wondering why the mayor of L.A. has not taken a tough stance to send a real message to the regime on this human rights issue?”

The Journal requested comment from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 56, which works in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Calls were not returned.

Some city officials are not staying silent on this issue, however. Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents the city’s 5th District, which is home to the largest segment of Iranians in Los Angeles, has introduced a number of City Council resolutions regarding Iran’s human rights abuses and nuclear ambitions.

“The City of Los Angeles is fortunate enough to have and run the Port of Los Angeles, one of the largest economic hubs in the world,” Koretz said in an interview. “Consequently, we will make sure the port is strongly committed to following the sanctions on Iran, thereby doing our part to make a safer and more peaceful world.”

Likewise, some members of Congress representing local districts have supported more stringent U.S. sanctions on Iran. Most notably, Rep. Janice Hahn, a Democrat representing L.A.’s South Bay, is the founder of the Congressional Ports Caucus and has been a leading voice on the issue of U.S. ports and Iran sanctions.

“During my time in Washington, Congress has passed some of the toughest sanctions that the Iranian regime has ever faced — sanctions that have particularly targeted the Iranian shipping sector,” Hahn said in a statement to the Journal. “I believe that strong sanctions give us the best chance of driving the Iranian regime to make real concessions about their nuclear program at the negotiating table.”

Hahn’s office in Washington, D.C., stated that she and other members of the Congressional Ports Caucus had been briefed last month by UANI’s leadership on issues pertaining to current Iran sanctions and commerce within U.S. ports.

For more information on UANI’s push for Iran sanctions put in place for the Port of Los Angeles, visit Karmel Melamed’s blog: jewishjournal.com/iranianamericanjews.