The Israel Project boosts an Iranian “Terrorist Organization”

Perhaps some right-wing Israel lobby groups can be forgiven for taking up the cause of the exiled Iranian opposition group, the Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK). The more ignorant among them might see a group headed by a woman, Maryam Rajavi, who claims to champion a secular, human rights-respecting democracy in Iran. They don’t know about Rajavi and the MEK’s history: its violence, its cult-like behavior, and its own history of human rights violations. What they do see—however problematic it might be for the rest of us—is a group monomaniacally focused on overthrowing their nemesis, the Islamic Republic, and that’s good enough.

But the Israel Project (TIP), which featured Maryam Rajavi in an online video earlier this month denouncing the Iranian elections, gets no pass on using the MEK as a bludgeon against Iran. That’s because the Israel Project knows damn well what Rajavi and the MEK are. Consider what TIP head Josh Block had to say about the group in 2011, when he was at the inaptly named Progressive Policy Institute: “The MEK is a terrorist organization. Right? Let’s not kid ourselves.” Yes, let’s not.

And yet the revisionism required to accept the latest TIP video’s promotion of Rajavi seems like a huge joke. It’s bad enough that the spot seeks to leverage statements by true defenders of Iranian human rights to suit its agenda—torpedoing the nuclear accord with Iran and, one presumes, eventually toppling the regime by whatever means necessary—but then here comes the MEK. The video holds up Rajavi as an “exiled leader.” Leader of what? The Israel Project doesn’t say, and that itself is deeply problematic. It creates the impression that Rajavi is the head of an opposition movement that extends beyond merely the diehard adherents of the MEK.

A History with MEK

This isn’t the first time a right-of-center pro-Israel group has sought to bolster its anti-Iran messaging with the MEK. As the MEK lobbied to be removed from the US list of terrorist organizations, it enlisted the help of many pro-Israel figures. Perhaps the most anti-Iran Democratic senator, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, a perennial favorite of pro-Israel advocates, became the largest recipient of MEK cash—and worked to promote their interests—after the group was finally delisted in 2012. And during the fight over the Iran deal, the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) relied on the MEK for television ads put out by its anti-deal spin-off, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran. Another ad by the group featured a military “expert” who just adores the MEK and even praised the group’s intelligence-gathering capabilities despite its embarrassingly well-known shortcomings.

Even the Israel Project, where, again, head honcho Josh Block considers the MEK a “terrorist organization,” has been playing this game. Just a few short days after the nuclear deal was struck the Israel Project’s Facebook page linked to an article from a ridiculously right-wing Jewish website approvingly quoting Rajavi’s opposition to the deal.


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