September 7, 2006
Israeli Diplomats Reach Out to L.A. Iranian Media
Representatives from Southern California-based Persian-language satellite radio stations and television shows attended a special press conference on Aug. 28, held for them at Los Angeles' Israeli consulate, the first public interaction between the Israeli government and local Persian-language media in more than 25 years.
The local Iranian media outlets are owned and operated by expatriate Iranian Muslims, and the gathering was a move by the consulate to reach out directly to the people of Iran.
"I received feedback from a lot of channels in the Iranian media for interviews, so I saw the desire by them to understand what we think and we believe, so we setup this event specifically to address their questions," said Israeli Consul General Ehud Danoch.
Local Persian Jewish activists were instrumental in helping to connect the Iranian media with the consulate for the press conference, as many Persian Jews still share common cultural and linguistic ties with other Iranian groups in Southern California.
"This is indeed something that has never been done before in this city where there is a community of Iranian and a center of Iranian media outside of Iran," said George Haroonian, a Persian Jewish activist who helped organize the press conference with the consulate.
"We need to be the connector between the people of Israel and people of Iran," Haroonian said.
During the nearly two-hour press conference, Danoch responded to reporters' questions about the aftermath of the war with Hezbollah and addressed the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's repeated calls for Israel's destruction.
"The most important message for us to get across is that the government of Israel and Israelis have nothing against the Iranian people or Islam," Danoch said. "But we will not tolerate the extremist expressions of that president of Iran".
Since the collapse in 1979 of the regime of the late shah of Iran, many Iranian Muslim politicians and Western-educated professionals have been among the large groups of Iranians in the United States and, particularly, Los Angeles. During the past two decades, these communities have established media outlets in Southern California that oppose the current government in Iran, and regularly broadcast news and political commentary to Iran through satellite radio and television, as well as via the internet, much of it in an attempt to help bring down the regime there.
Southern California's Iranian Muslim media has also frequently voiced criticism of Israel, as well, and the consulate's outreach at this event was an attempt to counter that. On the part of the Iranian media, this was one more way to take a jab at the regime.
"This is an important event for us because we don't want our viewers to receive one-sided bias news from the media in Iran and get brainwashed -- we must show the other side," said Afshin Gorgin, a reporter for the Iranian news program on the Voice of America satellite television. "Here they get to see and hear the views of the other side directly from a representative of Israel".
Members of the Iranian media in attendance said the press conference was later broadcast in its entirety into Iran, which has a population of nearly 70 million, many of whom said they oppose their government's support of terrorist organizations like Hezbollah, but are afraid to express their views.
"I receive phone calls from listeners in Iran, and they say we do not have a problem with Israel, and we do not have border disputes with Israel," said Siavash Azari, a news commentator on KRSI, a Beverly Hills-based satellite radio station that broadcasts daily into Iran.
The Iranian Muslim media stepped up interest in issues concerning Israel when, late last year, Iranian President Ahmadinejad called Israel a "disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map." In response, they condemned Ahmadinejad and organized a pro-Israel rally in Westwood, which drew nearly 2,000 Iranians from various religions.
"We spoke out against him because his words were utterly absurd for anyone to say, and we would have spoken out against such statements if they were made by any other leader," said Reza Fazeli, a news commentator for the satellite television station Pars TV.
Earlier this month, Israeli Deputy Consul General Yaron Gamburg was also interviewed by Hossien Hejazi, an Iranian news commentator at KIRN-AM. 670, a Persian-language radio station based in Hollywood.
In January, when Ahmadinejad denied the existence of the Holocaust, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, working with Iranian Jewish leaders, invited Iranian journalists to tour the Museum of Tolerance in an effort to educate them about the Holocaust so that they could send information back to Iran on the topic.
The January event, as well as the recent press conference, seem to be having the desired effect of opening up dialogue. At the conference, Danoch offered to make himself available for interviews and said the consulate would help to get their message across to the people of Iran in any way possible.