Posted by Karmel Melamed
Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community has been abuzz following news last week that one of their own, businessman and toymaker Isaac Larian won his second lawsuit against U.S. toy giant Mattel over a seven year dispute regarding copyright ownership of the widely popular “Bratz” toy dolls Larian’s MGA Entertainment created and sold. The jury last week awarded MGA nearly $89 million in damages. Larian throught out the lawsuit has become an underdog hero to many local Iranian American Jewish business owners who have come to admire his strength in standing up to a major competitor who has been trying to crush his successful business from the start.
Local Iranian Jews have by in large stood by Larian despite his 2008 lawsuit loss to Mattel which claimed that his company had stolen the idea for the “Bratz” dolls. The 2008 jury decision was overturned last year by an appeals court, which ruled that MGA deserved “sweat equity” for producing and marketing the dolls. The appeals court said Mattel couldn’t claim a monopoly over dolls and ordered a new trial in U.S. Federal Court. This time around, jurors heard not only the copyright claims but also accusations from each company that the other side stole trade secrets. Among its claims, MGA accused Mattel of sending employees into its showrooms at industry trade shows to spy on its products and also accused Mattel of passing out an internal “how to steal” manual.
While this lawsuit may continue with Mattel potentially appealing the second trial, I can’t understand why in god’s name they have spent nearly $400 million to fight Larian for all these years. From a business perspective it seems like a financially unwise move and downright vindictive! It seems as if their hope was to drive Larian out of the toy business with all these years of litigation. In 2007 I interviewed Larian and found him to be a genuine and hardworking individual who was indeed living the American dream. He came to the U.S. as an immigrant teenager who worked hard at a minimum wage job and over years finally achieved tremendous success through his own hard working efforts. His ties to the local Jewish community and support of various charities has been widely publicized over the years.
My 2007 interview with Larian can be found here.
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April 23, 2011 | 6:01 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
The L.A. Times recently named L.A. area Iranian Jewish businessman Sam Nazarian as the most powerful nightclub owner on the West Coast after his company, SBE Group recently acquired its largest Los Angeles night-life competitor, Syndicate Hospitality. The move now gives Nazarian’s SBE a total of 12 popular club venues primarily located in the Hollywood area and gives the company control of a total of 25 trendy hotels, restaurants, lounges and nightclubs. According to the Times article Nazarian has said his privately held company will own or operate 35 venues by April of 2012. The now 35-year-old Nazarian made headlines back in 2007 when his privately-held company acquired the iconic Sahara Hotel in Vegas for an estimated $300 million. He recently announced plans to shut down the hotel but reopen it in 2014 as an SLS Las Vegas, with six restaurants and two nightclubs.
For many Southern California young Iranian American Jewish professionals, Nazarian from the start of his success has been an icon they have admired. Their main interest is in the fact that Nazarian is someone from their generation who has gone outside their community’s traditionally desired career path of medicine, law or engineering and ventured into the hospitality industry, quickly rising to the top. I believe the younger generation of Iranian American Jews has also had admiration for Sam Nazarian because over the past several years he has also opened his nightclubs here in L.A. for fundraisers on behalf of the “Friends of the I.D.F.” and to benefit Israeli victims of terror during the 2006 Hezbollah war. Likewise Nazarian comes from a Zionist Iranian Jewish family that has been well known for being very philanthropic to Israel related causes and universities in Israel for many years. In October 2010 his parent’s philanthropic “Y & S Nazarian Family Foundation” donated funds to UCLA for the created of the university’s new Israel Studies Center.
On a side note I have interviewed Nazarian on a number of occasions and found him to be one of the few down to earth, genuine and straight forward individuals in Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community. Overall I think he has been unfairly portrayed in the media over the years as some sort of flashy or slick night club owner, when in reality he is quite the opposite.
My 2008 exclusive podcast interview with Sam Nazarian can be heard here
Read about SBE’s desire to open an SLS Hotel in Tel Aviv.
April 16, 2011 | 1:01 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
This blog probably receives more traffic and inquiries from Muslim bloggers in Iran and just plain curious individuals living in Iran than perhaps any other blog on the JewishJournal.com site. Unfamiliar with the lives of Jews living in the U.S., these non-Jewish Iranian visitors to my blog are surprised and often proud with their “fellow Iranians” success outside of Iran. I am also constantly bombarded with e-mails from Iranian bloggers opposed to the current regime and other pro-democracy individuals living within Iran who wish to share their insights, feelings and thoughts with the Jewish world and Americans in general. They write their messages with English letters that when read are words and sentences in the Persian language.
One frequent visitor to this blog is a student opposition leader living in Tehran who vents the frustrations of many young individuals in Iran have with the Obama administration and its inconsistency with regards to human rights and democracy issues in the Middle East. I recently asked him to go on the record with me about the true sentiments of his compatriots living in Iran regarding President Obama and he agreed to an interview on the condition that I not use his real name. The following is a translation of my recent telephone interview in Persian language with this student opposition leader who I will refer to as “Hassan P.” because he fears arrest and retribution from Iranian officials if they discover his true identity.
So why did you agree to this interview with a Jewish publication’s blog based in Los Angeles regarding Iran?
Well first and foremost, the vast majority of average Iranians living in Iran do not hate Jews nor do we hate Israel. The murderers controlling our country have that hate only. Your blog not only reflects positively on the lives of many Iranians living in American but you consistently tell the true about the horrors of Iran’s regime. I thought this may be a good forum for me to outreach to your readers because of our common Iranian background. Plus I would say no people on this planet have endured more suffering than the Jews during the course of human history—so many of us who are not Jews but suffering under a horrible government like this one in Iran like to think that your readership would understand with our current plight.
Hassan, why do you consider Obama unfriendly to those in Iran who are opposed to the Iranian government?
It’s very simple, just look at his actions and words during the last three years—they have been very tame toward the brutal regime in Iran. For example, in 2009 when we protested in the streets because of the fraudulent elections and the regime sent its thugs to beat and kill us. Many lost their lives including that famous girl “Neda” seen on YouTube who was shot by Iranian government militia. And what did Obama do or say? Not much. In very mild language he condemned the crackdown on us by the regime but did nothing more. We believe he was very tame in his response because he was trying to extend an olive branch to the mullahs ruling Iran so they would negotiate with him on the nuclear issue. We now know this was a failure by Obama because the mullahs never came to the negotiating table for the nuclear weapons program. Well, Obama’s move was the stupidest because it sent a clear message to the government here in Iran that they could get away with beating and murdering their own people and the America nor the West would raise a finger for the people of Iran. So in the eyes of the regime in Iran, Obama is seen as weak and in the eyes of most people who hate this government he is seen as someone who doesn’t care about us.
So is this just your opinion of Obama, or do you know other young people who feel the same way as you in Iran?
It’s not just my views, just look at the YouTube videos online of the thousands of young Iranians marching in the streets after the fraudulent 2009 elections and chanting “Obama, you’re either with us or you’re with them!” Here is just one of those videos….
With the protests in Iran earlier this year, do you think the Obama administration’s attitude or behavior toward those who seek democracy in Iran has changed?
No it hasn’t. It has only reinforced our earlier belief that he’s no friend to average Iranians who want to live free in our own country. In general he has shown that America turns its backs on its friends in the Middle East and doesn’t have the stomach to come down on its enemies in the region.
Why do you say that?
Well look at the example of Egypt. For the last 30 years Egypt has been a moderate Arab friend of the U.S. in the region. Now I am not defending Mubarak because he’s no different than many other dictators in the region. But when the protests began in Egypt, Obama came down hard almost everyday on Mubarak and his government and called for him to step down immediately. Obama rallied the European countries to pressure him to step down because of the human rights violations and the need for more freedom in Egypt. The world’s attention and pressure was on Mubarak and it ultimately forced his government to collapse. Now look at Obama’s behavior toward the Iranian leadership, who are not America’s friends in the region after they cracked down on the student opposition protests this February. He and Hillary Clinton did condemn the violence against us protesters but that’s it—he did not forcefully call for the regime to be removed, he did not rally the Europeans and the United Nations against the regime and his administration did nothing to place the international media spotlight on the Iranian government’s crimes against its own people during the protests. Where was his outrage at the slaughter of young men and women in the streets of Tehran? Was it not worse than what people endured while protesting in Cairo? Is this how Obama or America treats its enemies and friends? So Obama’s actions speak louder than his words and he’s proven to us not to be a friend of average people in Iran who hate the mullahs running our country. Obama’s administration has only emboldened the Iranian regime to continue their killing and terror against its people because they know the U.S. under Obama will do little if nothing to them for their crimes.
What would you like to see done differently by the Obama administration or the U.S. Congress to help your cause?
I think the most important thing for U.S. leaders to do is to express a very strong and unified voice against the human rights abuses the Iranian regime is committing against its people. Obama and his team have been “too nice” and “too diplomatic” in their public talk about the Iranian government. America and its leaders need to say very clearly and frequently in the media that they will not stand by and not allow for the mullahs and their thugs to continue killing innocent people in Iran who just want to live free. Your leaders need to keep the world’s pressure and media spotlight on Iran. Why don’t they call for the International War Crimes Tribunal to bring charges against the Iranian leadership for crimes against humanity? Why don’t you expose the thousands of innocent people they kill everyday on false charges of marital infidelity, treason, homosexuality and supposed crimes against Islam? This I think is very important rhetoric that needs to come from the American leadership and will give encouragement of the heart to average Iranians who will not feel hopeless in standing up against the current Iranian regime. I think that if we feel America is truly behind us and the U.S. government will do everything on the diplomatic end to pressure the Iranian government, then this regime cannot possibly continue its campaign of terror against its citizens and their house of cards will eventually collapse.
I also think that the U.S. and the world need to apply much more economic pressure on the Iranian government. The United Nations Security Council sanctions have scared the regime’s leadership and tightened the screws of their financial lifeline a little. But more needs to done. Banks in Europe and Asia need to decline major transactions from the Iranian regime’s companies. International companies need to stop their billion dollar contracts with the regime. The Arab Gulf states need to refuse or reduce their refining of Iranian oil to gasoline that is sold back to Iran. In Iran we do not refine our oil into gasoline, so all of our gasoline must be imported. Without gasoline the country will come to a standstill and bring the regime to its knees. All of these economic measures will gradually squeeze the current regime and lead people in Iran to stand up against the government which has failed them. It saddens me to say it but Iran is already in financial ruin because the mullahs running the country have been so corrupt and for years have been using funds from the sale of our natural resources to fund the Palestinian terrorist causes or Hezbollah’s terrorism instead of building up the country. I think that just a few more economic pushes will bring the regime to near collapse.
Do you have hope that one day Iran will be free of the current regime?
Of course. We never loose hope. We as a people have had a long history of being ruled by dictators and conquerors, but we have always overcome them. The majority of Iranians living in Iran today are younger people who want better lives for themselves and as they continue growing up, they will not want to endure these current hardships. Also don’t forget that Iran is the birthplace of human rights and equality. It was under Cyrus the Great, the ancient ruler of Iran who declared human rights for all of the world’s inhabitants. We are of course the descendants of Cyrus and will eventually rise up against these murderers who have taken over our country.
April 4, 2011 | 7:41 pm
Posted by Karmel Melamed
Last week I had the opportunity to hear my friend and talented fellow Iranian American journalist Lisa Daftari discuss her expertise on the human rights abuses gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders encounter today in Iran at the hands of that regime’s radical fundamentalist Islamic leaders. Daftari spoke to the LGBT political group the ”Stonewall Democrats Club” based in West Hollywood about the the lack of freedoms that homosexuals face in Iran and elsewhere in the Islamic world. Daftari is a seasoned journalist and Iran expert having appeared on CBS, NBC, PBS and Fox News television programs. She’s also a frequent contributor to the Washington Post and Front Magazine online. She discussed the reality that many individuals living in the West are unaware that Iran’s current fundamentalist Shiite Islamic laws consider homosexuality to be a disease. (Her interesting article about the Gulag for Gays in Iran can be found here). Gays, lesbians and transgenders live secret lives in Iran and are often harrassed, beaten and imprisoned if their sexual identity is discovered by the Iranian authorities. Over the past three decades dozens of men have been promptly executed for the “crime of homosexuality” in Iran. In fact Iran’s current laws require men who are publicly discovered to be gay, to have sex change surgeries so that these indivduals can “live normally in Iran’s society as women” and the government will even pay for such surgical procedures.
Kudos to the Stonewall Democrats Club for engaging the local LGBT community on the issue of abuses that homosexuals face everyday in Iran. Andrew Lachman, the past president of Democrats for Israel group in L.A. who is also on the Stonewall’s board, shed light on the LGBT community’s interest on the topic of human rights abuses in Iran. “There is a natural alliance between the LGBT community and the Iranian community here in Los Angeles in opposing the current regime in Iran,” Lachman said. “This kind of outreach really helps everyone find out just how much they share a revulsion to a regime that locks up and executes gays and political dissidents alike, merely for being who they are.” On an interesting side note, Daftari also explained how Israel was the only country in the Middle East that has provided LGBT with significant equal rights and freedom to live their lives as they wish without fear of abuse. In fact Israel every year has a “Gay Pride” parade in the captial city of Jerusalem unlike the other countries in the Middle East that kill or torture individuals who are LGBT.
Here is video I captured of Iranian American journalist Lisa Daftari exposing the extent of abuse LGBT encounter at the hands of Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime…