Monday, May 14, 2012

Wall Street Journal Shocker: Iranians Have Democratic Values
or, OMG! Iranians are Like Totally Almost Like Real Humans!

A chart from

"Iranians Have Democratic Values," screams a headline in The Wall Street Journal.  The article that follows, written by "Israeli political strategist" Yuval Porat, publicizes the findings of a recent public opinion poll conducted by the author and his colleagues.

Porat explains that the results of the survey reveal that, believe it or not, Iranian society is actually populated with real human beings who think and feel the way real human beings do.  He writes,
An analysis of the Iranian sample showed that alongside conservative values, such as conformity and tradition, Iranian society is characterized by strong support for pro-liberal values such as a belief in the importance of self-direction and benevolence. For example, 94% of the respondents identified with the sentence "freedom to choose what he does is important to him," and 71% of the respondents identified with the sentence "being tolerant toward all kinds of people and groups is important to him."
The poll was carried out using "a psychological questionnaire" that Porat says was developed by Israeli "cross-cultural psychology expert Shalom Schwartz as part of his 'Theory of Basic Human Values'" and which is designed to "measures the basic values of society without posing a single question in political terms."  Results were then analyzed to create "an index which measures the potential of a society to foster democratization, based on its values."

Porat was "amazed by how forthcoming the Iranian people were" during the polling interviews and was equally stunned by the results, writing,
Remarkably, in comparison to 47 countries surveyed in the World Values Survey, Iranian society's potential for liberal democracy was found to be higher than that of 23 others—including Arab countries such as Egypt, Morocco and Jordan, and Asian countries such as South Korea, India and Thailand. In comparison to 29 countries surveyed In the European Social Survey, Iran was found to have higher tendencies toward liberal democracy than Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia and Romania. 
Neat, huh?  What a fresh perspective on the Islamic Republic...and in The Wall Street Journal no less!

But the article is a smoke-screen and the research it's based on is transparently agenda-driven.  Basically, Porat's piece is one long infomercial for regime change in Iran.  In fact, the author tips his hand in his very first sentence when he references "high-stakes international discussions surrounding Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons."

As a researcher, Porat should maybe do a little research on the Iranian nuclear program before making such claims.  Western and Israeli intelligence have long assessed that Iran has no nuclear weapons program, a conclusion backed up by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

But, of course, that's not the point.  Porat knows full well what he's writing and why.  His Wall Street Journal article reads like something out of MAD Magazine or National Lampoon.  'Golly-gee, folks, those Eye-ranians are just like you and me!  Now let's get the regime change planes fueled up and ready to fly!'

The poll cited is one of the most patronizing, if not least scientific, ever conducted.  The research itself has barely been made public and is housed on a strangely amateurish website with hardly any content called  There is no press about this enterprise other than the Wall Street Journal article, which is also posted on the website.  Each page of the site is topped by a banner reading, "Could Iran Turn Into A Liberal Democracy?"  Porat's other researchers are mostly students at The Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel with past or current connections to the IDF.  The agenda could not be more obvious.

Furthermore, the researchers - in their quest to justify foreign intervention and regime change - seem not to understand (or care) that, for most Iranians, sentences like "It is important to him to make his own decisions about his life" and "Thinking creatively is important to him" are not seen as anathema to the current Iranian political system.  Also, the supposed "findings" of this poll are in no way shocking to anyone familiar with (a) Iranian society, which obviously doesn't include most neoconservative WSJ readers, or Israeli pollsters for that matter, and (b) have read other polls of the Iranian public.

In late 2010, for example, the International Peace Institute together with Charney Research, released an actual poll on Iranian public opinion.  Among the findings was the strong support (67%) for developing "closer connections with developed Western countries," yet this had no effect on the fact that 87% of respondents viewed the United States unfavorably, 68% considered the US "the greatest threat in the region," and a majority (55%) viewed European nations in a negative light.  An overwhelming majority (68%) continued to support Iran's relationship with and support for Hamas and Hezbollah.

In response to a question about whether Iranian society needs "controls to protect Islam and Iran from its enemies" or needs "more democracy, freedom and the rule of law," 51% of those polled chose the former versus 31% who picked the "more democracy" option.  Nevertheless, 54% said they "have real opportunities to improve their lives" and 60% said they "have much hope for the future."

Whereas a plurality of respondents (47%) said that the Rahbar and Guardian Council should have the last word on political decisions, 53% believed that, over the next decade, the elected President and Majlis would assume more powerful roles and make final decisions for the Islamic Republic.

Results like these show that Iranians don't believe themselves to be powerless in their own country (for example, the voter turnout and those voting for Ahmadinejad were found by the Charney report to be nearly identical to the official Iranian results).  Former Presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani still enjoyed broad support, while opposition leaders Mousavi and Karroubi were far less popular, each receiving "favorable" reactions from fewer than 40% of respondents.  The so-called "Green Movement" was even less popular, garnering a mere 26% approval rating.

The Israeli poll cited by the Wall Street Journal is yet another example of using an Orientalist frame (those people are almost just like us so we can finally convince ourselves it makes sense to go and save them from themselves!) in order to promote an agenda that the Iranian people across all social strata and the political spectrum reject out of hand - that is, Western-influenced regime change.

In case the purpose of the poll, and its publicity in the Wall Street Journal, wasn't explicit enough, here's how Porat concludes:
Our findings demonstrate that Iranian society as a whole is characterized by a pro-liberal value structure that is deeply at odds with the fundamentalist regime. This presents considerable potential for regime change in Iran and for the development of liberal democracy.
But how do Mr. Porat, his colleagues, and his compatriots actually define "liberal democracy"?  It might be instructive for Mr. Porat to turn his polling sights on his own state to find out if his own state, Israel, really fits the definition of a pluralistic, liberal society with democratic values wherein "being tolerant toward all kinds of people and groups is important" to the majority of the population.

A poll released early this year by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) in conjunction with the Avi Chai Foundation found that 70% of Israeli Jews believe that Jews are "the Chosen people," with 61% advocating that "public life should be in accordance with Jewish religious tradition."  Less than half of those polled (48%) thought that civil marriage should be allowed in Israel.  Additionally, as Ha'aretz put it, "only 44 percent said that if Jewish law and democratic values clashed, the latter should always be preferred."  Eli Silver, director of Avi Chai–Israel, analyzed the results this way: "The results of the survey are evidence that Israeli Jews are committed to two significant values: preserving Jewish tradition on the one hand, and upholding individual freedom of choice on the other."  Sound familiar?  Perhaps Silver also thinks that means Israel is ripe for regime change.

But most other public opinion polls conducted in Israel tell a far more sinister story.

A poll from last month showed that most Israelis believe their country has failed to address societal inequality, long term acceptance and security, and governmental transparency and accountability. 85.5% said Israel was unsuccessful in "closing socioeconomic gaps," as well as "bridging the religious-secular divide (85%), promoting peace with the Arab world (81%), and fighting corruption (80%)."

Another IDI poll from January 2012 found that "a large majority (76%)" of Jewish Israelis prefer "that Israel remain a country with a Jewish majority," with 63% stating that, if "continued Israeli rule over the West Bank [were to] lead to one state for Jews and Arabs in the entire Land of Israel [sic] that would not have a Jewish majority," they would favor ending the occupation. "However," the Institute reported, "the majority (54%) did not agree with the claim that continued rule in the territories will result in a country without a Jewish majority," thereby demonstrating an overwhelming Israeli preference to maintain the status quo of indefinite illegal military occupation of Palestine.

A September 2011 poll conducted by IDI showed that one-third of Israeli Jews (33%) don't think Palestinian citizens of Israel should have equal rights with their Jewish counterparts, claiming that Arabs are not Israelis.  The poll also found that "77.9% of Jews inside Israel say that Arabs inside Israel should not be allowed to participate in the crucial, political, economic and even social decisions in Israel."

An October 2010 poll by the Dahaf Institute found that 36% of Israeli Jews "are in favor of revoking the voting rights" of Palestinian citizens of Israel.  It also reported that "55% of those polled justify harming freedom of speech in times of political difficulty, and 57% oppose non-violent protests held during military operations."

In March 2010, a poll conducted by the Maagar Mochot research institute revealed that while 80% of Israeli high school students say they prefer a democratic form of government (amazingly, 16% actually said they desired a dictatorship), over 49% do not support equal rights being granted to both Jewish and Arab citizens of the State of Israel. 56% of the high school students polled believed Arabs should not be allowed to vote, while 32% said they would not even want to have an Arab friend. One out of every six students would not want to study in the same class with an Ethiopian or an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, and 21% of them think that "Death to Arabs" is a legitimate expression. Additionally, 48% insisted they would refuse official orders to evacuate illegal West Bank settlements if they were serving in the Israeli military (for which 91% of respondents were eager to enlist).

Just a few months later, in September 2010, another poll of Israeli teenagers was conducted, this time by a professor from the Statistics Department of Tel Aviv University.  It found that "96 percent of the respondents want Israel to be a Jewish and democratic state, but 27 percent believe that those who object should be tried in court, and 41 percent support stripping them of their citizenship."  The poll also revealed that a full 50% of all Jewish Israeli high schoolers didn't want Arab students to share their classrooms.

Perhaps these results should not be surprising, considering that a 2008 poll cited by Yediot Ahronot discovered that "40 percent of Jewish Israelis did not believe that Arab Israelis should be allowed to vote."

In late April 2010, a survey commissioned by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University found that over 57% of the respondents agreed that human rights organizations that expose immoral conduct by Israel should not be allowed to operate freely, the majority felt that "there is too much freedom of expression" in Israel, 43% said "the media should not report information confirmed by Palestinian sources that could reflect poorly on the Israeli army," 58% opposed "harsh criticism of the country," 65% thought "the Israeli media should be barred from publishing news that defense officials think could endanger state security, even if the news was reported abroad," and 82% said they "back stiff penalties for people who leak illegally obtained information exposing immoral conduct by the defense establishment."

The poll also found that "most of the respondents favor punishing Israeli citizens who support sanctioning or boycotting the country, and support punishing journalists who report news that reflects badly on the actions of the defense establishment." Additionally, of those polled who described themselves as right-wing, 76% said "human rights groups should not have the right to freely publicize immoral conduct on Israel’s part."

"Israelis have a distorted perception of democracy," said pollster Daniel Bar-Tal, a professor at the Tel Aviv University’s School of Education, as he analyzed the survey's findings. "The public recognizes the importance of democratic values, but when they need to be applied, it turns out most people are almost anti-democratic."

A 2006 poll found that 68% of Israeli Jews fear that Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel would "initiate an intifada" and 64 % believe that "Arabs endanger the security of the state because of their high birth rates." Other polls from 2006 and 2007 revealed that 50% of Israeli Jews support the "transfer" of Arabs out of the country, 42% desire the "nullifying Arab Israeli citizens’ right to vote," and 55% supported the "notion that the government should encourage Arab emigration." The Israel Democracy Institute's June 2007 report found that 55% of Israeli Jews surveyed support the idea that the government should encourage Arab emigration and 78% are opposed to Arab political parties (including Arab ministers) joining the government.

Additionally, surveys have found that 75% of Israeli Jews "oppose living in the same apartment buildings as Arabs," 55% believe that "Arabs do not have the ability to reach the same level of cultural development as the Jews," 61.4% were unwilling to have Arab friends visit their homes, 55% supported segregated recreational facilities for Jews and Arabs, while 37% of them "view Arab culture as inferior."

A few years ago, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel reported that 49.9% of the Jewish population feels fear when hearing Arabic spoken in the street, 31.3% feels revulsion, 43.6% senses discomfort and 30.7% feels hatred.

A different poll, conducted by KEEVOON Research and Strategy company, showed overwhelming support in the Hebrew-speaking Jewish population of Israel for the Jewish National Fund's policy of selling land to Jews only. 81% of respondents favored the 100-year old policy, with only 10% opposed.

In mid-January 2012, the Israeli Supreme Court upheld a law banning most Palestinians who marry Israelis from living inside Israel because, as the majority opinion stated, "Palestinians who gain Israeli citizenship through marriage pose a security threat." The ruling also explained that "human rights are not a prescription for national suicide."

With the Israeli public and government so hostile towards the basic tenets of democracy, human rights, and equality, why aren't we hearing about what a danger they are to our way of life, how their government agents train, fund and arm terrorists that kill civilians on Iranian soil, how colonization, apartheid, and ethnic cleansing are contrary to our innate sense of morality and justice, how such nuclear-armed messianic zealots should be disarmed, diplomatically isolated and boycotted, how "unwavering" is our support for those oppressed by occupation, how "unbreakable" is our commitment to alleviate the suffering of an indigenous population under siege, and how the values that Americans and Iranians share should be exported via regime change to the Jewish State of Israel to make the world a safer and more peaceful place?

Oh right, because that's not the point.  Advocating for regime change in Iran is.



Andy said...

Nima, I wish there were a thousand "Like" buttons on your website.

Anonymous said...

Stupid title

Nima Shirazi said...

Thank you for your insightful comment, Anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Anonymous, darling. The title is as stupid/fun as the reader. I am often stupid, but lucky for me, this time, I giggled as I read the title, which had allusions to UK's Daily Mail headlines + linkages to the droning epithets produced by my Long Island Lolita students. What brilliance to marry the two styles: long separated, yet with oceanic longing for each other's inane nihilism. OMG, who car-rrresss?

I'll be directing a whole stream of students to your blog, Nima. Already sent the link to one kid - he's that every 'foreign' academic's dream American student, so he will appreciate.