Advocate for Engagement with Iran Misleads Reporters

Foreign Policy story heavily relied on official who misrepresented Iran-Israel interactions
A member of the Iran delegation responds to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's addresses to the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly / AP

A member of the Iran delegation responds to Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's addresses to the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly / AP


Foreign Policy magazine was forced to correct on Wednesday an online article about the Iranian government that relied heavily on a liberal advocate for direct negotiations with Tehran.

The article by reporter Colum Lynch, which has since been modified, incorrectly asserted that the Iranian government had publicly referred to “Israel” for “the first time in decades.”

Using the word “Israel,” Lynch originally wrote, is “something no Iranian leader has done in decades,” instead employing such monikers as “Zionist entity.”

The piece relied heavily on comments from Joel Rubin, a top official at the Ploughshares Fund, a progressive anti-nuke foundation that pushes to roll back sanctions on Iran and negotiate with it directly.

Rubin formerly served as the political director of J Street, a liberal lobbying group that opposed sanctions on Iran and has pushed to soften America’s approach toward the regime but changed to support sanctions recently.

Ploughshares has given J Street and other groups money to lobby on ending U.S. military threats against Iran and encourage leaders to negotiate directly with Tehran.

Iran experts quickly questioned the veracity of the original story, which had been headlined “Iranian Diplomats Publicly Mention ‘Israel’ for The First Time in Decades.”

Lynch hailed an Iranian denunciation of Tuesday’s United Nations speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “small but potentially seismic shift” because “the Iranians actually acknowledged their Israeli sparring partners as ‘Israelis.’”

However, Iran experts and former U.S. officials pointed out that Lynch’s claim was false, noting that contrary to the original article, Iranian leaders often have referred to Israel as such over the past three decades.

Foreign Policy editor Noah Shachtman acknowledged the error when approached Wednesday by the Washington Free Beacon and quickly corrected the story.

“An earlier version of this story noted that the mention of ‘Israel’ was the first by an Iranian leader in decades,” the correction read. “This is incorrect; in fact, even hardline Iranian leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have done so from time to time. We regret the error. And we thank Adam Kredo and Noah Pollak for bringing this to our attention.”

Iranian leaders, including Ayatollah Khomeini, the first Supreme Leader, and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have all referred to the Jewish State as “Israel.”

A Persian language search of current Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s official website yields pages of very recent references to “Israel” (“اسرائيل” in Farsi).

Khamanei mentioned Israel by name, for instance, on Feb. 20, 2010, when he criticized it.

“Israel is not sincere in its wish for peace,” Khamenei said, according to a translation of his Farsi remarks. “Should it be sincere, it has not a damned thing to say, it has no rights here, but it is also not sincere. Those who chose the path of negotiations were forced to accept what was imposed upon them.”

Khamenei referenced Israel again on Aug. 6, 2005.

“The Greater Middle East scheme serves the plot to create a great country called the Middle East with the Zionist regime at its center so that all the capacities of this region would serve Israel and Muslims would be under the yoke and influence of the West,” he said, according to a translation.

There are numerous other examples, including a 1982 speech by Khamenei in which he repeatedly refers to the Jewish state as Israel.

A Persian language search of the Iranian president’s website bears similar results, showing that Ahmadinejad used the word Israel at multiple times in 2008, 2010, and in other recent years.

Israel was mentioned by name on the Iranian president’s website as recently as Aug. 2, 2013.

Ahmadinejad was quoted saying Israel by the New York Times in a 2005 report on his plans to destroy the Jewish state.

Former Pentagon adviser Michael Rubin said that Foreign Policy’s report is misleading because it wrongly attributes significance to the Iranian diplomat’s mention of Israel.

“Journalists are making fools of themselves finding demonstrably false proofs for supposed Iranian moderation,” said Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq. “That some activists find it so easy to sell such snake oil reflects poorly on Foreign Policy and its editors.”

While Iran does not recognize Israel’s legitimacy, its leaders are often heard referring to it by name.

“The Islamic Republic does not recognize the state of Israel, which in official regime parlance is called anything from ‘the Zionist entity,’ ‘the Zionist regime,’ ‘the regime occupying the Quds,’ ‘the small Satan,’ and sometimes ‘Israel the usurper,’” said Ali Alfoneh, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).

“Islamic Republic leaders and diplomats mostly refer to Israel with these names, but occasionally you hear them mention Israel,” Alfoneh said. “Those U.S. analysts who attach a particular significance to a junior Iranian diplomat’s use of the proper name ‘Israel,’ risk the mistakes of Kremlinologists of past generations.”

Ploughshares officials did not respond to multiple Free Beacon requests for comment.

Adam Kredo   Email Adam | Full Bio | RSS
Adam Kredo is senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Formerly an award-winning political reporter for the Washington Jewish Week, where he frequently broke national news, Kredo’s work has been featured in outlets such as the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Politico, among others. He lives in Maryland with his comic books. His Twitter handle is @Kredo0. His email address is