One of the White House’s key partner groups for promoting an Iranian nuclear deal addressed a conspiracist-laden conference aimed at combating "the power of the Israel Lobby" in Washington, D.C., on Friday.
Reza Marashi, the research director for the National Iranian American Council, which has been meeting regularly with White House officials to help sell the Iran deal, called on the audience to help "create the space for the White House" to pursue diplomacy with Iran.
Organizers billed the conference—titled "The Israel Lobby: Is it Good for the U.S.? Is it Good for Israel?"—as "an unprecedented, frank and overdue look at the power of the Israel Lobby in the United States."
Marashi’s remarks on Iran capped off a day of speeches from authors and former public officials who warned about the influence of the "Jewish lobby" and its "agents [who] exist by the hundreds and hundreds" across the United States.
"For the White House to do the kinds of things I think everybody in this room would like [it] to do requires citizens, interest groups across the board to be active and to create the political space for them," said Marashi.
"If people like you and I lead, I think you have a willingness in the White House to follow," he added. "Let that be a message if nothing else resonates with you going forward."
He also warned that potential "spoilers" to an Iran deal included AIPAC, Congress, and the Israeli government.
Politico reported last week that the White House has been working with NIAC, a U.S. group that advocates for policies that benefit the Iranian regime, as part of "a ramped-up series of briefings to allies who can make the case from the outside."
The panel immediately before Marashi’s address included two former members of Congress and writer M.J. Rosenberg, who left his job at Media Matters in 2012 amid controversy over his use of the term "Israel Firsters."
"Much has been said about the Jewish lobby," said former Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall, who lost his reelection race last year, on the panel. "Where my problem comes in is when those lobbies put the interests of the foreign country from which they come ahead of the interests of the United States of America."
Paul Findley, a former Republican congressman who left office in 1983, spoke of "the suffocating influence of the lobby for Israel across America."
"These agents exist by the hundreds and hundreds throughout the country," he said. "You can be sure that someone in every village, every city, every hamlet is there to protect the interests of the state of Israel. And it’s a very scary scene, one that is not receiving any attention."
Findley argued that these pro-Israel lobbying groups have "had the effect of destroying true representative government in this country."
"They are the power that makes big decisions on public policy, not the people that are elected from their home districts and states to serve in Congress," he said. "It’s not that group that holds the real power. It’s a group of unelected people that manage big lobbies that have big money to spend in order to control what’s done as public policy."
While Rahall acknowledged that there are many other lobbying groups in the United States that push their interests on Capitol Hill, he said pro-Israel lobbying groups are more powerful because of their coordination.
"The Jewish lobby, they are so many light years ahead of all the others," he said. "There may be disagreements within the various groups that comprise the Jewish lobby … but the public image is presented as one unified voice."
"Those disagreements between [other lobbying] groups often hit the press much more often than disagreements within Jewish lobbying organizations," said Rahall.
The former congressman also suggested that a recent letter organized by Sen. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.) criticizing an Iran deal "was cooked up in a suite of Sheldon Adelson’s in Nevada."
Other speakers also pushed conspiratorial and anti-Israel messages.
"Israel was corrupt from the beginning. Israel was created as the result of a brutal ethnic cleansing and established itself as an apartheid regime immediately when it was formed," said author Miko Peled during a panel on the pro-Israel lobby’s impact in the Middle East.
"There was no better Israel, there was no uncorrupt Israel. There cannot be an uncorrupt Israel because it was built on a crime and it has no legitimacy," he added, to widespread applause.
Author Gareth Porter, who spoke on the panel with Marashi, said intelligence information obtained by the International Atomic Energy Agency was "fabricated by the Mossad international intelligence service of Israel." On the same panel, writer Paul Pillar argued, "The overall level of democracy in Israel and Iran these days can be both considered about the same."
While NIAC’s Marashi confined his speech to the details of the Iran nuclear deal, he briefly addressed Jewish lobbying influence on Middle East policy during an audience question-and-answer session.
"Love it or hate it, Jewish Americans are extremely well organized politically in the United States of America," said Marashi. "And until we have equally organized minority groups that perhaps have a difference of opinion on how these policies should play out as it pertains to the United States involvement, I just don’t see a viable way for this to shift."
Marashi told the Washington Free Beacon that he had not heard the previous speeches before his own panel.
"Did it get a little too aggressive you guys think? I didn’t hear it," he said.
Marashi said his participation in the conference was not surprising considering NIAC’s outreach to many different groups.
"People say the same thing when they see me show up in Tel Aviv to meet with Israeli officials," he said. "They’re like, ‘NIAC’s here?’"
While Marashi said NIAC has been meeting with the White House, he said it was "not any more or any less than the average Joe."
"I think there’s an unfortunate propensity to label, whether its Bush or Obama or any other White House, as ‘Oh, the White House is giving marching orders to groups or analysts that they agree with," he said. "Not really. We’re just kind of exchanging notes and sharing thoughts."
The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and the Institute for Research, Middle East Policy organized the conference.
Other speakers included radio host Jeffrey Blankfort—who complained at a similar summit last year that "when it comes to the Holocaust, there’s no range of opinions"—and former United Nations official Richard Falk, who was criticized in 2011 for posting an anti-Semitic cartoon on his website and once suggested that the Boston marathon bombing was related to U.S. support for Israel.
NIAC sued an Iranian-American journalist named Hassan Daioleslam in 2007 for defamation after he accused the group of lobbying on behalf of Iran. The court sided with Daioleslam in 2012, dismissing the case and ordering NIAC to pay him $200,000 in legal reimbursement fees.