National Iranian American Council

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The National Iranian American Council [1] is a Washington, D.C.-based lobby that seeks to advance the interests of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Clare M. Lopez of the Center for Security Policy wrote in 2009 that NIAC is a pro-Islamic Jihad group. "Spearheaded by a de facto partnership between the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and other organizations serving as mouthpieces for the mullahs’ party line, the network includes well-known American diplomats, congressional representatives, figures from academia and the think tank world." [2]

Iranian front

Iranian state-run media have referred to the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) since at least 2006 as “Iran’s lobby” in the U.S.

It portrays itself in the media as an independent group of Iranian expatriates. But Sam Nunberg, director of the Legal Project at the Middle East Forum project, describes the NIAC as an Iranian “front group.”

And documents released during the discovery phase of a defamation lawsuit NIAC filed against Seid Hassan Daioleslam, editor of the Iranian American Forum and one of the regime’s most public critics, include correspondence with Mohammed Javad Zaif, then Iran’s permanent representative to the United Nations.

Nunberg’s organization is helping to represent Daioleslam.[3]

2002 founding

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the American-Iranian community has been "startled by a crackdown on Middle Eastern visitors and a flurry of job-discrimination cases involving Iranian Americans. In response, the immigrants are venturing into the one area of American life that had remained out of their realm: politics".

"There came a realization that without actively engaging in the American civic and electoral process, our voices were not going to be heard," said Morad Ghorban, political director of the new Iranian American Political Action Committee.

While they are a relatively small group -- estimates of the nationwide population range from 340,000 to a half-million or more -- Iranian Americans are working the system to maximize their influence. Activists have registered hundreds to vote. The Iranian American PAC has distributed about $30,000 to congressional and local candidates on Tuesday's ballot. And the Iranian American Bar Association has taken the community's civil-liberties complaints to dozens of congressional staffers.

"Iranian Americans realize that, 'Okay, I may be CEO of my own company, but I still can't bring my grandmother here without her being humiliated in the airport,' " said Dokhi Fassihian, executive director of the National Iranian American Council, a two-year-old organization based in Adams Morgan that organized the voter registration drive.[4]

NIAC Collaborates with ACLU Coalition, IAPAC

Washington, D.C. June 2005 – The National Iranian American Council is working with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Amnesty International USA, the Iranian American Bar Association, the Iranian American Political Action Committee, and the National Legal Sanctuary for Community Advancement (NLSCA), to promote broad based education of civil rights among the Iranian-American community.

Since its August 2004 Civil Liberties Alert, NIAC has been documenting alleged reports of discrimination against Iranian Americans and referring individuals to civil rights organizations, legal referral services, and government agencies where they can receive assistance. With the explicit permission of individuals, NIAC has also referred selected cases to the media.

Of the alleged cases of discrimination and rights abuses reported by Iranian Americans to NIAC between August 2004 and today, an estimated 59 percent were workplace-related incidents, of which 36 percent were related directly to security clearance denials and revocations. An additional 20 percent of cases involved immigration-related discrimination, including application delays for citizenship and green cards, the revocation of valid visas, and security check delays. Finally, 15 percent of the discrimination cases reported to NIAC were community-based discrimination or hate crimes, and 7 percent were government-related discrimination, including disproportionate enforcement of the law and FBI interrogations or surveillance.

In February 2005, NIAC launched its Anti-Discrimination Center, a bilingual resource center which provides information about various forms of discrimination, including hate crimes, defamation in the media, employment and immigration discrimination. The site also provides valuable Know Your Rights information in English and Persian, links to civil rights organizations, and resources to help find low cost and pro-bono legal assistance, including Persian-language lawyers.

NIAC participated in a Los Angeles press briefing on June 2 to launch the Iranian-American Know Your Rights Campaign. The campaign seeks to empower Iranian Americans with knowledge about their rights and provide them the tools they need to overcome discrimination.

NIAC’s role in the Know Your Rights campaign will be to further raise civil rights awareness among Iranian Americans and defend the rights of our community against broad scale discrimination.[5]

Influence

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National Iranian American Council’s new 501(c)4 will be called NIAC Action, organizers said ahead of the official unveiling at the end of June 2015. NIAC Action aims to direct money from the Iranian-American community, which is relatively well-off compared to other immigrant groups, toward more concerted political activism.

“We’ve got all this money on the table, all this political influence that’s not being utilized,” said Jamal Abdi, NIAC Action’s executive director. “Now we can actually start playing the full political game.”

NIAC, a 501(c)3 non-profit started in 2002, has long faced rumors and accusations from neoconservative activists and rival Iranian organizations of being a stooge of the Islamist government in Tehran and of skirting rules governing lobbying.

Abdi and others make no secret of their desire to shift the political landscape in Washington away from groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has criticized the talks with Iran, and toward movements more inclined to pursue diplomacy with the longtime U.S. nemesis.

The exact number of Iranian Americans isn’t known, though some estimate there are more than 1 million. But despite being well-educated and often wealthy, Iranian Americans have rarely had the political muscle as groups representing other immigrant communities.

NIAC has some 5,000 dues-paying members, though it has around 45,000 Iranian-Americans signed up for its emails and events. Using data pulled from that broader list of backers and campaign fund-raising sources, organizers estimate that NIAC supporters as a group give on average $1.4 million to political candidates each election cycle.

That’s a small sum in the grand scheme of U.S. politics, but it’s a start, NIAC leaders say.

“While we may not be able to match the largesse of [pro-Israel donors] Sheldon Adelson and Paul Singer, our side is for the first time bringing serious resources to the playing on the field, Abdi said.

NIAC Action, which will launch with 30 chapters across the country, will be able to endorse candidates and channel donations toward aspiring office-holders. Abdi said NIAC Action views J Street, the left-leaning Jewish-American group that also supports the nuclear talks, as a model.[6]

"Unity campaign"

Washington, DC – The Iranian-American Bar Association (IABA) launched its Unity Campaign on November 21 2002 with a presentation called "Impact of Pending Immigration Laws and Opportunities for Civic Engagement," a first in an expected series of events aimed at bringing together Iranian-Americans as a formidable, influential force on civic life, as well as facilitating educational panel discussions between Iranian-Americans and non-Iranian Americans.

IABA had invited two other prominent Iranian-American groups to speak at the event as a show of unity, the President of the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC) Mr. Hassan Nemazee and the President of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) Trita Parsi.

One of the key topics of the evening was the broad language of Section 306 of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act. The Act, signed into law by President Bush earlier this year, was created in direct response to the tragic events of September 11th in order to secure US borders, improve visa entry systems, and thwart future terrorist attacks.

However, Sec. 306 assumes that nationals seeking nonimmigrant visas from countries listed as state-sponsors of international terrorism all pose as a security threat to the U.S. unless determined otherwise by the Secretary of State. The Department currently lists Iran as one of the state-sponsored terrorist nations.

Another debated topic was Section 811 of the Gekas Bill, legislation that would ban all visas to Iranians.

"The political influence of Iranian-Americans is virtually non-existent," Babak Hoghooghi, IABA President, said.

One of the major supporters of Sec. 306 was Senator Dianne Feinstein (D) from California, a state populated with close to a million "highly successful and politically inactive" Iranian-Americans, Hoghooghi said.

IABA also drafted a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell and James Ziglar, Commissioner of Immigration and Naturalization Service, expressing the concern of Iranian-Americans over Sec. 306, calling it "unfair" and "discriminatory." Hoghooghi also wrote in the letter that "matters such as family visitation and emergency medical care may become surpassingly difficult" with the new law.

Nemazee paralleled the strength in numbers of Cuban-Americans in Florida with the population of Iranians in California, the main difference standing that Cuban-Americans have successfully integrated their community within the political arena as well as with issues concerning the American community at large.

He advised that voting in elections for candidates who will listen and educate is important, as "some may argue it is one's duty to vote." IAPAC focuses on contributing money to the campaigns of pro-Iranian-American candidates.

Parsi pointed out that the Iranian-American community's first challenge is to understand how the system works.

"Unity may be necessary, but it is not sufficient. We have been united on many issues without managing to translate that unity into influence. The problem is that after two decades of not having participated in American politics, we no longer know how to participate, Parsi explained. He continued by stating that NIAC was created to fill in the knowledge gap that Iranian-Americans face when it comes to civic participation and serve as "the eyes and ears on Capitol Hill."

NIAC and IABA organized a two-hour telephone campaign a few weeks ago encouraging people to call their delegation and express concern over the SAFER Act. Parsi said that NIAC's legislative Action Center received 8,000 hits and more than 4,500 letters were sent to representatives around the country.

"We're starting to establish in our community a habit of contacting representatives," Parsi said.

NIAC has held meetings with the members of the Subcommittee on Immigration in the House of Representatives and explained the viewpoints of the Iranian-American community on Section 811 of the Gekas Bill.

"We have established good relationships with key staffers and key members in key committees," Parsi explained.

Some audience members expressed concern over how long it actually takes before the community is able to appreciate solid results.

"We want overnight solutions but there are none," Hoghooghi explained.

Eric Sklar, a former staff member of Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) offered his perspective on the road ahead for Iranian-Americans, pointing out that it takes years to rise as an influential community.

Sklar also said that strong financial resources, like PACs, will give enormous access in building a powerful and significant presence in civic life. "Pick Congress-people and Senators who are going to be your champions," Sklar said.

Hoghooghi said that the IABA Unity Campaign seeks to empower Iranian-Americans with patience, perseverance, vision, and conviction.

"Begin by convincing yourself that this is a worthy cause," said Hoghooghi.[7]

Friends

National Iranian American Council February 13, 2017:

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With Jamal Abdi, Joe Cirincione, Trita Parsi, Lily Sarafan and Shokooh Miry.

Thanking NIAC

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In 2016 National Iranian American Council was thanked by Barack Obama and funded by the Ploughshares Fund.

Staff

Board of Directors

Board of Advisors

References