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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Iran accuses 67-year old grandmother of spying for US and Israel

Iran confirmed over the weekend that it is holding 67-year old grandmother and American scholar Haleh Esfandiari of Potomac, Maryland and accused her of spying for the United States and Israel.
The unofficial charges were made in Tehran's Kayhan newspaper, which is closely tied to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and reflects government views. The allegations against Esfandiari, who is director of the Middle East program at the Smithsonian Institution's Woodrow Wilson International Center of Scholars, offer the first indication of the case that Iran may be trying to craft against the Potomac resident. Although the Foreign Ministry finally confirmed her detention Sunday, no formal charges have been issued since she was imprisoned a week ago after more than four months under virtual house arrest and weeks of interrogations in Tehran.


Esfandiari's husband Shaul Bakhash, Monday refuted the long list of allegations made in a front-page Kayhan article. Esfandiari had never been to Israel, worked with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, formed an "Iran office" for the Jewish organization, organized its conferences, worked with the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, or been a Zionist, Bakhash said.

Kayhan said Esfandiari had been "one of the main elements of Mossad in driving a velvet revolution strategy in Iran." The article also said she ran "obvious intelligence missions" under her cover as a Wilson Center programming director and used her seminars to "evaluate the capacity of reformists to change the Islamic order." It also said she had formed two networks of Iranian activists in the United States and Dubai with the goal of toppling Iran's Islamic government.

Bakhash, a George Mason University professor, also denied today that he had ever worked with Mossad. "The charges against my wife Haleh and myself are sinister and also absurd and fantastical, the concoctions of men who have lost touch with reality," he said.

Bakhash said today that he had also never been a Zionist.
My first reaction to this story was to ask why any westerner would visit Iran. It turns out that Esfandiari, who is a Shiite Muslim(!) was in Iran to visit her 93-year old Austrian-born mother who is ailing.

Her husband, by the way, is also an expert on Iran. But he is an Iranian-born Jew, which may be way the Iranians seized his wife.

A website has been set up to push for Dr. Esfandiari's freedom. It is sponsored by the American Islamic Congress in conjunction with Ibn Khaldoun Center in Cairo, the Initiative for Inclusive Security in Washington, and the Kuwaiti Economic Society. I have looked at the websites of these organizations, but know no more about them than what I am putting below. If any of you find out that they are all anti-Israel, I will not be shocked.

The American Islamic Congress (AIC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to building interfaith and interethnic understanding. Our organization grew out of the ashes of September 11. We believe American Muslims must take the lead in building tolerance and fostering a respect for human rights and social justice at home and throughout the Muslim world. Within the Muslim community, we are building a coalition around the agenda of unequivocal denunciation of terrorism, extremism, and hate speech. Reaching out to all people of conscience, we promote genuine interfaith dialogue and educate about the diversity within Islam.

IBN KHALDUN CENTER FOR DEVELOPMENT STUDIES (ICDS) is a non- governmental professional institution, registered in Cairo since 1988 as a limited liability civil company (license no. 3044). Its headquarters are located in theMokattam Hills.

The main objectives of the Center are the advancement of applied social sciences with special emphasis on Egypt and the Arab World. It is commitment to the promotion of responsible dialogue, democracy, peace and development for all peoples in the region.

The Initiative for Inclusive Security, including The Women Waging Peace Network, advocates for the full participation of all stakeholders, especially women, in peace processes. Creating sustainable peace is achieved best by a diverse, citizen-driven approach. Of the many sectors of society currently excluded from peace processes, none is larger—or more critical to success—than women.

I was unable to find a website for the Kuwaiti Economic Society, but its chairlady, Rolah Dashti, is a candidate for the Kuwaiti parliament. This is the first election in Kuwait in which women can be candidates.


At 4:23 AM, Blogger Esra'a said...

"If any of you find out that they are all anti-Israel, I will not be shocked."

I find it so absurd that you assume that.. and that this is the only thing you manage to think of, in such an irrelevant moment. None of them are anti-Israel, if anything some are in support of Israel if even slightly and help Israelis gain a voice amongst Arabs. Our network, Mideast Youth (www.mideastyouth.org), created this site and our staff includes Israelis, so I find these generalizations quite offensive, that merely because these human rights networks or NGOs are Arab or Islamic, you immediately assume that it's anti-Israel. Why such a narrow vision? This is the type of mentality that feeds ignorance.

At 7:55 AM, Blogger Carl in Jerusalem said...


It's obviously NOT the only thing I managed to think of, or I would not have bothered to post the item (its only connection to Israel is that Iran has thrown us into the mix for good measure).

Many (if not most) Arabs who are pro-democracy and secularism have a hard time accepting Israel's existence. I've been to enough anti-government Syrian sites and Lebanese sites to know that.

At 12:51 AM, Blogger Ordinary Citizen said...

Just a note that The Initiative for Inclusive Security is now The Institute for Inclusive Security.


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