Hard-Pressed 2

A Press TV regular: The Brisbane-based activist who calls himself “Max Igan”

 

Antisemites, Holocaust deniers and conspiracy theorists on Iran’s Press TV

 

In the June edition of the AIR (“Hard Pressed”), I presented my research into the history of Iranian channel Press TV when it was using Australian based reporters for stories on Australian issues – which took place until late 2015.

This second part of my research exposes the selection of questionable commentators chosen by Press TV to analyse stories related to Australia after it no longer had its own local correspondents.

Press TV is a 24-hour English and French-language news and documentary network wholly funded by the Iranian regime. It is available in Australia through one satellite or via internet streaming.

With no reporters operating on Australian soil, Press TV has pursued a different strategy to tarnish Australia’s reputation and spread antisemitism and conspiracy theories. When discussing Australian stories, the channel selectively chooses Australian and overseas commentators who will utter the right slogans in service of the interests of the Ayatollahs in Teheran. Viewers are not given any explanation of the agendas of the not-so-respected Australian residents interviewed online from the studios in Teheran.

These “analysts” with their questionable views – espousing antisemitism, Holocaust denial, conspiracy theories, support for terrorism, and inevitably, extreme anti-Israel positions – were of course never challenged or seriously questioned by Press TV anchors.

Anti-Israel stories and Nazi-inspired remarks 

Before Press TV reduced its activity in Australia to a bare minimum in late 2015, Hamid Farajollahi was its senior Australian reporter (after working for the network in Germany). His name appears in official documents as the person who registered the web address presstv.com.auin Australia in 2019, which redirects visitors to the international Presstv.com website.

Press TV Australian correspondent Hamid Farajollahi

Farajollahi seems to have been friendly with antisemitic blogger Brendon O’Connell who was jailed in 2011 in Perth after being found guilty of six racial hatred charges. O’Connell claimed in 2017, that the Iranian journalist personally complained to him that Press TV is run by “a bunch of tossers.” O’Connell alleges Farajollahi told him that “he had not been paid for three months and was receiving no funding for stories while based in Berlin, suggesting that the managers of Press TV ‘are probably embezzling the funds. It’s a third world country Brendon, what were you expecting?’”

In October 2014, Farajollahi and his crew were violently driven away while trying to film a protest by members of the Kurdish diaspora in Sydney (the Sunni Kurds of Iran are in opposition to the Shi’ite theocracy in Teheran). Ironically, that incident occurred just a few months after Farajollahi filed a report on a rally of Iraqi expats in support of their government against ISIS, in which he passionately argued that “the West [falsely] seeks to portray the bloodshed in Iraq as a divide between Sunni and Shi’a.”

Farajollahi’s selection of posts shared on social media (mostly Twitter) are a poisonous cocktail of anti-Zionist content with a touch of Nazi-inspired antisemitism.

Responding to a picture shared online in 2019 by Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu of the border fence between Israel and Egypt, Farajollahi commented that “If Hitler was alive he would have liked this tweet. #Fascism”. Soon after he shared a tweet by Algerian_PalestineV-#GreatReturnMarch, stating that “The pace at which #israel is committing atrocities will soon supersede Hitlers [sic] and #Nazis unforgettable actions #IsraeliCrimes.”

Comparing Israel to Nazi Germany was also the theme of another tweet shared by Farajollahi, which stated that “The Israeli’s Are Taking Over where the Nazi’s [sic] left off, Only difference German Soldiers Fought Brits& Yank Soldiers not Women & Children”.

Farajollahi also shared an anti-Israeli post by disgraced University of Sydney lecturer Tim Anderson, notorious for having shown his students material featuring a Nazi swastika imposed over the flag of Israel, and for his strong support for the Iranian, Syrian and North Korean regimes.

Farajollahi was very active during the 2014 “Operation Protective Edge” conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. His coverage and so-called analysis of demonstrations organised against the Israeli film festival and of the international Nakba Day protest against Israel that year made no pretence of upholding any journalistic values. It included only the anti-Israel protesters’ side, while Farajollahi himself talked about “Israel’s atrocities and aggression.” Ironically, in one story he did note that police officers outnumbered the demonstrators, exposing just how small the protest was, although it was given extensive coverage on Press TV.

He also claimed in his report that a New South Wales Supreme Court judge who made a ruling disallowing an anti-Israeli demonstration in Sydney “was forced to hand down that verdict by pressure probably from pro-Israeli and Zionist groups in Australia.” Needless to say, Judge Peter Hidden’s decision was actually based on police arguments related to public safety and traffic disruption.

Another event that caught the attention of Farajollahi was the visit of fervent anti-Zionist activist and former British politician George Galloway to Australia in 2013. Farajollahi’s positive story on Galloway, who equated Zionists and Nazis, was brimming with enthusiasm, and featured grabs from local fans of Galloway and attacks on Israel by both the guest and the reporter.

Another Press TV reporter from Sydney, Fatima Wehby, filed two anti-Israel stories (no longer available online) in 2015 – one about an anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) conference and another justifying the actions of BDS supporters who barged into and disrupted a lecture at the University of Sydney by retired British military officer Colonel Richard Kemp.

The Commentator as Conspiracy Theorist

Meanwhile, who were the analysts hand-picked by Press TV to remark on Australian matters after the network stopped employing correspondents here from 2015 onwards?

One was Max Igan – the pseudonym of a 60-year-old Brisbane resident, who says he is an activist with “very anti-corporatism and very anti-fascism” views. He has a limited media profile in online videos and radio interviews. Igan was chosen to speak on Press TV several times (for example in 2015 calling then PM Tony Abbott “a complete and utter imbecile”), and was asked to “analyse” Australia’s decision to officially recognise west Jerusalem as Israel capital in December 2018. Of course, viewers received no explanation about who Igan is or what he stands for.

As expected, Igan was critical of the Government’s decision on Jerusalem, claiming that “these sorts of moves just embolden the Israeli people to carry out more acts of terror against the people of Palestine,” adding support for Israel is “abominable” because of Israeli “war crimes”. But he did not stop there. With the Palestinian flag hanging on the wall behind him, Igan labelled Australia’s move illegal because Israel occupies Palestinian territories while Jerusalem is “under dispute” and Israel “has no right” to it. Exposing himself as a fan of conspiratorial thinking, Igan said that “They [Israel] are claiming that it was our capital for 3,000 years ago [sic]. Well, we don’t really know what happened 3,000 years ago, especially with the history we are given by mainstream academia.”

Igan’s hint that academics are in some way complicit in an evil plan to falsify Jewish history in Jerusalem would be no surprise to anyone who visits Igan’s website, which harbours content about and links to a variety of antisemitic Nazi-inspired sources such as the Greek neo-Nazi group Golden Dawn, Holocaust denying texts (“I Don’t Deny Any Holocaust… Do You?”), conspiracy theories against vaccinations and the like. Extreme anti-Israeli propaganda is everywhere on Igan’s site, including posts suggesting such notorious tropes as “Jews control the world” and “Israel is behind ISIS.”

James O’Neill was another commentator chosen by Press TV. The Brisbane lawyer harshly criticised Australia’s asylum seeker policy when talking on Press TV in 2016. As expected, he is a fan of the regimes in Iran and Syria and of conspiracy theories in line with his extreme views on Israel, which he labelled an “apartheid regime for whom international law is just an impediment to fulfilment of the Yinon Plan for a Greater Israel” (a conspiracy theory claiming that Israel secretly seeks to control the Middle East).

In 2018, O’Neill alleged that Israel’s activities in Syria are meant to overthrow Bashar al-Assad and support the terrorist groups operating against the regime, while the Iranian, Hezbollah and Russian presence in Syria is a result of the request by “the legitimate sovereign Syrian government”. He failed to mention Bashar al-Assad’s war crimes of using chemical weapons against his people, or the torture and killing of thousands.

For its report on the 2017 Australia Day demonstrations calling for a change of the date (January 26) to better respect the views and history of indigenous Australians (a story Press TV covers annually), Press TV chose to speak to Ken Canning, one of the leaders of the protest. Canning, who had previously featured in a Press TV story on an anti-government protest in 2014, is an extreme left activist and a fervent anti-Zionist. In September 2017, on social media he described the meeting between Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull and his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu as “Two murdering colonial leaders meet to congratulate each other on their continued genocide of innocent peoples.” Earlier that year, speaking to a crowd of supporters, he labelled Israeli policy as “international terrorism”.

Jamal Daoud

Another ‘distinguished’ guest commentator for Press TV was Jamal Daoud. An Australian citizen of Palestinian descent born in Jordan, Daoud is a champion in Australia of Syrian dictator Assad, whom he personally met in 2013. He was acquainted with the 2014 Lindt Café terrorist, Man Haron Monis (they met in 2009 during an anti-Israel demonstration). He is a staunch anti-Zionist activist and one of the organisers of the annual Iranian-sponsored Al-Quds day demonstrations against Israel.

Daoud was interviewed by Press TV on the anti-terror laws passed in the Australian Parliament in December 2015, which would strip dual citizenship from people convicted of terrorism offences. He was also asked to comment on the detention of asylum seekers by Australia a few months later and on the alleged harassment of female policewomen in Australia. Not surprisingly, when interviewed on Press TV, Daoud labelled the anti-terror legislation “hypocritical”, and called on the Australian government to take action “against the source of extremism in society” which he argued is Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states – the key regional enemies of Iran and Syria.

Syrian-born Australian Maram Susli, known by her online nickname “Partisan Girl”, is a YouTube and Twitter figure. Aside from being featured on Press TV, where she argued that the US had “taken over” Australia, she has appeared on the anti-Western Russian state channel RT, on the far-right American conspiracy theory and fake news website Infowars, and on podcasts hosted by the former head of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke and Holocaust denier Ryan Dawson. Pro-Assad and known for her anti-Israeli/anti-Western conspiracy theories, she has accused the US of orchestrating the uprising against Assad, claimed that the CIA arms and funds al-Qaeda and ISIS, and alleged that the Sept. 11 terror attack was a US government inside job.

Non-Australian ‘commentators’

Randy Short

When no Australian residents are available to comment on Australian issues, Press TV resorts to overseas commentators who fit their desired profile. Take for example, African-American activist Randy Short who was chosen to speak in 2017 about the Australian trial of Cardinal George Pell. Short harshly attacked the Catholic church, accusing its leadership of pedophilia and other crimes. Why was Short chosen for the distinguished role of analyst for Press TV? Perhaps because he attended the antisemitic “New Horizon” conference in Teheran in late September 2014, along with well-known Holocaust deniers and other extremists. He was later interrogated over his attendance by US officials.

A year later, US antisemite and anti-gay activist Pastor Eli James was called on by Press TV to comment on the same topic several times, taking the same anti-Catholic tone. James lectures about how the “true Israelites are the Anglo Saxons” while Jews and Israelis are different people and imposters (“The great impersonation of Israel by the Jews”).

Finally, to add “insight” about Australia’s detention of asylum seeker children in 2014, Press TV contacted Gordon Duff. US resident Duff has no relevant qualifications on the matter but is known for publicising a long list of anti-Israeli fantasies such as claiming that the person who murdered dozens of Muslims in two Christchurch mosques in 2019 was a Jew, and “an Israeli trained assassin,” and part of an international evil mega-plan involving the US, Russia, Israel and others.

A “mature relationship”?

Given Press TV’s record with respect to coverage and analysis of Australian issues, it seems deeply incongruous to read that, on its website, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade claims that “Australia has a mature bilateral relationship with Iran.”

As a mouthpiece for the Ayatollahs, Press TV’s Australia-related content is further evidence that Teheran has an agenda very different from our own in its interaction with Australia, one which requires Iran to attempt to present Australia’s democracy, culture and values in a very ugly light.

The regime-controlled channel consistently and systematically broadcasts anti-Australian content, hatred of Israel and rejection of Western culture. Is that really what Australians should expect from our “mature” relationship with Iran?

Dr. Ran Porat is researcher and lecturer at the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, Monash University and a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Centre, Herzliya, Israel.