Australia/Israel Review


Teheran’s friends in Australia

Jun 1, 2021 | Ran Porat

Several members of the Al-Tajamu network at a 2017 demonstration in Sydney, including Jay Tharappel, Hanadi Assoud, Hussein Dirani and Tim Anderson. (Source: Hanadi Assoud’s Facebook feed)
Several members of the Al-Tajamu network at a 2017 demonstration in Sydney, including Jay Tharappel, Hanadi Assoud, Hussein Dirani and Tim Anderson. (Source: Hanadi Assoud’s Facebook feed)

In the previous edition of the AIR, I uncovered some of the activities and main leaders of the Australian branch of Iran’s international propaganda organisation, the “Arab and Islamic Union in Support of the resistance option” (in Arabic: Al-Tajamu Al-Islami Wa-AlArabi L-Da’am Khiyar Al-Muqawama, or Al-Tajamu for short).

Further investigation into this organisation unearthed a network of additional operatives affiliated with Al-Tajamu. As a central Al-Tajamu figure, fired Sydney University academic and fervent anti-Israel and anti-Western activist Tim Anderson acts as an important axis of this network, cultivating activists to assist in disseminating propaganda messages in Australia largely dictated by the Syrian and Iranian regimes. Many within this network seem to have been recruited into it by Anderson when they were students at the University of Sydney.

Exploiting the right to freedom of speech in this country, the Al-Tajamu network promotes support for murderous regimes and terrorists, and in some cases, also disseminates antisemitic tropes.

 

Right-Hand Man

Tim Anderson’s former student, Jay (José) Tharappel, is another Al-Tajamu operative and acts as Anderson’s right-hand man. Following a visit by the two to North Korea in 2018, Tharappel published an article expressing gushing admiration for the regime in Pyongyang, even justifying its authoritarian nature: “A country that endeavors to credibly stand up to the United States must necessarily be authoritarian for the simple reason that they are a nation at war, and cannot be one where the population are timid, beaten, and demoralized,” he wrote.

Tharappel is a leading figure in the Yemen Solidarity Council, which supports Iran’s proxy in Yemen, the Houthis. He is also an Associate Member at Anderson’s supposedly “academic” outfit, The Centre for Counter Hegemonic Studies (CCHS).

On social media Tharappel promotes Iran-backed conspiracy theories, for example, claiming that the civil war in Syria is “a sophisticated NATO-GCC-Israeli backed campaign intended to bring Syria to its knees. The plan failed because Syria resisted.”

Tharappel attacked AIJAC’s call to list the entirety of Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy Lebanese terrorist organisation, as a terrorist entity in Australia in his August 2020 blog post “State-Sponsor of Terror Lobbies Govt to Bully Aussies.” In it, he argued that “AIJAC [is] pushing for the criminalisation of Australians solely based on the interests of Israel” and that “Israel – the state AIJAC defends – spent the last decade aiding al-Qaeda & Islamic State.”

Just like Anderson, Tharappel is a welcome commentator on Iran’s state propaganda channel Press TV. Like Anderson, Tharappel recently used his social media pages to spread Iranian lies about the supposed guilt of Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert, who was jailed in Iran for two years after being falsely accused of espionage before being freed late last year.

 

Hands Off Syria

Anderson is heavily involved in the Hands Off Syria organisation in Australia – another propaganda tool for promoting Al-Tajamu messages. These two organisations often work together and spread apparently coordinated messages.

Hands Off Syria declares on its website that it “support[s] Syria against a ‘civil’ war that is funded, armed and planned by the western powers and their regional allies with a view to wiping out all resistance to imperialism in the Middle East.” The Facebook page of this organisation, run by Anderson’s CCHS, regularly features fake news from official Syrian sources, conspiracy theories about the US, Israel and the West and propaganda messages directly from Damascus.

One of the leading activists in Hands Off Syria is Hanadi Assoud. In 2013, she defended Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and his regime on the Al-Jazeera media network run by the Qatari regime, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood.

Two years later, Assoud proudly celebrated Assad’s “landslide victory in presidential poll securing 88.7 %,” announcing that “It is up to the Syrian people and not up to foreign political groups to choose the country’s leader.” She conveniently omitted the facts that elections are not free in any sense in Syria, that the regime at the time controlled only a fraction of Syrian territory and the elections only occurred where they had control, and no candidate other than Assad had any chance of winning.

Assoud is a supporter of the Australian branch of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) – a pro-Assad party inspired by European fascism that calls for a “greater Syria” and has a history of terrorism and violence. In February 2021 she participated in the annual SSNP conference in Sydney, attended also by the head of Al-Tajamu’s Australian branch, Hussein Dirani.

Assoud delivered a speech at the Australian-Iranian Friendship Association (AIFA) 2021 event to celebrate the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, in which she praised Ayatollah Khomeini’s character and policies.

Another activist tied with Anderson’s network is Syrian-born pro-Assad propagandist Maram Susli, now residing in Perth. Susli is known mostly by her online identity “Partisan Girl”, and she promotes anti-Israel and anti-West conspiracies, while also publicly engaging with US and Australian far-right leaders. She pushes the official Al-Tajamu line on her Twitter account, where she shares posts by Anderson, and is also routinely interviewed by Press TV. In April 2017, Susli was a presenter at the pro-Assad “After the war on Syria” conference at the University of Sydney, which also featured lectures by Anderson and Tharappel.

Another person in the outer ring of supporters surrounding Anderson is self-proclaimed pro-Assad and pro-Palestinian activist Marlene Obeid. She has worked alongside Anderson and supported his causes, for example with regards to Syria, as part of her role in the Stop the War Coalition organisation.

 

Recruiting to the Al-Tajamu network – an example

Evidence suggests that prior to being sacked in 2018 from the University of Sydney for superimposing a swastika over an Israeli flag during a lecture, Anderson used his role at the university to actively recruit students to the Al-Tajamu network.

During my investigation, I have found several former Anderson students who later became involved in his propaganda work for Iran and Syria. For privacy reasons, their details are not being included in this article.

However, one example that can be disclosed involves a former Anderson student named Mia Shouha. A University of Sydney student at the time, Shouha took to Facebook to defend Anderson in December 2018 soon after he was fired from the university. She argued that Anderson only “used a legitimate point of academic inquiry in evoking the fascistic nature of this state actor as an occupying force; subjecting an occupied people to intense misery, direct oppression and theft of land ever since its establishment.”

According to her own testimony, Anderson inspired Shouha to become an anti-West activist: “Earlier this year [2018] I directly asked Dr Anderson what I could do to fight against Western imperialism, which has visited so many independent actors and post-colonial states in my lifetime alone. From Afghanistan to Iraq, Venezuela, Libya, Syria and, increasingly so, Iran. He advised me to channel my frustration into academia and to raise a critical voice to such violence through objective investigation.”

It comes as no surprise that at the same time that Shouha was in contact with Anderson at the university, she used social media to promote, in July 2018, the conspiracy theory that the West is behind the Islamic State terrorist organisation, decrying: “The continued policy of demonising the legitimate government [of Syria] beyond all measure, arming and funding Al Qaeda and Daesh embedded militant groups and their media campaigns to the tune of millions of pounds and imposing harsh sanctions on a nation whilst apparently wanting to save these people from their ‘dictator’ [Bashar Al-Assad].”

Similarly, in October 2020, Shouha criticised Israel’s failure to publicly recognise the Armenian genocide to make a point about Jews and the Holocaust more generally. She argued: “On Holocaust Rememberence [sic.] Day they [the Jews] say “never again”. Remember that it’s conditional. #palestine #armenia.”

The existence of the Al-Tajamu network within Australia is a potentially dangerous phenomenon and deserves exposure. These individuals are tied into the official propaganda channels of the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism. Parroting and amplifying the agendas of oppressive foreign regimes, and abusing Australia’s democracy to spread lies and conspiracy theories, should not be regarded as the same thing as exchanging and debating legitimately differing views about world affairs.

Dr. Ran Porat is an AIJAC Research Associate. He is also a Research Associate at the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation at Monash University, a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya and a Research Associate at the Future Directions International Research Institute, Western Australia.

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