In today's tour of the Middle East, Iran finds its own Occupy movement, Israel sends a message about dating to American expats and a mystery explosion remains.... mysterious. Let's begin the Propaganda Parade.
Iran Finally Has Its Own Occupy Movement
What do you call a group of students breaking in to a foreign embassy, hurling Molotov cocktails and torching vehicles? If you're Britain and it's your embassy in Iran, you call it "utterly unacceptable and we condemn it." But if you're Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency, it's an Occupy movement!
Today, tensions ran high between Britain and Iran as students stormed Britain's embassy in Tehran and the country's Mehr News Agency reported that six people had been taken hostage. Thankfully, it appears the embassy staff is safe. (The Mehr report was later removed and a UK source tells Reuters that no British diplomats were taken hostage.) Covering the riots like a spontaneous student movement, Fars has dubbed it the "Occupy Embassy Protests" on its website. Like Occupy Wall Street? Really?
Skepticism over the way state media covered the riots arose immediately. "Not saying Iranian govt behind UK embassy attack, but state photog just happened to be there & upload some great shots," tweeted The Atlantic's Max Fisher. The Guardian's correspondent Saeed Kamali Dehghan added that state media was reporting that "police used tear gas to disperse them," even though, as The New York Times' Robert Mackey pointed out "there is no evidence of gas in any of the video from state television or the many photographs published by Fars." We're not sure why Fars dubbed this an "Occupy" movement but for weeks the Occupy Wall Street movement has been an A-1 story for the service, as it gleefully tracks the tumult going on in the U.S. Maybe they just wanted to advance the storyline? See state television footage from the protest below:
Israel Tells Expats the Downsides of Dating Americans
Israel's Ministry of Immigration Absorption has begun a campaigning explaining to Israeli expats that "marrying American Jews can make Israelis lose their sense of identity." One of the ads, which is shown in this report from The Jewish Channel's Steven Weiss, shows an Israeli expat whose Jewish boyfriend doesn't understand why she won't party and have fun on Israel's annual day of remembrance for fallen soldiers. The ad says in Hebrew "They will always remain Israelis; their partners won't always understand what this means."
According to Weiss, the campaign is an effort to get some of the estimated 2 million Israeli expats living in the U.S. to move back to their homeland. Another ad shows a Jewish girl in the U.S. video chatting with her grandparents in Israel. When the grandparents ask her what holiday she's celebrating the girl says "Christmas," triggering a troubled look from the grandparents.
Iran's Mystery Explosion
Not to pick on Iran but it's been a target-rich environment for the Propaganda Parade. In a fine addition to the hall of fame of botched propaganda by authoritarian regimes, Fars sent the international media for a loop yesterday after reporting on a "huge explosion" near a suspected nuke site in Iran illustrated with the photo to the left.
Main problem? That photo is actually from an explosion in Kashmir in October, as Twitter user Nick Hall was quick to point out. Hours later, Fars removed the entire article from its website. Unfortunately, it's still not any clearer what actually happened Monday in Iran, though the suspicion is that the country was trying to tamp down the idea that its nuclear facilities were the target of a sabotage attack. As reports in British and Israeli media citing locals from the target city Isfahan attest, an explosion seems to have taken place. The circumstances of that explosion are unclear.
"While some sources told news agencies there had been a blast on military facilities, others said there had been a fireball at a petrol station," reported The Telegraph's foreign affairs correspondent Damien McElroy. "The reports immediately prompted speculation that Iran had suffered another sabotage attack, just two weeks after a blast at a missile base gave rise to similar suspicions." According to Isfahan residents, the blast came in the early afternoon. The town's deputy governor was quoted in Fars saying the explosion could be heard across the town but he then spoke to another semi-official state news agency saying "I have heard no sound whatsoever in Isfahan." The provincial governor said the explosion did not originate from the city's nuclear facilities. "An explosion has happened in Isfahan relates to a military exercise in one part of the city and is not particularly any problem," he said. While there are many open-ended questions about the conflicting reports, a reader e-mails The New York TImes' Brian Stelter with a possible explanation for the misused photo. “That photo is used as a stock photo on Fars website, they’re known for doing that on breaking news.” Maybe it's time to license some new explosion photos?