WASHINGTON (IPS/GIN) – A story authored by a prominent U.S. neo-conservative regarding new legislation in Iran allegedly requiring Jews and other religious minorities to wear distinctive color badges recently circulated around the world before it was exposed as false.

The article by a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Iranian-American Amir Taheri (Bio, Photo), was initially published in the May 19 edition of Canada’s National Post, which ran alongside the story a 1935 photograph of a Jewish businessman in Berlin with a yellow, six-pointed star sewn on his overcoat, as required by Nazi legislation at the time. The Post subsequently issued a retraction.

Mr. Taheri’s story, however, was reprinted by the New York Post, which is owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, and picked up by the Jerusalem Post, which also featured a photo of a yellow star from the Nazi era over a photo of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


Another neo-conservative publication, the New York Sun, also noted the story May 22, claiming that the specific report that special badges were required by the legislation had been “incorrect.” At the same time, however, the Sun quoted two Iranian-American foes of the Islamic Republic as suggesting that dress requirements for religious minorities were still being considered by Iran’s ruling circles. It offered no evidence to support that assertion.

Juan Cole, president of the U.S. Middle East Studies Association (MESA), described the Taheri article and its appearance first in Canada’s Post as “typical of black psychological operations campaigns,” particularly in its origin in an “out of the way newspaper that is then picked up by the mainstream press.” A former U.S. intelligence official described the article’s relatively obscure provenance as a “real sign of (a) disinformation operation.”

While Mr. Taheri did not evoke the Nazi precedent in his column, the National Post asked its readers at the end of the piece, “Is Iran turning into the new Nazi Germany? Share your opinion online at national post.com.”

That was compounded by the Post’s publication of a front-page article by Chris Wattie, which quoted unidentified “human rights groups” as “raising alarms over a new law passed by the Iranian parliament that would require the country’s Jews and Christians to wear colored badges to identify them and other religious minorities as non-Muslims.”

“This is reminiscent of the Holocaust,” Mr. Wattie quoted Rabbi Marvin Heir, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, as telling him. “Iran is moving closer and closer to the ideology of the Nazis.”

The story also quoted one Iranian exile living in Toronto as confirming the story, as well as Canadian Jewish leaders and Prime Minister Stephen Harper as denouncing the legislation and suggesting that it was consistent with other recent moves made by Tehran.

Similarly, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who, however, denied any specific knowledge about the alleged measure, called it “despicable” and reminiscent of “Germany under Hitler.”

In fact, however, the legislation contained “absolutely no mention of religious minorities,” according to Hadi Ghaemi, the chief Iran researcher for Human Rights Watch (HRW), who said it included “only generalities with regard to promoting a national dress code and fashion industry that should be subsidized and supported by the government.”

Other denunciations were quick to follow. One Jewish representative in the Iranian parliament, Maurice Motamed, insisted that color requirements for ethnic minorities had “never been proposed or discussed in parliament,” let alone approved. “Such news,” he told the Associated Press, “is an insult to religious minorities here.”

“This report is a complete fabrication and is totally false,” he told The Australian newspaper. “It is a lie…”

Nonetheless, the Sun, without endorsing the specific contents of the National Post articles, refused to drop the story, quoting “a leading spokesman for Iranian Jews,” the secretary-general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation in Los Angeles, Sam Kermanian, as thanking “the world for its outcry” over the original reports and praising Mr. Taheri as “someone with fantastic credibility.”

Mr. Taheri is a member of Benador Associates, a public relations firm that lists a large number of leading neo-conservatives, including American Enterprise Institute (AEI) associates Richard Perle, David Frum, Michael Ledeen, Michael Rubin and Joshua Muravchik, among its clients. Major boosters of the war with Iraq, Benador clients, who also include former Central Intelligence Agency chief James Woolsey and former Israeli minister Natan Sharansky, have also called for the Bush administration to take a hard line against Iran.