U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered enthusiastic support for the Iranian people in their demonstrations against both the secular and religious governments of their country over the New Year’s weekend, while the United Nations and European leaders have remained conspicuously silent.
Netanyahu wished the Iranian people “success in their noble quest for freedom” and responded strongly to the Iranian regime’s accusations that Israel is somehow behind the uprising:
The Iranian regime tries desperately to sow hate between Iranians and Israelis. They won't succeed. When this regime finally falls – and one day it will – Iranians and Israelis will be great friends once again. I wish the Iranian people success in their noble quest for freedom. pic.twitter.com/kk8wTYmhnz
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) January 1, 2018
“It’s not only false, it’s laughable,” Netanyahu said of the Iranian regime’s conspiracy theory. “Unlike Rouhani, I will not insult the Iranian people. They deserve better. Brave Iranians are pouring into the streets. They seek freedom. They seek justice. They seek the basic liberties that have been denied to them for decades.”
“Iran’s cruel regime wastes tens of billions of dollars spreading hate,” Netanyahu continued. “This money could have built schools and hospitals. No wonder mothers and fathers are marching in the streets. The regime is terrified of them, of their own people. That’s why they jail students. That’s why they ban social media.”
“But I’m sure their fear will not triumph because the Iranian people are smart,” he predicted. “They are sophisticated. They are proud. Today they risk everything for freedom.”
Video circulating on social media purportedly showing security forces shooting at protesters in Tuyserkan (where reports suggested as many as six people may have already been killed during the previous day) #Iran pic.twitter.com/dzgRWm8H56
— Michael A. Horowitz (@michaelh992) January 1, 2018
Netanyahu criticized “many European governments” for “watching in silence as heroic young Iranians are beaten in the streets,” and vowed that his government would not remain silent.
United Nations Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer called out the United Nations, especially its Human Rights Council, for the embarrassing silence Netanyahu criticized:
2. Silent also: UNHRC's 44 thematic human rights investigators. Why no urgent statements on abuses in #IranProtests from experts on arbitrary detention, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, torture? Their names: https://t.co/IAva9jC85C
Why does this office need $360 million? pic.twitter.com/Jl5E98MrIV
— Hillel Neuer (@HillelNeuer) January 1, 2018
The State Department issued a statement on Friday saying “the United States strongly condemns the arrest of peaceful protesters” and urging all nations to “publicly support the Iranian people and their demands for basic rights and an end to corruption.”
President Donald Trump and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley both expressed support for the Iranian people. Trump quoted the protesters themselves in his tweet on Monday morning: “The great Iranian people have been repressed for many years. They are hungry for food and for freedom. Along with human rights, the wealth of Iran is being looted. Time for a change!”
Vice President Mike Pence added his own strong statement on Monday morning: “As long as Donald Trump is POTUS and I am VP, the United States of America will not repeat the shameful mistake of our past when others stood by and ignored the heroic resistance of the Iranian people as they fought against their brutal regime. The bold and growing resistance of the Iranian people today gives hope and faith to all who struggle for freedom and against tyranny. We must not and we will not let them down.”
Former Obama national security adviser Ben Rhodes, a primary architect of the nuclear deal that pumped billions of dollars into the hands of the Iranian regime, attempted to portray the protests as merely some grumbling in the streets about corruption instead of a wholesale uprising against both the secular and theocratic wings of Iranian government:
The Iranian people are rightfully demanding dignity, less corruption, more opportunity, and greater control over their lives. In looking at US twitter, it seems lost on too many that this is about what Iranians want for Iran, and not about us.
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) December 31, 2017
Obama’s former Secretary of State, John Kerry, issued a very similar statement:
With humility about how little we know about what's happening inside Iran, this much is clear: it's an Iranian moment and not anyone else's. But the rights of people to protest peacefully and voice their aspirations are universal and governments everywhere should respect that.
— John Kerry (@JohnKerry) December 31, 2017
Obama’s other Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, sang from the same hymn book, adding a bizarre note of support for the Iranian regime, as though it were a legitimate representative democracy with a history of constructively listening to the advice of its people:
The Iranian people, especially the young, are protesting for the freedom and future they deserve. I hope their government responds peacefully and supports their hopes.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) December 31, 2017
This is an especially weak line coming from Kerry when he admitted that much of the money Iran received from the nuclear deal would be squandered on foreign adventures and terrorism, which is precisely the complaint Iranians are making in the streets right now.
“I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the IRGC or other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists. You know, to some degree, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that every component of that can be prevented,” Kerry said in a January 2016 interview, before asserting without supporting documentation that “we are not seeing the early delivery of funds going to that kind of endeavor at this point in time.”
Some observers have noted the tremendous difference between Trump’s response to the new uprising and Obama’s tepid response to the 2009 Green Revolution.
“I think the responses are about 180 degrees apart. The Obama administration waited for quite a long time to respond, then ultimately decided it was not an American interest to get involved,” said Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
While China’s government had not made an official statement on the Iranian situation as of Monday morning, the Communist Party paper Global Times, generally seen as a reliable indicator of the government’s thinking, editorialized that the Western world should stay out of the protests.
The Global Times accused the West of harboring selfish, opportunistic desires to fan the flames of protest to destabilize the Iranian government, then presumed to give Tehran advice for controlling dissent based on China’s experience as a fellow authoritarian regime:
Generally speaking, most non-Western countries have different degrees of authoritarianism. When large street protests occur, they challenge stability. For non-Western governments, efficient communication with their public at such a time is usually fraught with difficulty. Non-Western nations must first of all concentrate on improving their people’s living standards. While making their own society into a community of common interests, the government should also make it into a community of common thoughts and values. Facing difficulties, their society should have the ability to form a consensus. They must also be resilient when it comes to unexpected events and accidents. No matter how well a country takes care of all kinds of interests and demands during its development, some people will always be dissatisfied and that can lead to regional and even nationwide turbulence.
Western nations often jointly support unrest in certain non-Western countries. With a lack of self-confidence in politics, those developing countries facing protests are easily caught up in chaos.
But the government systems of this world are not up to the West to decide. Each country’s history, culture, economy and social development differs from another. The one-size-fits-all Western political standard will only create blood and pain and is not in the interests of the general public in developing countries.
The most charitable explanation for the general lack of response to the demonstrations, and lack of criticism for the Iranian government’s response, is that European leaders and U.N. officials are afraid to give the Iranian government rhetorical ammunition for its claims that the uprising is a foreign intelligence operation. The least charitable is that the Europeans don’t want to jeopardize all the money they plan to make by doing business with Iran.
Concerns about the danger of speaking up too forcefully were voiced by a Democratic lawmaker who was tenuously supportive of the Trump administration’s response to date, Rep. John Garamendi of California. It should be noted that he spoke on Sunday before President Trump’s full-throated message of support for the protesters was tweeted on Monday morning.
“To my knowledge, thus far, the Trump administration [response] is basically three tweets over three days. That’s OK, that’s good. More than that, be very careful. Let it be organic,” Garamendi said.
“I do think that the policy of the American government ought to always be one for democracy, for freedom of speech, for freedom of demonstration and freedom of the press,” he added. “We should be supporting that in every way possible. We have to be very careful that these demonstrations do not become an American demonstration, that is, one that’s being caused by the United States. That would, I think, be a very serious problem.”