Washington Jewish Week / January 26, 2011
By Larry Luxner
From the Jewish creators of The Third Jihad and Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West now comes yet another film sure to stir up controversy: Iranium.
Billed as “the movie Tehran doesn’t want you to see,” Iranium is a 60-minute documentary chronicling Iran’s relentless efforts to acquire weapons of mass destruction. It will officially be launched Feb. 8 at a Capitol Hill event sponsored by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va), though a pre-launch screening will take place Feb. 1 at the Heritage Foundation in D.C., in conjunction with EMET, the Endowment for Middle East Truth.
“What makes this film unique is that it allows the Iranians to speak in their own words,” said Raphael Shore, president of the Clarion Fund, the Section 501c(3) nonprofit organization that produced Iranium and the two other documentaries. “We understand what’s driving them towards have nuclear weapons. This film removes the obfuscation that exists on the issue.”
Iranium opens with TV footage of President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad telling his people in Farsi why Iran must develop weapons of mass destruction and defeat the West. Tracing the history of the Islamic revolution — from the shah’s overthrow in 1979 to last year’s street riots in Tehran — it features interviews with 25 political analysts, dissidents and experts on nuclear proliferation.
“We talk about the threat scenarios — possible ways Iran can use nuclear weapons against U.S. and European targets, and the power they wield even if they don’t use them,” said Shore, an American living in Jerusalem. “The film does not focus primarily on Israel, because to look only at the threat to Israel is to misunderstand the nature of that threat. We believe the message is much broader.”
Shore said Clarion’s mission is “to educate Americans about threats to national security.”
He said Iranium — produced in the United States, Israel and Canada — costs about $500,000, about the same as Clarion’s two earlier documentaries.
Yet Iranium is sparking controversy even before its U.S. debut. On Jan. 18, a planned screening at Canada’s National Archives and Library in Ottawa was cancelled after the Iranian Embassy protested to the Ministry of Canadian Heritage, demanding that the film not be shown.
“The event was actually cancelled twice amid threats of protest,” said the film’s director, Alex Traiman. “Also, two suspicious letters were deposited in the building with white powder, and at that point, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police decided to close the building.”
The ensuing controversy and outpouring of support for free speech has helped generate enormous publicity for Iranium, Traiman said in a phone interview from Israel.
“I’m impressed with the response of the Canadian government. Mr. Moore was very quick to state publicly that Canada would not be intimidated by the Iranian Embassy,” Traiman said, referring to James Moore, Canada’s minister of culture and heritage. “They are going to have the screening at the National Archives on Feb. 6, with whatever security is required.”
Asked if the same thing is likely to occur in Washington, Traiman said he’s not sure. “There’s no Iranian Embassy in the States, but we didn’t expect any protests in Canada before they happened. The film has certainly gotten a lot more attention now.”
In addition to the screenings on Capitol Hill and the Heritage Foundation, the Clarion Fund has organized a limited theatrical release at selected AMC theaters around the nation. In addition, the first 50,000 people who register at www.iranium.com will be able to watch Iranium for free.
Among Clarion’s loudest critics is the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which Shore said launched a campaign against Obsession several years ago, in an attempt to discredit his organization as a group of hatemongers.
“We’ve gone out of our way to make clear that — despite CAIR’s desire to paint us as Islamophobes — we’re not against Muslims,” he explained. “We’re talking about radical Islam, a small percentage of the Muslim world.”
Ibrahim Hooper, communications director at CAIR, says that’s nonsense.
“These are the same people who brought us Obsession and The Third Jihad,” Hooper said. “I’ve seen enough of these films to see them for what they are. These guys are hardcore bigots who get money from mysterious sources to crank out this anti-Muslim propaganda.”
In fact, Shore was vague on the film’s funding sources. Obsession came under scrutiny during the 2008 presidential election when a DVD of the film was folded inside newspapers in pivotal swing states in an effort to influence the election.
Last November, Salon.com — a prominent news and entertainment website — reported that “just as Clarion is gearing up to release a new film hyping the threat of Iran, the money mystery has deepened. According to a document submitted to the IRS by Clarion and obtained by Salon, a donor listed as Barry Seid gave Clarion nearly $17 million in 2008, which would have paid for virtually the entire Obsession DVD campaign.”
At the time, Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim in Alexandria, criticizing the film, told an Interfaith Alliance press conference that the distributors of the DVD “have attempted by inference and innuendo to limit the rights of Muslims to enjoy the free exercise of their faith.”
As for Shore’s complaints that CAIR has refused invitations to attend debates and other events sponsored by his organization, Hooper laughed.
“That’s like the KKK sending a letter to the Anti-Defamation League inviting them to a tea party,” he said.
Shore denies CAIR’s accusation that his film promotes the idea of a U.S. or Israeli military strike against Iran to destroy its nuclear weapons program.
Rather, he says, “we point out that sanctions have had some effect in slowing down the nuclear program, but according to most experts, in order for them to really do the job, sanctions would have to be strengthened considerably. We talk about the military options, and point out that the best scenario is when all these things work in tandem.”
He added: “Anybody who’s aware of the nature of the Islamic Republic of Iran and understands their ideology and oppressive theocracy knows they are working on getting nuclear weapons. This is bipartisan, it’s not a conservative or liberal issue. The only question is how imminent this threat is.”