Blogger Opens Iranian-Israeli Dialogue Online

By Sheldon Gordon

Published June 01, 2007, issue of June 01, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Toronto - As Tehran and Jerusalem exchange threats on a regular basis, a former Iranian journalist who is credited with having popularized Internet “blogging” in the Islamic republic is waging a campaign to defuse the tensions.

Hossein Derakhshan, a 32-year-old Iranian expatriate living in Toronto, files daily blog posts in his native Farsi and in English. Although the Iranian authorities attempt to restrict access to his blogs, Derakhshan says he has 20,000 Iranian readers who know how to circumvent the government filters or who receive the material via e-mail.

Last January, Derakhshan visited Israel for the second time in a year, drawing puzzled glances by wearing his “I love Tehran” T-shirt on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In addition to addressing a conference at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, he enlisted a number of Israelis for online dialogue with Iranians.

The Tehran native wants selected blogs in Hebrew and Farsi translated for audiences in the other country, and he also plans on having an Internet chat room where the two peoples would communicate directly in English. Another of his ideas is that Tel Aviv disc jockeys would “remix” Iranian popular music with Israeli elements and play it at parties, while Tehran musicians would do the same for Israeli music sent to them over the Internet.

Derakhshan first decided to travel to Israel following Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s inflammatory remarks calling into question the Holocaust and urging that Israel be wiped off the map. “After his stupid comments, I thought about how I could undo some of the damage he was causing,” Derakhshan said. “I thought that the only thing I could do as an independent citizen was to use my Canadian passport, go to Israel and tell people that he doesn’t represent all Iranians.”

Derakhshan wants Israelis to know that Ahmadinejad, though president, is not the supreme leader in Iran, and that the ruling ayatollahs have “never said anything close to” Ahmadinejad’s apocalyptic remarks. “Total rejection of the idea of Israel is not part of the intrinsic ideology of the Islamic Republic,” he said.

Critics of Iran have noted that in fact, Ahmadinejad was not the first prominent leader of the Islamic regime to raise the specter of a nuclear attack on Israel. In late 2001, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani did so, without explicitly advocating such an attack.

Even Iranian expatriates who applaud Derakhshan’s idea for online dialogue are not convinced of its likely effectiveness. Amir Hassanpour, associate professor of Near and Middle Eastern civilizations at the University of Toronto, said, “It’s a good idea that this kind of relationship between Iranians and Israelis gets under way in cyberspace, but it won’t change the reality on the ground.”

Derakhshan partly agreed. “The political system is quite distant from the views of ordinary people,” he said. “Part of this project’s aim is, in a way, already done. The Iranian people don’t have that hostility toward Israel. But the more important part is to work on the Israeli public, because that’s where the threat comes from. We have to stop the dehumanization process that the right-wing media are doing on both sides.”

The son of a rug manufacturer in Tehran, Derakhshan wrote a computer column for a reformist newspaper before immigrating to Canada in 2001. He now works as a Web site designer. He said that in 2005, when he visited his homeland, the authorities detained and interrogated him about his blogs, and forced him to sign an apology. He believes he will be arrested if he returns to Iran.

Derakhshan is a jumble of apparent contradictions. Although he is a professed atheist, he supports the concept of an Islamic republic in Iran — albeit a more enlightened one. Although an avowed peacenik, he favors Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons as a hedge against non-Israeli enemies. He does not view the country’s bid for nukes as a potential threat to Israel.

Though censored by the Iranian authorities, he also has made enemies in the Iranian Diaspora by blogging against critics of the Islamic regime. “I see some of these people who have left for the U.S. as having become part of the U.S. propaganda campaign against Iran,” he said.

Detractors, however, say that Derakhshan has not limited his attacks to expatriates.

“He consistently writes appalling articles against Iranian human rights activists which include individuals whose lives are in serious danger and under pressure from Iran’s intelligence and judiciary agencies,” wrote Nikahang Kowsar, a Toronto-based cartoonist and fellow exile, in his blog.

Derakhshan is also not an unqualified admirer of Israel.

“I have a problem with Israeli policies,” he said. “For example, they could have reacted differently to the Hezbollah attack last summer. But I have no problem with the existence of this democratic, diverse society.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Israelis are taking up the #IceBucketChallenge — with hummus.
  • In WWI, Jews fought for Britain. So why were they treated as outsiders?
  • According to a new poll, 75% of Israeli Jews oppose intermarriage.
  • Will Lubavitcher Rabbi Moshe Wiener be the next Met Council CEO?
  • Angelina Jolie changed everything — but not just for the better:
  • Prime Suspect? Prime Minister.
  • Move over Dr. Ruth — there’s a (not-so) new sassy Jewish sex-therapist in town. Her name is Shirley Zussman — and just turned 100 years old.
  • From kosher wine to Ecstasy, presenting some of our best bootlegs:
  • Sara Kramer is not the first New Yorker to feel the alluring pull of the West Coast — but she might be the first heading there with Turkish Urfa pepper and za’atar in her suitcase.
  • About 1 in 40 American Jews will get pancreatic cancer (Ruth Bader Ginsberg is one of the few survivors).
  • At which grade level should classroom discussions include topics like the death of civilians kidnapping of young Israelis and sirens warning of incoming rockets?
  • Wanted: Met Council CEO.
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.