Iran state news outlet spreads antisemitic propaganda on social media, report says

Press TV espouses conspiracy theories that Jews are coordinating to influence world affairs, disseminates Holocaust denial, attacks LGBTQ and women’s rights, ADL says

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: A cybersecurity expert talks about Iran hacking techniques, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, September 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)
Illustrative: A cybersecurity expert talks about Iran hacking techniques, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, September 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

Iran is using a state-controlled media group to spread antisemitic messaging to English-speaking audiences online, according to a report released last week.

Iran’s Press TV, an English-language government mouthpiece, uses social media to evade broadcast bans and disseminate propaganda, said the report by the Anti-Defamation League and the Center for Countering Digital Hate, a UK-based nonprofit.

Press TV was founded by the regime in 2007 to “break the global media stranglehold of Western outlets.”

The outlet promotes the conspiracy that a secretive and powerful Jewish network acts behind the scenes to influence world affairs, a central tenet of antisemitic belief systems. Press TV refers to the shadowy network as a “Zionist movement,” the “Zionist regime,” a “Zionist network,” or the “Israel lobby.”

A Press TV project called “Palestine Declassified” has been using social media to spread antisemitic tropes, especially against British Jews, the report said. The program is a video series published on a Press TV website and on social media.

The project pushes the antisemitic conspiracy theory that a network of “Zionist” actors sway global affairs, including the Ukraine war and women’s rights protests in Iran.

The coverage also espouses the false conspiracy that Jews control the media, writing that a “Zionist stranglehold” controls news coverage.

The show has also said “Zionists” were “grooming” Jewish and Muslim children to support Israel, radicalized US police department against Muslims, and has attacked criticism of former UK Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was widely decried for allowing antisemitism to fester in the party.

The “Palestine Declassified” hosts are former Labour party MP Chris Williamson and professor David Miller, who have both been accused in the past of antisemitism.

The program uses the terms Jewish, Zionist and pro-Israel interchangeably, for example, by referring to Jewish religious groups as “Zionist groups” regardless of their stance on Israel, the report said.

Between the video series, the network generally espouses the conspiracy that Jewish actors are coordinating to influence global affairs, and attacks Jewish charities, schools, academics and journalists, including The Times of Israel, saying it was launched to “peddle propaganda.” In addition to its articles and video series, Press TV operates a 24-hour live broadcast and publishes in French.

Press TV has been banned from television networks and YouTube, and its previous website was seized by US authorities.

Its social media channels have over 4 million followers and can reach up to 11.5 million per episode by working with affiliate accounts, the report said.

The Press TV website gets around 1 million visits per month, with more than half coming from Western countries, led by the US, the UK and Canada. The audience leans to the left and the site’s comments sections are rife with antisemitism, the report said.

In addition to the pro-Palestinian coverage, Press TV advances the Iranian state’s views demonizing Jews, pushing against LGBTQ and women’s rights, and espousing Holocaust denial.

Its coverage has included claims that Jews were involved in the 9/11 terror attacks and spreading the COVID pandemic; that the Holocaust was “the greatest lie ever told”; calling same-sex marriages “morally corrupt”; publishing interviews by Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke; and saying Iranian Mahsa Amini whose death in custody sparked nationwide protests died because of illness, not beatings by authorities.

The coverage is in line with the Iranian regime’s narrative and ideology, and ultimately aims to foster a Western audience that supports Tehran’s attacks against Jews and Israel, the report said.

The report argues Press TV should be classified as a “foreign state hate operation,” meaning a foreign influence campaign meant to sow discord abroad, and says social media firms should set and enforce standards for antisemitism, and take broadcast bans into account when considering whether outlets should be allowed on platforms.

The researchers said that the inaction by social media companies was part of a longer-term pattern of the firms allowing antisemitism on their platforms.

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