Iran 180, an astroturfing project of Marco Greenberg’s Thunder 11, San Francisco Pride, 2011. (Photo: Iran 180)
PR executive Marco Greenberg was dressed in denim and a button-down that peekabooed his chest hair as he told a group of eager hasbara-ites, “we do want to propagate. We have an agenda. We have a mission. We have an objective. We want to make Israel look good, not bad. That’s our goal.” Then pointing to the suaveness of his clothes as example, the marketing savant presented his blueprint for how to sell “Israel like a deodorant,” pointing out the Jewish state “actually is a product.”
Marco Greenberg. (Photo: Washington Square Research)
Three years later in 2010 Greenberg’s personal version of “Brand Israel” graduated from a lecture topic to a fledgling PR firm, Thunder 11. In his first year out of the starting gate, Greenberg landed a contract with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York to use his deodorant model to cover up Israel’s toxic occupation. Thunder 11, with the help of another PR firm, Proof Integrated Communications, launched Iran 180 an astroturfing campaign for “human rights, not nuclear rights” in Iran. Modeling a media blitz off the tactics of guerilla street theatre, within a day of launching Iran 180 was invited onto the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Here’s Greenberg boasting on Thunder 11’s blog in 2010:
I got on The Daily Show last night representing an organization I named and ‘taglined’ in less than 24 hours, Iran180 – yes the domains were ripe for the picking and available. The organization is a coalition of NGOs and people demanding a total change (hence the 180 degrees) from Iran’s government and unveiled at the start of United Nations General Assembly.
In his recap of Iran 180’s success, Greenberg also winks at his former employer Burson-Marsteller, one of the world’s largest PR firms made rich by boosting the reputations of dictators and corporate polluters, including as BP, the Saudi Royal Family, Argentina’s Pinochet government, and Romania’s Nicolae Ceauşescu:
Credit to my former colleagues at Burson-Marsteller’s Proof for a powerful logo and constructing a Website in just days.
In addition to Burston Marsteller, Greenberg also worked for the Israeli Defense Forces spokesman office, AIPAC and sold Israel bonds to state pension plans. And until a few weeks ago the marketing executive’s professional hasbara background and masterminding of Thunder 11 were not publicly connected to Iran 180. The organization had managed to pass as a modest grassroots movement, staging renegade events with an oversize puppet of the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—where the president caresses the stomach of a puppet of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad after the two are married in a gay wedding, and on a separate occasion was emasculated by wearing red high heels—and hosting press conferences against the Iranian government. Iran 180 even managed to convince the noted Iranian author of Journey from the Land of No, Roya Hakakian, to speak on a panel last March for International Womens’ Day with the New York Times‘ Anne Barnard as moderator. But earlier this month after latent anti-Semitic and homophobic photographs of Iran 180’s float at last year’s San Francisco pride resurfaced, the Electronic Intifada‘s Benjamin Doherty, and Richard Silverstein excavated Iran 180 and Greenberg’s history.
Iran 180’s New York City marriage between Ahmadinejad and al-Assad, 2011.
Doherty started reported on Iran 180 on June 11, 2012 after seeing a picture of the group’s 2011 pride float posted by Jadaliyya‘s Maya Mikdashi.
The picture is indelicate. A hired actor wears the same puppet-head of Ahmadinejad as used in the al-Assad gay marriage, and is depicted being sodomized by a sado-masochist. And the caption on the photo reads: “Ahmadinejad Getting Fucked in the Ass with a Nuclear Weapon.” And after it was published, on June 11, 2012 Doherty made the connection to Thunder 11, reporting Iran 180 was “textbook astroturfing”:
Their ‘movement’ launched in August 2010 with the assistance of Thunder 11 and Proof Integrated Communications — a division of Burston Marsteller, the notorious PR of choice for human rights abusers, polluters and tobacco companies — among other public relations consultants.
Doherty also uncovered Iran 180’s ties to anti-BDS groups such as the Israel Action Network, a project of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs that more recently tried (and failed) to spin TIAA-CREF’s divestment from Caterpillar:
Some of the ‘participating organizations’ in Iran180 are also behind the Israel Action Network, a group whose mission is to ‘counter the assault on Israel’s legitimacy’ such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.
On 29 March 2011, Iran180 and United Against a Nuclear Iran launched IranWatchList.com. IranWatchList.com targets the auto industry doing business with Iran and encourages boycott. Notably only European and Asian companies are listed, as U.S. companies are already banned by U.S. sanctions. Before it launched, New York City Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was already on board with IranWatchList.com, so it is presented as an initiative of his office.
Notably, one of the firms that IranWatchList.com targets is French-Japanese automaker Renault Nissan, which, The Electronic Intifada revealed in 2010, is helping build transportation infrastructure linking Israel’s illegal colonies in the occupied West Bank.
After Doherty’s first article, Richard Silverstein jumped in and found “Iran180 also produced a rap video in which Ahmadinejad defecates in a public toilet and throws white, blond-haired girls into piles of garbage. In other images, you see spittle oozing from Ahmadinejad’s mouth.” However, Iran 180 has since removed the video from YouTube.
And similar to Doherty, On June 22, 2012 Silverstein wrote Iran 180 seems to be run exclusively by hired hands of Thunder 11:
Iran180 is not a non-profit organization in any sense you or I would know it. It has no office, no board of directors, no fundraising, no members. It does have a single staff member, Chris DeVito, its “director of outreach.” But DeVito until a few days ago was listed on the website of another firm Greenberg founded, Washington Square Research (WSR), as an “account executive” (his listing was abruptly removed after Ben and I wrote our posts). WSR is supposedly a company that does research to support its clients and those of Thunder11. Greenberg’s partner in WSR is noted New York Israeli-American writer and NYU professor, Liel Leibovitz.
I spoke with Chris DeVito earlier this month about Doherty and Silverstein’s articles and the charges of “astroturning.” DeVito was adamant that Iran 180 was a movement built by different progressive groups in “coalition.” Yet of the 20 “participating organizations” on Iran 180’s website, several had never heard of the group, including, the Coalition of 100 Black Women and the Coalition of 100 Hispanic Women. The NAACP, however, had heard of Iran 180 and was miffed their name was used in affiliation with Iran 180. The NAACP’s Tomasetta Waters told me over the phone, “We don’t deal with Iran 180.” When asked how the civil rights group’s name ended up on Iran180.org, the civil rights group said, “Easy, they just put our name on the website.”
Yet DeVito affirms Iran 180 does not “just add people to the website.” Rather, the outreach coordinator said all of the organizations listed either spoke at one of Iran 180’s press events, or signed an initial list of demands developed by the group during their 2010 launch.
Still Iran 180 retains supporters, sans paycheck. Last year when I sat as an appointee on Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission, Iran180 made its first foray into Bay Area politics, when the group was referenced throughout an Islamophobic bill. Taking the lead, Sam Bazzi spoke against the “dearbornization” of Silicon Valley saying:
Khomeinism in Silicon Valley there’s a number of people who have become aware of the problem of Khomeinism. Long-term danger …Silicon Valley is getting like dearbornistan, Dearborn Mich. They control the schools. They have altered the political aspect of the city of Dearborn. Now having this happen in Silicon Valley. They are starting schools. They have youth speaking perfect English… indoctrinating youth who are born here, they have the ideology of the Iranian regime, in their mind its utopian there, but they are not born there and they have no idea, they go around promoting anti-Semitism, promote Hezbollah. It’s becoming mainstream. They meet with you somewhere, put a shiny face, but underneath the surface, they promote violence. Lee Kaplan is about to release an article about this, another issue is Iran armed w nuclear weapons, they are going to destabilize the middle east, if they put their hands on that supply, we will be helpless. We are dependent on Middle East oil, we should do our best to bring awareness about this issue.