Expert says Iran using anti-Israel unrest at US schools for propaganda through religious broadcasting to Tehran

Iran and its proxies have actively supported the protests, claiming the movement represents organic grassroots “changes in the attitudes” of the public, according to experts. “These are the mainstream, most important news agencies or websites inside Iran that are covering this,” Dr. Saeed Ghasseminejad, a senior advisor on Iran at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Digital. “They are covering it very intensely, and as you can guess, they definitely back that,” he said, referring to the widespread protests on American college campuses. Several Ivy League universities, including Columbia University, Harvard University and Yale University, have faced growing anti-Israel protests that have intensified over the past week. Columbia adopted hybrid learning on its main campus over fears of safety due to the protests. The protests have also occurred at other universities, such as the University of Texas at Austin, where an anti-Israel demonstration devolved into arrests as the Austin Police Department and Texas Department of Public Safety tried to maintain order. These protests have received considerable attention in Iran, with officials and news outlets intensely covering them and using them as supposed evidence of growing anti-Israel sentiment in the U.S.Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He also said the law enforcement response to the ongoing protests, and subsequent mass arrests, has them “deeply worried and disgusted.” In translated articles that Ghasseminejad posted in a thread on social media platform X, Iranian media has highlighted the Ivy League demonstrations, claiming that they have inspired “other students across the country to stage sit-ins in support of the residents of Gaza, chanting slogans.” “According to images and reports from universities like ‘Yale’ and ‘Harvard,’ students have gathered on these campuses to condemn the genocide committed by the Israeli regime in Gaza and demand that academic associations sever ties with the Zionist regime,” an article by Iranian newspaper Kayhan stated. “Harvard students carried a large banner stating: ” the article continued. “Interestingly, while carrying the Palestinian flag around the campuses and wearing keffiyehs around their necks, students chanted against the crimes of the Zionist regime and the U.S. government’s support for these crimes.”A broadcast from Iranian news network Al-Alam glorified the protests as evidence of “the emergence of broad changes in the attitudes of the American public and, particularly, the youth towards the policies of their government and its unconditional support for the Zionist regime.” “These changes are gradually having an impact on the approaches of these universities – which for years have been a source of power for this regime through promoting its lobbying in America,” the report claimed.Ghasseminejad was born in Iran but left the country in 2008 after he was abducted and confined – with a suspended sentence – for his student activism. He noted that some Middle Eastern outlets cover the unrest several times a day, every day, and are “closely following it.” Some leaders, such as Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, have stressed in recent speeches how important the anti-Israel demonstrations have been in the U.S., according to Steven Stalinsky, the executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) in Washington.In an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal, Stalinsky wrote that Nasrallah on March 13 had lauded the “very influential” protests and argued that “we should salute them” for their campaign of “uncommitted” protest votes against President Biden. Nasrallah called the protest votes “the most important means of pressure on the Biden administration” to affect a change in U.S. policy. “It is no coincidence that official statements by Hamas and major jihadist groups about the protests are nearly identical,” Stalinsky wrote. “The statements seem like talking points for pressuring U.S. and Western decision makers. They appear to be working.”Stalinsky particularly raised concerns over the way student groups have organized to create a but have taken cues from the likes of Khaled Barakat, a former Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine member, who hosted a “Resistance 101” course with the Columbia University Apartheid Divest student group. During a video call with the student group, Barakat discussed his and invoked the “strategic vision” of Iran while his wife urged students to explicitly endorse the actions of armed groups, according to The Jerusalem Post. “He speaks to, frequently, Hezbollah, Al-Manar TV, which is … it’s illegal for it to air in the U.S., it used to be available on satellite, but it’s now blocked,” Stalinsky told Digital. The Hezbollah leader did an interview on March 30 to talk about western support for Palestinians against Israel, and said “the vast majority of young Americans and Canadians … support armed resistance,” Stalinsky added. Stalinsky also noted that Barakat discussed the way that curriculum has influenced student thought, with professors pushing specific views that highlight more sympathetic angles that push students toward activism. “I have a masters in Middle East studies, but … it’s not learning about the Middle East” that causes the problem, he argued. “It’s about who’s teaching about the Middle East.” He pointed to the prevalence of Students for Justice in Palestine, which preys on the notion that university students should engage in activism. But the agitators also show “a lot of ignorance,” with some having admitted over the past six months that they sometimes don’t know what they’re protesting. “They are part of instigating [the protests],” Stalinsky said. “It wasn’t just like some students were watching the news on Columbia, and they decided to [do] this.”