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Stanford Under the Influence of Iran’s Lobby?

A top official of the Iranian regime's U.S.-based lobby NIAC has gained a seat on Stanford University Board of Trustees

By Hanif Jazayeri

A group known as the Iranian regime’s most effective lobby in the United States has quietly gained a foothold at Stanford University, and one of its senior officials has just gained a seat on the prestigious academic institution’s governing board.

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) lobbies for a lenient approach to Iran’s regime, which includes ending the United Nations arms embargo on Tehran. It condemned the U.S. administration for designating the regime’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) as a terrorist group and for eliminating IRGC Quds Force chief Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in 2012 found that NIAC and its president Trita Parsi were “first and foremost an advocate for the regime.”

Stanford announced on its website on July 13, 2020, that from October 1, Lily Sarafan would begin a six-year term on the university’s Board of Trustees.

It introduced her as the CEO of Home Care Assistance (HCA), a large San Francisco-based company. What the press release failed to mention was that Sarafan was listed as the chair of NIAC’s board of directors in the group’s 2015 IRS filing.

Lily Sarafan listed as the Chair of NIAC’s board in the group’s 2015 IRS filing

Lily Sarafan has been active as a donor, fundraiser, and speaker for NIAC. She routinely joins NIAC delegations lobbying lawmakers on Capitol Hill in support of the regime’s talking points.

Lily Sarafan took the floor at a NIAC meeting and delivered her pro-regime remarks
Lily Sarafan delivered her speech at NIAC meeting
In March 2017, Lily Sarafan and other panelists at NIAC fundraiser
Lily Sarafan taking part in joint Congressional lobbying activity involving NIAC. Source: https://www.facebook.com/NIACouncil/photos/a.10150345134263938/10154046786523938/
Lily Sarafan gave pro-regime remarks at a meeting held by NIAC in November 2014

According to a December 19, 2019 report on NIAC’s website, Sarafan has also helped fund a program for appointing NIAC members as Congressional staffers.

Source: https://www.niacouncil.org/news/niac-congressional-fellow-ethan-azad-fighting-rep-rashida-tlaib/

What’s more, Sarafan was in Iran in 2015 to attend a TEDx event which, according to NIAC, she had helped organize. The event was co-sponsored by Iran’s Vice-Presidency for Science and Technology.

Source: https://www.niacouncil.org/news/tedxkish-2015-tipping-point/
Iran’s Vice-Presidency for Science and Technology was an event sponsor.  Source: http://tedxkish.com/2015-partners/
Lily Sarafan attending the TEDx event in Iran. Source: https://www.aparat.com/v/0rAoI/

Sarafan’s addition to Stanford’s board is only part of NIAC efforts to extend its influence in the academic institution. Stanford’s Iranian studies program routinely hosts NIAC officials and affiliates in its panels, whose objective has been to promote the Iranian regime’s agenda.

Speakers at the 2019 ‘Iranian Stanford Professional Symposium’ included Yasmin Radjy, a board member of NIAC’s sister organization, NIAC Action.

Event poster for 2019 ISPS at Stanford
Source: Iranian Stanford Alumni Association, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C-HzEicfDyg
NIAC website
And here is Yasmin Radjy again, this time next to the Iranian regime’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at a lobbying event in 2015

On June 23, 2020, Stanford’s Iranian studies program sponsored a webinar with Faezeh Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former Iranian Member of Parliament and daughter of the Iranian regime’s former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Faezeh Rafsanjani addressed the event via an online connection from Iran. Given its public nature, the event most likely had the approval of the Iranian regime.


Based on a review of publicly available material, at least two NIAC donors are also major funders of the Iranian studies program at Stanford.

Stanford is not the only U.S. university to have receive Iranian-linked financial contributions while giving a platform to Tehran’s apologists.

In June 2017, a New York jury ruled that the Alavi Foundation, a U.S.-based Islamic “charity” that was donating heavily to numerous U.S. academic institutions, was in fact a front group for the Iranian regime. A key goal of the foundation was to install Iran-friendly professors and curriculums into American universities, news reports said at the time. The ruling allowed U.S. authorities to seize a Manhattan building that provided revenue for the Alavi Foundation’s nationwide influence operations. Prosecutors described the conviction as the “largest terrorism-related civil forfeiture in United States history.”

While the Alavi Foundation’s financial schemes have faced scrutiny by U.S. authorities, the financing of academic institutions by a network of Iranian Americans affiliated to NIAC has not.

NIAC has been accused of spreading propaganda and lobbying on behalf of the Iranian government in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires those lobbying on behalf of a foreign principal to disclose their activities.

In January 2020, three US Senators – Mike Braun (R-Indiana), Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas), and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) – wrote to Attorney General William Barr urging the Department of Justice to investigate NIAC and NIAC Action for potential violations of FARA.

Hanif Jazayeri is a London-based news editor and Iranian opposition activist. Twitter: @HanifJazayeri

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