Lindsey Graham's joke draws backlash

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) joked on Fox News that it would be "terrible" if a DNA test showed that he has Iranian heritage.

Posted: Oct 19, 2018 9:33 AM
Updated: Oct 19, 2018 9:33 AM

Senator Lindsey Graham's comments about Iranian lineage did not go over well with a group of powerful tech execs.

On Tuesday, Graham joked during an interview on "Fox & Friends" that it would be "terrible" if a DNA test revealed that he has Iranian heritage. His comment came in response to Senator Elizabeth Warren's decision to take a DNA test to prove her Native American ancestry claims.

When asked for further comment, a spokesman for Graham referred CNN Business to his follow-up Fox News segment.

"Name one person who's been a bigger defender of the Iranian people to fight back against their oppressor," said Graham, adding that the comment was a joke intended for "the Ayatollah," not the Iranian people.

Nonetheless, some leaders in the tech industry, which has a number of high-profile executives, venture capitalists and entrepreneurs of Iranian heritage, are calling for Graham to apologize.

Omid Kordestani, the executive chairman of Twitter who was born in Iran, wrote that "an apology is in order" from Graham. In a tweet, he asked the senator to "please start upholding the best values of our great nation and its institutions."

Hadi Partovi, CEO of nonprofit Code.org, similarly found the comment insulting.

Partovi and twin brother Ali are cofounders of Code.org, a nonprofit that helps get computer science programs into schools. They've also invested in, and advised, numerous tech startups, including Facebook, Uber and Dropbox. Successful entrepreneurs in their own right, they have both sold companies they cofounded to Microsoft before starting a social music startup, iLike. The startup sold to MySpace in 2009. The brothers, born and raised in Tehran, moved to the United States at age 11, Partovi said.

He told CNN Business he's dealt with his fair share of racist remarks over the years, from classmates joking about bombing Iran to more recent taunts on Facebook that he should go back home. But he expects more from US leaders.

"I've had it my whole life in America," Partovi told CNN Business. "But what I think is most problematic is when the leaders -- the folks who are supposed to be role models themselves -- are not just excusing but are leading that kind of behavior."

Meanwhile, Iranian-born Pejman Nozad, a Silicon Valley investor in tech companies such as Dropbox and DoorDash, said that "the list of accomplished Iranian-Americans is endless," in a series of tweets Tuesday.

Nozad, who moved to the United States from Iran more than 25 years ago, identified a few including Uber's CEO Dara Khosrowshahi.

"Most Americans don't realize that companies like EBay or Dropbox are founded by Iranians," added Partovi, who said Graham's comments were quickly circulated among his friends in the Iranian community.

The tech industry has already been at odds with the Trump administration's stance on immigration, and Graham's comments add fuel to the fire.

Leaders in an industry where foreign-born entrepreneurs and talent are central to its success have condemned the administration for imposing a "travel ban" and separating parents and children at the US-Mexico border as part of its "zero tolerance" immigration policy.

Although Graham may have meant his comments in jest, Partovi believes it's revealing.

"Our country might have major problems with the Iran's government but you don't say the entire people are terrible," Partovi said. "It is clear to Iranians that American tensions with the Iranian government is boiling over to leaders, and politicians are directly attacking people for their background."

But will he apologize? "I hope so," Partovi said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 331863

Reported Deaths: 7494
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22855279
Hinds22625437
Harrison19462326
Rankin14765286
Jackson14233251
Madison10658227
Lee10398178
Jones8713169
Forrest8164157
Lauderdale7528243
Lowndes6761150
Lamar665988
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Warren4612125
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Monroe4243137
Union424379
Neshoba4179180
Lincoln4088115
Hancock402788
Leflore3562125
Pike3511111
Tate348988
Alcorn343174
Sunflower342293
Adams331987
Yazoo330573
Scott330175
Simpson313690
Copiah311467
Itawamba309580
Coahoma308285
Tippah298368
Prentiss292563
Covington280183
Marion278980
Leake277975
Wayne269942
Grenada265688
George259851
Newton256064
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Winston235084
Jasper225748
Attala220373
Chickasaw215960
Stone209137
Holmes194974
Clay191554
Tallahatchie181542
Clarke181480
Calhoun177332
Smith175334
Yalobusha169240
Walthall140448
Lawrence137026
Greene134934
Amite131843
Noxubee131135
Perry130838
Montgomery130644
Carroll124531
Webster116732
Jefferson Davis112934
Tunica110827
Benton104425
Claiborne104231
Kemper100329
Humphreys99033
Franklin85923
Quitman83519
Choctaw80919
Wilkinson73232
Jefferson69028
Sharkey51518
Issaquena1696
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 565510

Reported Deaths: 11468
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson828061584
Mobile44938853
Madison36534532
Tuscaloosa26589465
Shelby26409255
Montgomery25598623
Baldwin23319324
Lee16691179
Calhoun15030332
Morgan14877288
Etowah14563368
Marshall12723235
Houston11302292
Elmore10576217
St. Clair10449251
Limestone10420158
Cullman10198204
Lauderdale9883253
DeKalb9226191
Talladega8705187
Walker7545286
Autauga7388113
Jackson7216117
Blount7147139
Colbert6522142
Coffee5962131
Dale5224117
Russell463942
Chilton4603117
Covington4502125
Franklin439781
Tallapoosa4343156
Escambia414782
Chambers3813124
Dallas3674163
Clarke361562
Marion3354106
Pike323179
Lawrence3176101
Winston289672
Bibb276165
Geneva267383
Marengo257367
Barbour241860
Pickens238862
Butler233571
Hale230578
Fayette223863
Henry203345
Cherokee192347
Randolph192244
Monroe190241
Washington174539
Macon167252
Crenshaw163457
Clay161859
Cleburne158445
Lamar149138
Lowndes143854
Wilcox128431
Bullock125342
Conecuh117730
Coosa115229
Perry109628
Sumter107532
Greene95935
Choctaw63125
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