Three years ago, journalist Yasha Levine and filmmaker Rowan Wernham first arrived at the vast pistachio plantation of Stewart and Lynda Resnick in California’s parched Central Valley. There, they saw firsthand how a billionaire power couple had successfully manipulated the state’s political system to privatize its water supply for their own financial benefit.
Today, the Wonderful Company farm owned by the Resnicks soaks up more water than the entire city of Los Angeles. Their business was based on “a heist of epic proportions,” according to Levine, that “will put family farms out of business, and push life in the biggest river estuary on the west coast of America towards mass extinction.”
The story eventually took Levine and Wernham far beyond the parched Central Valley, and into the heart of America’s Israel lobby. It turned out that the Resnicks had been pumping their money into some of the most militantly pro-Israel think tanks in Washington, including the American Jewish Committee and the Washington Institute on Near East Policy (WINEP). Both of these outfits have lobbied heavily for sanctions on Iran and against the Iran nuclear deal. One WINEP executive, Pat Clawson, has even called on the US to stage a false flag attack that could trigger a war with Iran.
Levine and Wernham recognized that the Resnicks’ support for the Israel lobby was all about protecting their monopoly from a nation traditionally recognized as the producer of the world’s best pistachios. The billionaire nut barons were not only threatening the environment and livelihoods of their local competitors, they were bankrolling forces determined to take America to war against a rising Middle Eastern power. This is why the title of Levine and Wernham’s work in progress, “Pistachio Wars,” is so apt.
In an interview with the Grayzone, the filmmakers detailed the dangerous nexus between the Resnicks’ pistachio profits and the escalating economic attack on Iran. Their insights showcase the originality and political daring that make “Pistachio Wars” so relevant.
At the moment, Levine and Wernham are raising funds to bring “Pistachio Wars” to completion. You can follow this link to see a trailer and support their groundbreaking project. Our interview is below:
MB: How did the sanctions imposed on Iran by the Carter administration after the 1979 revolution affect America’s domestic pistachio market in general, and the Resnicks in particular?
YL & RW: Without out a doubt, President Carter’s embargo on Iran was what gave birth to America’s pistachio business. Historically, pistachios imported from Iran had dominated global markets, including in the US. When America was suddenly cut off from Iran’s pistachio supply after Carter’s economic blockade in the wake of the Iranian hostage crisis, it left a giant hole in the market and created the need for an alternative source of pistachios. At the time, pistachio farming happened on a small scale in the United States — the bulk of it in California’s Central Valley. Sensing a perfect business opportunity, farmers in California stepped in to fill the void. At that time, Stewart Resnick had just gotten into agriculture. He was a shrewd businessman and he seized the moment.
From then on, America’s pistachio industry grew at crazy pace, with domestic output more than doubling every 5 years. In 2008, forty years after the embargo, America finally surpassed Iran as the world’s dominant producer of pistachios. And the bulk of America’s pistachio trade is controlled by one firm: the Wonderful Company, owned by Beverly Hills billionaires Stewart and Lynda Resnick.