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Pro-Israel group denies a Palestinian leader entry to public event at Copenhagen synagogue

Opinion
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This story points to the relationship of Jewish communities with Israel, and the need to separate church and state. It has global significance.

Prominent debater and proponent of Palestinian rights Fathi El-Abed (full disclosure – my good friend), was excluded from a public pro-Israel seminar which is booked for tomorrow, January 6, to take place at the location of the Copenhagen synagogue, the center of the Danish Jewish Community (an official body). The seminar itself is organized by Med Israel For Fred (‘With Israel For Peace’), a right-wing pro-Israel outfit, which was founded in Norway in 1979 and has opened a Danish division last year. The event is titled “how to fight attacks on Israel’s legitimacy”, featuring two right-wing Israeli pundits – Ben Dror Yemini (columnist for Yediot Aharonot) and Rabbi Carlos Tapiero (Deputy Director-General and Director of Education at the Maccabi World Union). Yemini would speak about the “Industry of lies against Israel” (a theme of his book), and Tapiero would speak about “The right of the Jewish people to a nation state in the land of Israel” (in the Danish title, ‘land of Israel’ is literally noted in the Hebrew version as ‘Eretz Israel’, alluding directly to the biblical-mythological connection).

Fathi El-Abed, who is head of the Danish-Palestinian Friendship Society, has attempted to register (as a private individual) to the event by mail, as is requested in the open and public Facebook event page. The response he got from the head of MIFF Dina Grossman was as follows:

After recommendation of security personnel I must unfortunately deny your participation.

But Fathi is an extremely peaceful man. He has opinions, indeed strong ones, but he is very diplomatic and polite. As he notes himself, he was working for the Foreign Ministry, where he was “security-screened from top to bottom”. This was obviously not really about security.

A veritable farce unfolded before our eyes, as also the major daily Berlingske got interested in the story, and published a piece yesterday, titled “Prominent debater denied entry to Israel seminar out of fear for synagogue’s security” (Danish).

Dina Grossman laid out a wide array of self-contradictory and ludicrous claims as to what is really behind the ‘security consideration’, which she conveyed to Berlingske:

Fathi El-Abed is an extremist, and we do not want, that he and his friends come to know the internal security and the building’s design. We need to respect the Jewish Community’s angst [sic].

Seriously. Grossman has now made Fathi a terrorist, suggesting he would exploit the event in order to orchestrate a nefarious plot to bomb the synagogue at a later time of his own choosing. And I am one of his friends! He keeps referring to my updates about Palestine – is Dina Grossman now also making me a terror-accomplice? But then Grossman suggests other ’considerations’:

We know, that there is a risk, of him speaking out and giving long lectures about what he thinks.

Aha, this seems to be more credible. This makes much more sense. There is simply a risk that Fathi would say something, even ask a question, that is challenging to the Israel-apologetic narrative of the whole event.

Fathi, who has made clear that he opposes and has always opposed violence and racism, mentioning that he came to lay flowers after the 2015 synagogue shooting, notes clearly that he may have asked questions:

They know who I am. Everything indicates that they have excluded me, because I shouldn’t be allowed to ask critical questions at their event, which I maybe would, or would not, do. I only seek a democratic debate. This is an attempt to deny my freedom of expression, because the event is presented as public.

But Grossman says it’s an “overall consideration” and adds:

We know Fathi El-Abed, and we know, that he challenges everything that doesn’t fit his narrative. He is an extremist, and we do not wish to debate with such a character. He does not contribute to an enlightening debate, and besides that, this is not a debate meeting.

The latter seems to contradict the event description, which notes that “each presentation will include time for questions”.

Grossman also seeks to hide behind “others”:

There are others, who are familiar with the security rules and have used the facilities for many years. They know Fathi and what it is that surrounds him.

Yes, dark forces supposedly surround Fathi, and he is an overall shady person, why take the risk?

But there’s a big twist here. Grossman is loosely suggesting that the exclusion of Fathi is not really her decision, but that of security personnel, which really speaks about the Jewish Community’s own security. As Fathi says, it’s certainly not the police or police-intelligence corps that came with the recommendation to exclude him, because he is certainly clear from that side. And MIFF don’t seem to have their own security detail. It seemed logical, that Grossman had the recommendation from the Jewish Community security. At first, Berlingske didn’t have this confirmed. I reached out to Grossman, and asked for details about this security personnel. She wrote back politely, saying “no comment”. Later on, Berlingske added an update with an official statement from the Jewish Community:

The decision to deny Fathi El-Abed entry was not taken by the Jewish Community or its security personnel.

In other words, MIFF were framing a political censorship of a critical Palestinian voice, as a response to a Jewish “angst” which has to do with the location which they are using for their pro-Israel event – the Jewish Synagogue.

Let’s call a spade a spade. This is racial profiling. In Israel, it is a standard practice, even towards citizens of the state who are Palestinian. But this is happening on Danish soil.

It is already extremely problematic that the Jewish Community gives house to such radical right-wing Zionist organizations. Now it is also housing racism and stifling of the freedom of expression, which is still considered a central Danish value.

This points to an even bigger paradigm: the separation of church and state. If the Jewish Community is so openly married to Israel as to house such an Islamophobic pro-Israel event, then it must realize that it is sacrificing religion in favor of ultra-nationalism. It becomes hollow, to claim that the Jewish community is apolitical (interestingly, also MIFF claims it is apolitical…), and that it shouldn’t be affiliated with controversy concerning Israel. But this is the problem with Zionism overall. It simply conflates church and state, intrinsically, ideologically, essentially. And many Zionists can’t even see it.

Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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3 Responses

  1. Citizen on January 6, 2019, 3:39 am

    Something’s rotten in Denmark.

  2. Misterioso on January 7, 2019, 9:21 am

    @Citizen

    “Something’s rotten in Denmark.”

    As it is and has been in Palestine since the arrival of Zionist Jews.

  3. Marnie on January 8, 2019, 1:48 am

    Something’s definitely rotten in Birmingham.

    Civil rights institute in Alabama rescinds award for Angela Davis
    By Tina Burnside and Joe Sterling, CNN

    Updated 0319 GMT (1119 HKT) January 8, 2019

    (CNN) — A civil rights institute in Alabama has withdrawn an award for Angela Davis, a longtime radical political activist, author and academic.

    The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s board of directors had chosen Davis to receive its Fred Shuttlesworth Human Rights Award at its annual gala next month.

    But the institute decided to withdraw the award and cancel the annual gala at which Davis, a Birmingham native, would have been honored.

    The decision came after “supporters and other concerned individuals and organizations, both inside and outside of our local community, began to make requests that we reconsider our decision,” the institute’s board said in a statement.

    “Upon closer examination of Ms. Davis’ statements and public record, we concluded that she unfortunately does not meet all of the criteria on which the award is based,” the statement said.

    The board said it recognizes Davis’ “stature as a scholar and prominent figure in civil rights history” but believes its decision “is consistent with the details of the award’s namesake, Rev. Shuttlesworth.”

    The board apologized to “our supporters, the community and Ms. Davis for the confusion we have caused.”

    Davis said in a statement to CNN on Monday she was stunned to learn of the board’s reversal.

    “The trip to Birmingham, where I was born and raised, to receive the Fred Shuttlesworth Award, was certain to be the highlight of my year, especially since I knew Rev. Shuttlesworth personally,” she said.

    Mayor cites protests from local Jewish officials, allies

    It is unclear why the group made the decision.

    CNN has contacted officials at the institute for more clarity on what the concerns were and why they made the move. Davis said in her statement that she, too, asked for more clarity on the board’s decision.

    “I later learned that my long-term support of justice for Palestine was at issue,” she said.

    The Birmingham mayor, Randall Woodfin, noted in a statement his “overriding feeling is one of dismay” after the board chose to revoke the “honor after protests from our local Jewish community and some of its allies.” CNN has also contacted the Birmingham Jewish Federation for a reaction.

    Davis had been a member of the Communist Party and the Black Panther Party. She has been sharply critical of Israeli policies toward Palestinians and backs the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

    One Jewish outlet, Southern Jewish Life, posted a story about the upcoming award in December, saying, “For some in the community, there might be some indigestion at the dinner over this year’s honoree.”

    “Something not included in the Institute’s publicity for the event is that Davis has also been an outspoken voice in the boycott Israel movement, and advocates extensively on college campuses for the isolation of the Jewish state, saying Israel engages in ethnic cleansing and is connected to police violence against African-Americans in the United States,” the story said.

    Davis said she has “devoted much of my own activism to international solidarity and, specifically, to linking struggles in other parts of the world to US grassroots campaigns against police violence, the prison industrial complex, and racism more broadly.”

    “The rescinding of this invitation and the cancellation of the event where I was scheduled to speak was thus not primarily an attack against me but rather against the very spirit of the indivisibility of justice,” she said.

    Davis said despite the board’s decision, she still plans to travel to Birmingham in February for “an alternative event organized by those who believe that the movement for civil rights in this moment must include a robust discussion of all of the injustices that surround us.”

    ‘This controversy might have been avoided entirely’

    Woodfin said he regretted the move by the institute because it failed “to create an opportunity for necessary consensus dialogue.”

    “I am dismayed because this controversy might have been avoided entirely, had it been handled differently. I am dismayed because, as has been the case throughout Birmingham’s history, people of good will behaved reflexively, rather than engaging in meaningful discourse over their differences and seeking common ground,” the mayor said in a statement.

    “Throughout my life, I have been a person who tries to see and understand all reasonable points of view on any given issue. As mayor, I believe that quality is an essential part of my job, a means of encouraging interchange and forging the consensus necessary to arrive at fair and workable solutions to any issue or opportunity that confronts us as a city.”

    CNN has not heard back yet from the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute or the Birmingham Jewish Federation.”

    I’m sure CNN won’t hear from the jewish federation or the civil rights institute because it’s shameful. “Mayor cites protests from local Jewish officials, allies. It is unclear why the group made the decision.” BS – it’s clear this small group of jewish officials with very sensitive stomachs raised the roof on Angela Davis because she supports palestinians and BDS. FFS CNN – it’s hardly a mystery here. I’m am so disgusted by the spineless who cower at the slightest sign that ‘jewish officials’ might be bothered. She actually knew Rev. Shuttlesworth and is a birmingham native. This is purposeful to foment hatred and antisemitism so the zionist state can always claim there is a need for a ‘jewish state’ because jews are in danger. Mostly self-inflicted. The zionist state demands its sacrifices to appease its god.

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