This fascinating article is divided into two parts due to its length.
Part One is called "The Introduction."
Part Two is entitled "Falling in Love with Israel."
Here is Part Two.
KASIM AND BARRY – A RARE CONVERSATION.
PART 2 – “FALLING IN LOVE WITH ISRAEL.”
Kasim is a special person. What is special about Kasim is not that he is a British Muslim of Pakistani origin. That, in itself, is not unique. What is special about Kasim is that he was once radicalized and, in his words, a few months from going to a terrorist training camp in Pakistan. Today he is a rare voice for Israel in the UK.
What is special about our conversation is that it took place in Israel. What is special about our conversation is the content.
Kasim is Kasim Hafeez, the Director of The Israel Campaign based in Britain. The sub title of his organization is “Many Voices, United for Israel.”
Barry is Barry Shaw. He was the Co-Founder of the Netanya Terror Victims Organisation, created when a serious of deadly Palestinian terror attacks struck his hometown of Netanya. He writes under the title “The View from Israel.” He has authored the book “Israel Reclaiming the Narrative,” and is the Special Consultant on Delegitimisation Issues at the Strategic Dialogue Centre at Netanya Academic College in Israel.
They met for the first time at a small outdoor cafe in bustling Neve Tzedek in Tel Aviv on 3rd June, 2012. They discussed many of the burning issues of the moment in an honest and open manner that revealed some surprising personal confessions. Here is a transcript of their wide-ranging conversation.
Part 2 – FALLING IN LOVE WITH ISRAEL.
B. “I am preparing an article right now. Its’ called ‘The Recklessness of Criticism.’ It’s about people like Peter Beinart, JStreet in America, and Yachad in Britain, who criticize Israel but never apply the same yardstick to the Palestinians for their actions which are against peace, or for failing to accept peace offers, or continuing their incitement to hate and violence. They are not ready to take responsibility for their dangerous one-sided pressure on Israel to withdraw to 1967 lines, which are really 1948 lines. It’s we Israelis who will pay the terrible price for this pressure gone wrong. They don’t have to fight to survive, or even worse, die.”
K. “There are certain things I have an opinion on but won’t comment because I don’t have to live or die with the consequences. I have no right, no matter how pro-Israel I am, to tell the Israeli Government where they should withdraw from, because I don’t have to live with the consequences. Let’s be honest. What has Israel gained from their withdrawals except more terror? I know it’s not ideal, but the status quo is there for a reason. Until the Palestinians stop telling their children that you need to go kill Jews what’s the point? All it’s going to do is cause Israel another war from another border.”
B. “But the unfortunate thing is that Beinart, Yachad, JStreet, are in the enemies camp without them knowing or admitting it. They say they are really in Israel’s camp but you wonder if these people have a malevolent agenda like the enemy, or if they are totally stupid. You can’t be in the middle.”
K. “Well it’s like this Habimah thing when people didn’t want them to perform. Yachad said nothing about it. Absolutely nothing. Not a word. If you’re pro-Israel, here’s your chance to prove it. But they don’t. They didn’t join us in defending the Israeli theatre company against unjust protests and demonstrations. At the same time they are emailing Harriet Sherwood (a critical anti-Israel journalist at the Guardian newspaper) against Israel.”
B. “I was very outspoken about the hypocrisy of the attack against the National Theatre Company of Israel. It was sheer hypocrisy. You know when criticism of Israel becomes anti-Semitism? It’s what Natan Sharansky calls ‘The 3 Ds’, I call it ‘The 4 Ds’ – Demonisation, Delegitimisation, Double standards, and I add Discrimination. That’s when they cross the red line from legitimate criticism to downright anti-Semitism. That’s what happened when people like Emma Thompson and Mike Leigh picked on the HaBimah Theatre Company for condemnation and protest. They welcomed the Chinese National Theatre Company whose country is occupying Tibet, and the Turkish company whose country is occupying Cyprus and killing the Kurds, not to mention the human rights abusing regimes in Bangladesh and Zimbabwe. It was only the company from the Jewish state that they protested against. That’s double standards and discrimination. That’s anti-Semitism when it is constantly applied against Israel, and only Israel, on false charges.”
K. “Quite right. I was there in the counter demonstration in support of HaBimah.”
B. “ What greater irony can you have than the theatrical cultural elites of Britain trying to drive from the Shakespearian stage the one and only Jewish theatre group who were trying to perform ‘The Merchant of Venice,’ which depicts the Venetian cultural elite denying justice to the Jewish Shylock as he is driven from the Shakespearian stage in his anti-Semitic play, and Habimah performed the play in Hebrew, the Jewish language. The Emma Thompsons, the Mike Leighs, and all the other malevolent characters, were determined to turn the Habimah Theatre Company into the present day Shakespearian pariah, just as they are determined to turn Israel into a pariah state.”
K. “Yes, without a doubt. I mentioned Yachad. It’s the stupidity of it. It’s stating the obvious yet, at the same time, being completely naïve as to the facts. On their website they have a page that says they want a state on 1967 borders. Not with mutually agreed land swops, but on the 1967 line.
B. “Yes. I saw that. It was written by a Board member. I think his name was Saphir. He also said that the Israel’s Prime Minister doesn’t speak for many Israelis. What nonsense! Bibi was elected by Israelis in a fair democratic elections, and now this Yachad group links itself with parties that were totally rejected by the Israeli electorate, and doesn’t accept the decision of a free and democratic nation. What dangerous Chutzpah is that!”
K. “Exactly. It’s now accepted by nearly every Israeli Government that a Two-State Solution is the way forward. They’ve accepted that. But the sad reality is that it’s not that simple. Look what happened in Gaza. Israel left Gaza in the hope of taking that step for peace. It was disastrous. I mean disastrous is putting it mildly. So to vacate bigger territory….”
B. “….as if rockets aren’t going to come out of the West Bank…You know, whenever I’m sending you an email or writing on my computer I look out of my window and I can see Tulkarm and other Arab towns and villages on the Judean hills. I when you come over to Netanya I’ll show you It’s a fifteen minute car ride, a thirty second rocket ride from there to my home, and I live on the sea in the centre of Israel. It’s as critical as that.”
B. “Whenever I talk to people I tell them that we are ready for peace. We are ready to cede territory and give them a state of their own. I don’t need Yachad for that. They are wrong. We are conditioned for peace. And it’s not Israeli Prime Ministers who are not ready for peace. I go through the list of Prime Ministers from Rabin to Peres, and Barak, Olmert, and Bibi. All of them have either signed peace agreements with our enemies, or made massive peace gestures to the Palestinians, and all have recognized the need for a Two-State Solution and want to sit down and negotiate a peace agreement with them. So it’s not Israeli Prime Ministers who are blocking progress to peace. It’s the rejectionist Palestinian leadership from Arafat to Abbas to Hamas to Islamic Jihad. Yachad, if they really stand for peace, and the British Government, and everyone in the international community should put the pressure on them, not on us, and drag them back into the negotiation room. The people who don’t want a two-State Solution is the Palestinian leadership. These people like Yachad should be pragmatic realists for peace, not utopian dreamers. Don’t pressurize Israel to make terrible and dangerous concessions that will drive us back to Auschwitz lines, as Abba Eban described them. Put the pressure on the other side. Force them into negotiations, even to the point that they are told ‘You are not going to get your money until you show goodwill and sit down with the Israelis and be prepared to make concessions. Mahmoud Abbas! You want to get those millions of dollars? You don’t get them until you get back in that room.’”
K. “When Mahmoud Abbas took his unilateral declaration of statehood to the UN, Bibi was there and said, ‘I’m here! Let’s talk.’ Abbas ignored him.”
B. “One of the reasons they don’t talk is because they are scared that they are going to hear about the concessions that Israel is going to make and they are going to say, ‘Not enough!’ Any Palestinian leader, after the decades of lying to their people about eventually taking over Israel, is going to think ‘Oh! Oh! If I agree to this it means I have to tell my people we have to live alongside Israel.’ They can’t accept that. It’s more than their life is worth. That’s the problem. See what happened to Sadat in Egypt. That’s the situation you’ve got to address. No Arab leader will have the balls to sign a permanent peace agreement with Israel. If he did, he’d have no balls the next day.”
K. “The constant thing the Palestinians are beating on about is the settlements, but hold on. Israel has shown, on more than one occasion, that they are willing to evacuate them for peace. Regardless of the rights or wrongs of the issue they will do it again if they have peace. How can the settlements be an issue when Israel has shown that, if there’s a chance for peace, they will pack up and leave?”
B. “ Don’t forget that where you have large townships or blocks of settlements it has been accepted by Arafat and by the Palestinian leadership as being part of Israel in any peace agreement. Places like Ariel, Maale Adumim, these sort of places, will remain anyway, unless they change their mind. Settlements were never an issue until Barack Obama made it one. It was never an obstacle to talks, or a pre-condition, until Obama begin to make it one. So Abbas said, why should he be less of a Palestinian than the American president.”
B. “If I had you and your friends here, talking to audiences, the thing that needs to be expressed by you guys are the various factors that brought you all round to this position based on your experiences in England and how it’s gone from what you are experiencing there to how do you go from your views as Muslims in England to Israel, bridging that divide between your personal and religious discomfort with regard to the extremism and radicalism there and going from ‘I’m a Muslim in Britain and I’ve got my own problems’ to standing with Israel, which is a double whammy for you. How did you go from being a Muslim in England and making that link to be in support of Israel?”
K. “Well, to start off I was one of them, the extremists.”
B. “You were one of them!!??”
K. “Yes. I was an anti-Semite. I have these books which I take with me when I do talks. They are very anti-Semitic, hate-Israel. I didn’t bring them with me when I came to Israel just now because if I did I would be stopped at the airport….” (Riotous laughter). “That’s the last thing I need, right? Seriously, it happened very gradually. People I came into contact with, and then in university it was free rein. I was very anti-Semitic. I was ‘Israel doesn’t have the right to exist,’ etcetera. But they target people…”
B. “Which group were you with?”
K. “The closest one I was with was Laskar e-Toiba, which is a terrorist group in Pakistan. They had a branch in Birmingham which was a propagation wing and they would go to different mosques. They were indoctrinating people to become terrorists. It was a very gradual process. They get you to follow them in religious ideological points of view and then they start pushing jihad. I would even say that I was within months of going to a jihadist camp in Pakistan.”
B. “Really? You were on your way?”
K. “Yes. I was making plans. Then I went into Waterstone’s (a book store in London) and saw Dershowitz’s book, ‘The Case for Israel.’ I looked at it. I knew that Israel had no case but I thought I’d buy it and see what lies they are telling. I’ll tear apart his argument, which will be a victory for us. But, when I was reading it I thought, ‘That doesn’t make sense.’ I read it again recently and the points are very obvious, now that I have a balanced point of view of history, but those points were just so completely alien to me, like the UN Partition Plan which the Jews accepted and the Arabs rejected. Or that the Arabs went to war, and lots of other things. And I thought, ‘wait a minute, this is wrong. It can’t be right.’ I’m very methodical when I go into something, and the more I read the more I went into deep depression. Here’s me, realizing that what I believed when I stood in Trafalgar Square chanting ‘Death to Israel!’ was now, to me, very wrong. I thought, ‘this doesn’t make sense. I need to go to Israel and see for myself.’ So, in 2007, I booked myself a flight with El Al and flew to Israel, spent eight hours in security…” (Laughter)
B. “That’s enough to put you off Israel...”
K. “Well, it wasn’t a bad experience, and I’ll tell you why. I went to Saudi Arabia in 2002 on a religious pilgrimage, and I’ve never experienced such racism in my life.”
B. …“In Saudi Arabia? As a Muslim? Why?”
K. “Because I am a Pakistani and I am on this pilgrimage where we are all brothers and sisters, I never experienced such racism and intolerance in my life. Arabs against Pakistanis, or anyone who isn’t an Arab, basically. It was absolutely disgusting. This is why my aunty is so anti-Arab as well. And, here in Israel, eight hours in security, but this guy was treating me like a person. He was apologizing for the questions and the long delay. He hoped I understood that they have to be careful. ‘We’re in Israel. We have problems’, you know the scene. He kept bringing me coffee. And I’m thinking I can understand why he’s doing this. He didn’t want to do it either. I began to think that I’d rather him stop people and I’d be safe walking in Jerusalem than let people go through without properly checking them. It’s an awful dilemma that Israel has to face. When I got out and went to Jerusalem everyone I spoke to and met were just not what I expected. There is an ingrained idea for a Muslim that when you go to Israel everyone hates you, but people were lovely. There wasn’t this apartheid state. It’s a modern diverse state. It was difficult to digest. It initially made no sense. What the hell is going on here? This isn’t right! I went into the Old City and saw this heaving mass of Jews, Christians, Muslims, Arabs. I didn’t know if I would be allowed near the Western Wall because, in Saudi Arabia, if you pray slightly different to the others you get dragged out of the mosque. I didn’t know what to do. It was amazing looking back. I remember standing with my hands on the stones of the Western Wall and I just burst into tears. I’m not an emotional person but this realization hit me that I’m standing here in a Jewish state, I’ve got the flag of Israel behind me, I’m at the holiest site for Jews all over the world, and there are six million who never made it here, who died with that dream ‘Next Year in Jerusalem!’, and this isn’t about politics. This is about survival for the Jewish people. It’s about survival of who they are. This is what they are. And what they have done is build this vibrant democratic state where everyone’s free, and it was just such an amazing realization, a miracle in many ways…”
B. “…But from a different and negative perspective, you could have gone up the Mugrabi Bridge on to the Temple Mount to visit the mosques and speak to people there with a completely different viewpoint, who don’t want Jews here, who want to kill them.”
K. “ Look!”
Kasim fishes a visiting card out of his pocket.
“This is the beautiful thing about Israel.”
He shows me a picture on his card which shows an Israeli flag flying in the Western Wall Plaza with the Western Wall, a minaret, and the golden dome of the mosque on the Temple Mount.
“People are free to go and pray. Let’s be blunt about it. A lot of people hate Israel. They want to see it destroyed. Yet they are free to go and pray and their rights are being protected. That is not an easy thing to do for Israel. To know that these people want to kill you, and yet you allow them free movement, free speech, and the freedom to pray in Jerusalem.”
B. “If you notice, the Israeli flag is here in the Plaza. In 1967, when the IDF liberated Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers flew the flag from the Temple Mount the site of the Jewish Temple, but Moshe Dayan ordered it taken down out of respect for Islam.”
K. “I just fell in love with the place. I went to Yad Vashem, and the Hagana Museum, and other places, and I was completely stunned. I was so in love with the place. And I go back home and I begin talking to my sister and my aunt, and I tell them, ‘You know what, it’s not what we’ve been told.’ My aunt tells me that there are Muslims and Druze that serve in the IDF, so we talk about the facts, just the facts.”
B. “So what happened when you met up with your radical friends?”
K. “I have a friend, born in Britain, highly educated, who asked me ‘Were you followed around by Jews?’”
B. “Followed around by Jews? You mean, like having a minder sticking to you just like Hamas does to foreigners and journalists in Gaza?”
K. “There is this perception in Nottingham that the Jews control the world. I think they thought I had a team of Mossad bodyguards with me all the time.”
B. “I would think you’re friends look on you as if you went to Israel like a good Muslim and returned home as a Mossad agent..”
K. “Honestly. It’s that kind of perception. It’s funny. So this wedge set in. People started to distance themselves from me. That brought me closer to Israel. For so long when I said I was pro-Palestinian, I was anti-Israeli. It went together. Now that I am pro-Israeli, a Zionist, I am not anti-anyone. It’s not love them, hate them. It’s, I love this place and I want peace. So I started talking. I joined the Zionist Federation in the UK, did absolutely nothing for four years other than talk to people around me. It was in the last year that I met people of the British-Israel Coalition. I met Gili Brenner from StandWithUs who has absolutely inspired me. I started writing. About 2010 I met up with Hasan Asal who runs British Muslims for Israel. I hate using these left wing, right wing, expressions, but I suppose I became a realist…”
B. “I have a chapter in my book ‘Israel Reclaiming the Narrative’ which I call ‘I was Left and now I’m Right – as in Correct’. I tell people if you want peace you have to stop hating, or being a utopian dreamer. You have to be a pragmatic realist.”
K. “I like that.”
B. “Do you take your message on to the campus?”
K. “I tried, but the UJS, that’s the Union of Jewish Students, tried to ban me from speaking..”
K. “ There were a lot of issues. They thought that I would inflame things on campus…”
B. “What I call ‘Keeping your head below the parapet.’”
K. “ Yes. Sort of like, ‘if you’re nice to them, or ignore them, they’ll leave us alone.’ Michael Dickson of StandWithUs in Israel spoke about this at the Knesset.”
B. “Did you have talks with Muslim students?”
K. “Well, I wanted to have the talks with everyone and, thankfully, some Muslim students turn up. In Oxford we had some Palestinian Solidarity people turn up. In Manchester and Leeds they want it a closed meeting, and I thought, that’s stupid. I wanted to show Israel as a democratic country. You know, with these left wing groups, when Israel was under Labour it was democratic, but when they elected a non-left wing government, suddenly it’s not democratic anymore.”
B. “It’s a sort of subversion. We have elections and the people vote to choose their government and when the ultra-left lose out big time they continue to undermine, discredit, demonise, and delegitimise a country they don’t live in, don’t vote in, and have no responsibility or care, it seems, for the safety or security of the people. We have checks and balances in this country. If the Government tries to do things that are undemocratic or unlawful we have the Supreme Court, with a worldwide reputation for its liberal values, so we don’t need the Yachads and the JStreets as our moral conscience...”
K. “...And I find it so incredibly condescending. How dare they, living in a foreign country, dictate to Israel about its security and survival? What I find about these groups is they say the most important thing is Israel’s democratic character, until it does something they don’t agree with and then they do everything they can to undermine it from abroad. They try to impose the most enormous pressure on Israel, but do nothing against the Palestinian crimes and rejectionism. When I came here last I went to Ramallah and that shocked me.”
B. “Why? In what way?”
K. “All you hear about are refugees and poverty. That was not poverty. In Pakistan there are still refugees from 1947 that live by the road in Karachi in tents. That’s poverty.”
B. “And are they helped by the United Nations?”
K. “Are they hell! And even worse, in Bangladesh when they split from Pakistan there are a million people, they call them displaced Pakistanis, who are stuck in Bangladesh, and they are in a refugee camp, and the United Nations refuses to recognize them as refugees.”
K. “They’ve never given a proper explanation. These people are stateless. Pakistan has acknowledged them but said they can’t do anything for them because they can’t integrate a million people. They say they don’t have the resources. The United Nations Council for Refugees say’ ‘It’s not our problem.’”
B. “I have a lot of people on Facebook who support Israel from Bangladesh and I can’t understand that. I’m glad, but I can’t figure it out.”
K. “Pakistan was envisaged as this secular democratic country. Pakistan never wanted this Islamic state. It wanted a Muslim majority state but was meant to be a democratic secular one where Christians can be free and people could go about their business. Instead, it became an Islamic state. In some ways it managed to carry on in Bangladesh. Bangladesh has suffered from this Islamic radicalism and is reacting by saying this is not what we are about.”
B. “I get so many appeals from people in Bangladesh saying what a wonderful example Israel is to them, can I help them? How the hell can I help them? I have no idea. I feel for them. They do need help and I think they appreciate what Israel has, and is going through. Anyway, I appreciate your time and I do want to promote what you are doing and being a sounding board for you over here. Use me, if you like. I’ll be happy to help.”
B. “How long are you here for?”
K. “I’m only here for four days this trip.”
B. “ Yes. Are you coming back later this year?”
K. “Yes. I hope to be back for a week or more. I may come with a group.”
B. “Well, you’ve certainly found a new friend in me. Let me know how I can help you.”
K. Yes. Thanks, Barry. We’ll definitely stay in touch.”
Two strangers from different backgrounds and faiths, united in a desire for moderation, peace, and security for Israel, depart as friends with a shared vision.
Written by Barry Shaw, author of ‘Israel Reclaiming the Narrative. www.israelnarrative.com