.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Why the Miftah antisemitism story is so important

On Thursday, I reported exclusively that Miftah, an NGO that was founded by Palestinian Arab media darling Hanan Ashrawi, had published as pure an anti-semitic screed as is imaginable - resurrecting the reprehensible blood libel that Jews ritually slaughter Christian children and consume their blood on Passover.

Miftah is an organization that is ostensibly dedicated to promoting Western, liberal idea like democracy and equal rights for women. At least, that's what they tell their donors, which in 2011 included Oxfam, the Anna Lindh Foundation, Norway, Ireland, UNESCO and the US-based National Endowment for Democracy:
Miftah presents itself as a transparent NGO dedicated to its ideals and principles.

Yet, within hours of my publicizing the disgusting article on its website, Miftah simply deleted it - no explanation, no apologies, no excuses. It simply pretended that the hugely offensive piece never existed, hoping that no one would notice their cover-up.

This is not how a transparent organization should act.

Here we see what happens when a supposedly liberal Arab organization is faced with the exposure of bigotry and hate in its midst: it sweeps it under the rug. And, so far, the NGOs that fund Miftah have been complicit in this silence, hoping that the controversy will go away.

And this is the problem.

While these same liberal organizations would be the first ones to complain when they see an example of anti-blackracism, Arab antisemitism is not regarded as nearly as toxic an issue. They know, as all observers of the Middle East know, that Arab antisemitism is endemic. It is the rule, not the exception.

Instead of demanding accountability and the eradication of hate among organizations funded by these Western NGOs and governments, Arab antisemitism is tacitly accepted as "one of those things," or justified as a side effect of Israeli policies.

However, this example of naked hate has no excuse. The classic blood libel has nothing to do with Zionism, nothing to do with modern Israel. It is a pure throwback to the Christian antisemitism of the Middle Ages. And it exists, today, in the Arab world.

Just like the scourge of Christian Jew-hatred has been largely marginalized by modernity, by exposure and by shaming the haters, this is what must happen to today's Muslim anti-semitism. It is not acceptable, it is not something to be hidden away when it gets exposed. It must be confronted and, most importantly, the people who practice it must be shamed. Shame is the West's biggest weapon to fight Arab hate and it is one that too often is ignored because of a mistaken, cowardly idea that there is nothing to be gained by shaming people who are easily enraged.

The offensive article was not written by a marginal figure or a loose cannon. Nawaf al-Zaru has written other articles for Miftah, and similarly his blood libel article is still visible on major Arab media, today. Not only that, but al-Zaru is regarded as an Arab expert on Israel and Hebrew. He has written numerous articles and books, and was the editor of at least two Jordanian newspapers. Indeed, he had written a more expansive version of the blood libel article in 2009, in response to an earlier Passover seder at the White House.

His viewpoints aren't an aberration. They are mainstream. I see the same kinds of writings nearly every day in the Arab media, although not always as explicit.

By ignoring the hate, the funders of Miftah are tacitly endorsing it. And people like Hanan Ashrawi will not be called to account for overseeing a publication and website in which such hate can be published, past all the editors and webmasters and other gatekeepers whose salaries are being paid by these NGOs.

The NGOs themselves should be falling over themselves to distance themselves from Miftah. The Anna Lindh Foundation says "Our purpose is to bring people together from across the Mediterranean to improve mutual respect between cultures." How exactly can that purpose fit in with Miftah's encouragement of hate of Jews? Shouldn't people be tweeting them about this?

Oxfam says "We strive to do what we say we will do. Read about our core values and operating principles against which we measure ourselves." One of these is that "Unjust policies and practices, nationally and internationally, must be challenged and people’s rights must be respected." Should Oxfam be measured by their own words? They are on Twitter as well.

Part of UNESCO's mission is "to contribute to the building of a culture of peace." How can Arab Jew-hatred contribute to peace? Shouldn't people tweet to them as well?

The National Endowment for Democracy is a US-based NGO that also supports Miftah. They say that "NED provides hundreds of grants each year to non-governmental groups working abroad in the areas of human rights, independent media, the rule of law, civic education and the development of civil society in general." How does Miftah's hate and cover-ups fit in with that vision? You can tweet them and ask.

Miftah is not the problem - it is a small symptom of the real problem. But to fix things we must start somewhere. And you, right now, can directly ask all of these NGOs and governments that fund Miftah what they are doing to uphold their own standards and distance themselves from the naked hate that Miftah apparently feels is acceptable discourse in the Arab world.