Monday, March 02, 2020

By Petra Maquardt-Bigman

 Sanders surrogate Amer Zahr has never tried to hide his hatred for Israel, and like most anti-Zionists, he thinks it’s perfectly fine to talk about the Jewish state pretty much like the Nazis talked about Jews. But in order to illustrate how fanatic Zahr is, a few pictures are worth a thousand words.

Zahr isn’t shy about announcing his agenda: getting rid of the world’s only Jewish state.

While Zahr will usually proclaim that his Palestine from the river to the sea should be democratic, secular and open, his current Facebook cover photo reflects a different vision: Palestine is Muslim and Christian, Judaism is erased.

Another photo Zahr used as his Facebook cover reveals his support for terrorism: it shows him serenading convicted supermarket bomber and US immigration fraudster Rasmea Odeh. (Here is another photo of Zahr and Odeh having a jolly good time together; and last year, Zahr posted a photo of notorious terrorist Leila Khaled for International Women’s Day. He also seems to be an admirer of the Tamimis, whose most celebrated family member is Sbarro massacre mastermind and facilitator Ahlam Tamimi.)

Given Zahr’s intense hatred for Israel, it’s hard to describe how stunned I was when the awesome kweansmom recently found out that Zahr has Israeli citizenship. Inevitably, this discovery also trains a spotlight on the truly breathtaking hypocrisy of Zahr’s anti-Israel activism, and it’s hardly surprising that the stories he likes to tell about the bitter “refugee” background of his family turn out to be not particularly truthful.

Since this post is based primarily on material shared on Facebook, it should be noted that all cited material is freely accessible at the time of this writing; the links I provide are to archived copies of Facebook posts so that I cannot be accused of making stuff up in case anything is deleted or access is restricted.

Let’s first look at how the Jordanian-born Zahr got Israeli citizenship. Ususally, Zahr claims that his parents were Palestinian “refugees” who were “driven from their birthplaces of Yafa and Akka by Israel.” Yet, as Zahr told The Jerusalem Post in an interview four years ago, he “comes to the Palestinian territories and Israel between one and three times annually” to perform his “comedic routines” – which also means that his BDS advocacy takes the form of “do as I say, not as I do.”

During one of his visits to Israel in 2015, Zahr  boasted on Facebook: “At Tel Aviv airport, Israeli security asked me, “What is the purpose of your visit?” I said, “What is the purpose of yours?” #colonizers”. Naturally, some of his followers then wondered why the evil Zionist entity would let him enter the country – after all, it would probably not be advisable to respond like this to a US border security official.

Zahr then explained: “i hold their passport.” When asked how he got “their passport,” Zahr responded: “israeli laws allow for the children of “israeli” mothers to be “naturalized” even if they are born abroad. my palestinian mother was born as an israeli citizen in akka after 1948. so even though i was born in jordan, i could get the passport.” He added sarcastically: “i’m sure that law was meant for cases like mine of course.” To which I’d like to add: I’m sure that Amer Zahr realizes that his relentless demonization of Israel is undermined by the fact that he could get an Israeli passport as the Jordanian-born son of an Arab-Israeli mother who left Israel as a child.

And obviously enough, if Zahr’s “palestinian mother” was “born as an israeli citizen in akka [Akko/Acre] after 1948,” and he was able to get an Israeli passport because of his mother’s Israeli citizenship, it’s doubtful that his claims about her being a “refugee” who was “driven” out by Israel are true.

This apparent lie prompted kweansmom and me to dig a little deeper. After all, Zahr is not only a surrogate who might remain influential if Sanders becomes the Democrats’ presidential candidate or even wins the election, but his anti-Israel activism will arguably benefit in the long run from the visibility he now enjoys as a Sanders surrogate.

As is so often the case with anti-Israel activists, Zahr seems resolved not to let facts ruin his demonization of the world’s only Jewish state. So let’s try to find out how Zahr’s “palestinian mother” became a “refugee” who was “driven” out by Israel while retaining her Israeli citizenship.

Zahr repeats the claim that his mother and her family “were forced out of their homeland” in a Facebook post from February 2018 that includes a photo which, according to Zahr, was taken in “Akka, Palestine in the 1960s,” showing his mother as a child along with one of her sisters and a cousin.

In another post that Zahr wrote when his maternal grandmother passed away in December 2016, he shares some further details: “In 1965, Laila [Zahr’s grandmother], Muhammad [Laila’s husband, i.e. Zahr’s maternal grandfather], and their four daughters [incl. Zahr’s mother] embarked on a boat ride from Haifa to New York, then a bus ride from New York to California, where Muhammad planned to educate himself for two years and then return with his family to Palestine. In 1967, the Israeli state took the opportunity of this short absence to exile Laila, Muhammad, and their children from their ancestral homes. The six became refugees in California.”

Zahr seems to keep his story intentionally vague, but it is not particularly credible for several reasons. From what Zahr writes in this post about his grandmother, it is clear that she married in 1950, when she was just 16. However, it is reasonable to assume that the man she married was at least a few years older. If her husband was just 20 when they got married, he would have been 35 in 1965 – which, at the time, was considered middle-aged. It would have been rather unusual for a middle-aged man with a wife and four children to decide to uproot the whole family to travel half around the world just “to educate himself for two years.” Needless to say, it would also have required considerable financial resources.

But there is another, much more credible version of this story that was posted by Amer Zahr’s aunt, i.e. his mother’s sister (whom he had identified and tagged in the previously cited post from February 2018). In August 2015, Zahr’s aunt posted an old family photo and wrote: “August 8, 1965, fifty years ago, my father, Mohammad Jardali, and my mother, Leila Hawari Jardali, made a life changing decision to move the whole family to the U.S. I am amazed by my parents’ courageous and bold move which encouraged many from our home town in Acca, and family members from Nazareth to follow suit.”

There’s no denying that in 1965, it made a lot of sense for Israeli Arabs to emigrate to the US in search of a better life. Israel was still a fledgling state, surrounded by hostile neighbors bent on its destruction, and the assumption that the Arab minority would be sympathetic to efforts to eliminate the re-established Jewish state meant that until 1966, martial law was imposed on Israeli Arabs. But the perhaps most compelling reason to contemplate emigration was economic: when Israel was founded, its standard of living was just 30 percent of the US standard of living, and particularly in its first decade, the country was still reeling from the War of Independence and strained almost to the breaking point by the challenges of absorbing hundreds of thousands of destitute refugees from all over the Arab-Muslim Middle East.

Zahr proudly describes his grandfather Muhammad as “smart and industrious,” and obviously, his decision to emigrate turned out well: Muhammad “was able to find work and made a respectable and comfortable life for himself, Laila, and his four daughters.” And as we know from the post of Zahr’s aunt, this American success story “encouraged many” from Akko, as well as “family members from Nazareth to follow suit.”

Perhaps Zahr would like us to pity them all as “refugees” and blame Israel for their decision to emigrate to the US?

But it was interesting to find out that there was at least one member of Zahr’s family who apparently reconciled himself early on with Israel’s existence – even though his motivation might have been that he simply hated the Arab regimes more than the new Jewish state: meet Amer Zahr’s maternal great-grandfather Muhammad Nimr al-Hawari.

I chanced upon Muhammad Nimr al-Hawari when I noticed a comment on the post Zahr had written about his maternal grandmother in December 2016. Zahr mentioned that his grandmother Laila Muhammad Hawari was the daughter of “Muhammad … a well-known judge and lawyer in mandate and post-mandate Palestine, hailing from a well-known family in Nazareth.” A man named Faisal Saleh, who describes himself as “Founder and Executive Director of Palestine Museum US”, posted the following response [emphasis added]:

“Our deepest condolences to the Jardali and Hawari families for their loss. It is a small world but I have a connection, though by friendship not blood, to the Howari [Hawari] family. My father […] was best friends with Muhammad Hawari senior - the lawyer and judge - both of them were active members of the Najjadeh movement in pre-1948 Palestine. Muhammad was the commander and overall head of the organization headquartered in Yaffa and my father was the commander of the Salameh area (5 km East of Yaffa). After the 1948 Nakba, Muhammad returned to his native Nazareth choosing to live there rather [than] under the corrupt Arab regimes. […] Muhammad Hawari wrote a book called سر النكبة The Secret of Nakba covering the events and circumstances that lead to the loss of Palestine. A copy of the book was donated to the @palestine Museum US […]. The book, on exhibit at the Museum, was banned in most of the Arab countries.”

One might think that Zahr is bursting with pride that his great-grandfather was among the first to devote a whole book to the “nakba” – so wouldn’t it be a great idea for a committed anti-Israel activist like Zahr to translate the book and use it in his activism?

Well, maybe not. The fact that “The Secret of Nakba” was “banned in most of the Arab countries,” and even more the fact that its author preferred to live in Israel rather than “under the corrupt Arab regimes” indicates that Zahr’s great-grandfather blamed the plight of the Palestinians primarily on the Arab leadership. (See also e.g. here: “Hawari, whose writing is very emotional, concentrates his efforts and energy on attacking the corrupt Arab leadership, particularly the Mufti”.)

The biographical information on Muhammad Hawari’s that is available in English also suggests that he was a complex figure whose story might not go well with his great-grandson’s simplistic anti-Israel activism.

For Zahr, the perhaps most uncomfortable aspect of his great-grandfather’s remarkable story is that, due to his political pragmatism, he was regarded as a “collaborator” in some circles. A very interesting article entitled “The Intimate History of Collaboration – Arab Citizens and the State of Israel” discusses Hillel Cohen’s book “Good Arabs” and claims that Israeli officials admired Hawari’s “charisma” and sponsored him, hoping he would be able to establish a new anti-communist Arab party:

“In the higher echelons of collaborative politics, the state sponsored public figures such as Archbishop George Hakim as anti-communist leaders. Another sponsored anti-communist was Muhammad Nimr al-Hawari, founder before 1948 of the al-Najjada paramilitary brigades. Because al-Najjada participated in the fighting against the Zionist militias, but also because Hawari negotiated with Haganah to avoid fighting in Jaffa, by the end of the war he became a refugee in Lebanon. Admiring his charisma, Israeli intelligence decided to allow his return to Israel in 1950 as an alternative anti-communist leader. The idea was that Hawari would establish a new Arab popular party. Based on reports of collaborators from within Maki [Israeli Communist Party], Cohen covers the fascinating struggle between Hawari and the communist organization, which ended with the former’s defeat. When politics failed, Hawari became a judge in the municipal circuit court in Nazareth.”

As a judge and public figure, Hawari was apparently greatly respected: a 1969 photograph from Israel’s National Library shows him as one of the prominent members of a council that was established to investigate the devastating fire that was set by a mentally ill Australian tourist at the Al-Aqsa mosque.

If Amer Zahr wasn’t a bigoted anti-Israel activist, he could be very proud of his great-grandfather.

[…to be continued with a post exploring why Zahr was born in Jordan, even though his mother had emigrated from Israel to the US]

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