Israel Advocate Sparks Debate

Miranda Schumes

PIC_0418Gas chambers, dead bodies and the tired faces of Holocaust survivors flashed across the screen as 7-year-old Kasim Hafeez watched the Holocaust episode of the 1973 documentary series, “The World at War.” Just moments later Hafeez heard his father say, “If only Hitler had finished the job off.” His parents’ beliefs soon turned into his own.

Hafeez, 29, spoke at FAU’s Boca campus in the Live Oak Pavilion room A on Tuesday, Nov. 12. Hafeez discussed how his hatred for Jews and Israel transformed into respect, while attracting students with disagreeing beliefs regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict (see sidebar). The event was hosted by groups in support of Israel including Owls for Israel, Stand With Us, Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach, Christians United on Campus and Future Leaders of Israel. Hafeez is currently on the advisory board of Stand With Us, an organization devoted to pro-Israeli beliefs.

 When Hafeez began college at Nottingham Trent University, he joined a group driven by nonviolence and “extreme, radical Islamic ideology,” he told the UP in an exclusive interview. Becoming very active in the anti-Israel movement, Hafeez’s group handed out leaflets against Israel and started debates in seminars referring to Israel as a genocidal state.

“When I was at university a big key to what we did was intimidation,” Hafeez said. “When people didn’t speak up [against our group]… we’d see it as a victory.”

While Hafeez now sees those actions as wrong, Nadine Aly, the former president of Students for Justice in Palestine—an FAU chapter of a national group supporting Palestine—does not view starting debates, posting mock eviction notices and building replicated apartheid walls as an “intimidation factor.” Aly is no longer the president of SJP after being placed probation for protesting during an Owls for Israel event.

“I don’t think it’s intimidation. I think that if we don’t raise awareness about this on campus then the next leaders of the world will be ignorant,” Aly said.

Co-president of Owls for Israel Rayna Exelbierd does not believe that groups like SJP help the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

“All they do is promote hate of Israel instead of Palestinian culture or topics,” Exelbierd said. “It doesn’t strengthen their cause.”

In 2006, after years of supporting the anti-Israel group and attending rallies against the state, Hafeez began to ask himself, “What am I actually achieving?”

Hafeez thought that violence was the only way to get his anti-Israeli beliefs across and to “bring about the destruction of Israel.” With a newfound determination, Hafeez decided that it was time to go to Pakistan to join an Islamic terrorist group and fight.

While Aly is a supporter of Palestine, she does not believe “in using violence to combat other violence.”

 “I don’t think that joining any type of terrorist group is ever acceptable,” Aly said.

For Hafeez, one trip to the bookstore changed his fate completely. Hafeez came across a book that criticized common accusations and myths about Israel. The book was called, “The Case for Israel” by Alan Dershowitz. Feeling that he was already an expert on the conflict in the Middle East, Hafeez bought the book in hope of refuting it.

“I thought in the spirit of liberating the world and stroking my own ego, I’ll buy this book,” Hafeez said. “I’ll be able to disprove it as Zionist propaganda and victory for me.”

 After reading the book, Hafeez continued to research the state of Israel. Finally, Hafeez decided that he needed “closure” and that the only way to form a concrete opinion on Israel was to go there. Hafeez booked a flight to Israel and found a place unlike the one he had imagined in his head.

Hafeez spent the next two weeks in Israel speaking to Muslims, Jews and Christians. After his experience in Israel he now identifies as a Zionist—a supporter of the protection of a Jewish nation.

Senior dual history and psychology major Mohammed Ahmad does not view Israel as a democratic state and believes that “Zionism is a racist, political ideology that is just a front to support the genocide and theft of land that isn’t theirs.”

While in Israel, Hafeez began to think, “I’m in a democracy. I’m in a place where people have the freedom to worship as they choose. People have the freedom to be different.”

Senior dual political science and history major Alexander Bambula enjoyed hearing Hafeez’s story, but felt that it didn’t include enough factual information about the Israel-Palestine conflict.

“I also thought it was mostly for a PR campaign or an image,” Bambula said. “It wasn’t really raising awareness as opposed to enlightening the audience onto his anecdotal evidence of his own personal beliefs.”

In contrast to Bambula, Ahmad did not believe Hafeez’s story and thought that it was fabricated.

“It was way too over the top the details were way too memorized,” Ahmad said. “I don’t think that it was to the extreme that it was. At the same time I don’t believe that he was a radical Muslim before he became a radical pro-Israeli.”

Business administration graduate student Eric Dansky thought that Hafeez spread a powerful message.

“I think it was good to finally have some truth told about someone that’s experienced both sides of the table,” Dansky said.

After the event, Ahmad was approached by David Modlin, a volunteer for Stand With Us who told him, “Learn your facts before you speak.”

“Had he come without leading with that statement, it would’ve been a nice debate back and forth, but that’s a really condescending thing to say, especially when you have two people with conflicting opinions,” Ahmad said.

Tahli Hanuka, an East coast representative of Stand With Israel, saw the debate and said, “You’re never going to convince them. They’re never going to convince you.”

Sara Rafeal, the director of Stand With Us Southeast thought that it was important to hear the voice of students that support Palestine.

“I heard them. I didn’t agree with them, but I heard them and I’m glad that [the students] were here and behaved appropriately,” Rafeal said.

Because of his beliefs, Hafeez no longer has contact with his own mother or father. The relationships have been demolished because of conflicting beliefs — like the beliefs that have divided the pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups on campus. But as opinions go back and forth between the students Hafeez hopes that one message is heard:

“Hatred is a poison and if you don’t tackle hatred it gets stronger.”

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Conflict in Israel

1897: The Zionist Organization (a group that promoted the creation of Israel as a Jewish state) held the First Zionist Congress on Aug. 31 in Basel, Switzerland. The group began to seek political support for the creation of a future state from European governments. At that time, Jewish immigrants began to arrive in present day Israel. 1948: Israel became an independent state on May 14 — following the withdrawal of the British army. According to the New York Times, Israel’s first Prime Minister Ben-Gurion stood in the Tel Aviv Art Museum and said, “We hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine, to be called Israel.”

1967: The six day war was fought by Israel and surrounding states Egypt, Syria and Jordan. During this war, Israel gained land. The war was fought between June 5-10.

2004: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Israel’s construction of the West Bank barrier surrounding East Jerusalem “deprived” Palestinians of “self-determination.”

2013: Today many countries recognize Palestine as a state. Despite this, Palestine must be admitted into the United Nations to officially be considered a state. FAU groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Owls for Israel continue to debate the Israel-Palestine conflict.