Dear Harry Yorke,
Thank you for your questions. Before responding, I would like to make some points, which will also be posted up as an open letter on our website.
If you take a cursory look at the Palestine Expo Schedule, you will see a list of speakers who span an international remit. Our speakers are Palestinian and Israeli; Jewish, Muslim, Christian and atheist, amongst others. Our programme is diverse and covers a range of speakers, opinions, experiences and view-points. This reflects our intention to ensure that Palestine Expo marks every aspect of Palestinian life, while being relevant for a British audience.
The scheduled programme is a remarkable feat – our small organisation has drawn in support from dozens of national and international organisations and individuals, and thousands are expected to attend. We challenge you to show that any event intended to celebrate Israel has achieved a similar diversity of speakers.
Your immediate focus on our Muslim speakers belies your pre-conceived (and I dare say Islamophobic) ideas about Muslims and extremism. Every speaker has a strong view point, and each has a legitimate right to put this forward despite their religious convictions. Your clear pre-occupation with our Muslim speakers (being the only 2 you name in your questions) clearly suggests that you have already taken a position which is one-sided and bias towards Israel, a state which has been illegally occupying Palestinian land for 50 years.
Israel’s oppressive treatment of Palestinians has not escaped this event, as a key Palestinian artist has been denied the right to travel to join us. We will sadly miss Hamde Abu Rahma at Palestine Expo.
However, instead of celebrating the remarkably diverse nature of this event, the diversity in speakers and the programme, you choose to focus on 2 speakers who you no doubt intend to slander in order to bring the entire event into disrepute. This is saddening, but not surprising for Muslims in the UK today. Our event is a real celebration of the diversity of communities which support Palestine and it will enhance community cohesion in a way that your questions and eventual article only appear keen to undermine.
In response to your specific questions:
– Is the Friends of Al-Aqsa aware that Shaykh Ebrahim Bham has previously referred to Jews as “fleas”, condemned homosexuality as “evil” and refused to condemn suicide bombing?
Shaykh Bham has never referred to Jews as fleas and we refer to our press release here which refutes this false and clearly malicious suggestion made by the Jewish Chronicle, in an apparent attempt to undermine Palestine Expo.
– If FOA was aware of his previous comments, why was the decision made to invite him to speak at the Expo?
– Is FOA aware that Tariq Ramadan previously claimed in 2014 that two of the four victims killed at the Jewish Museum of Brussels were “Israeli agents”? He has also defended the practice of FGM “as part of our [Islamic] tradition.
We have no idea about either of these allegations.
– Again, if FOA was aware of Mr Ramadan’s previous comments, why was the decision made to invite him to this year’s event.
Prof. Ramadan is a globally renowned eminent scholar and we are pleased that he will be appearing at Palestine Expo.
– Does FOA believe that some speakers invited to speak at this year’s event have previously made remarks that may have been conceived as anti-Semitic, or appear to defend the use of violence. How do you justify offering a platform for such views?
Please elaborate on who these speakers are and what the comments are, and the context in which they were allegedly made.
In our general experience, anyone critical of the state of Israel and Israeli policies of occupation and repression of the Palestinian people will inevitably lead to false claims of anti-Semitism. We will not allow such brow-beating to undermine our work in championing the human rights of Palestinian people.
– The decision to allow your event to proceed has been criticised by MPs, military leaders and members of the House of Lords. They allege in a letter passed to The Telegraph that your event will provide a platform to extremists and should be cancelled. Concerns have also been expressed that this event will, because of the previously expressed views of some of the speakers, damage community cohesion and are calling for the event to be cancelled. What is your response to this?
Our event is supported by numerous national organisations, Members of Parliament and House of Lord Peers across parties and faith groups. We do not have to produce an open letter, as their support of Palestine Expo is evidence enough.
The accusations that this event is a platform for extremists is a clear attempt to undermine the event by those who do not wish to see or hear a Palestinian narrative emerge which reflects the sheer inhumanity of the occupation. I look forward to seeing the signatories to the letter you refer to, and to seeing how many of those who support that letter can be termed extremists. Since this event has been advertised, numerous previously unheard of groups and individuals have come out to condemn it, each extreme in their own right.
There will be no damage to community cohesion from Palestine Expo, as our speakers are from across communities. However, we believe such accusations are being made to undermine the event, and cast doubt on its legitimacy.
The only damage will be to those who seek to promote an uncritical pro-Israel narrative, and for this we make no apology.