On Tuesday, October 8, the 2013 Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award was presented in Geneva, Switzerland to someone other than an Egyptian woman who repeatedly vilified and glorified violence against Israel.
Yes, things are so bad it is newsworthy when a promoter of human rights abuses against the Jewish state was not voted by the leading global human rights organizations as the top human rights defender in 2013.
But although Egyptian social media activist Mona Seif was not chosen as this year’s award recipient, it is barely less astounding that she was chosen as a nominee, and then again as one of the three finalists for what is known as the “Nobel Prize for Human Rights” in spite of her very public advocacy of terrorist and wanton destruction against the Jewish State.
Friday morning and then again on Monday, the day before the award was presented, The Jewish Press spoke with the (non-voting) chair of the Martin Ennals Human Rights Award jury, Hans Thoolen, in an effort to understand how Mona Seif could be considered a credible nominee.
The Jewish Press first covered this story back in May when we learned that Seif had been nominated for the award because of her social media activism in countering the Mubarak regime’s repressive actions and in mobilizing protesters and supporters of the Egyptian Revolution in Tahrir Square during the winter of 2010 – 11.
But it was her use of that same social media to threaten and to glorify attacks against Israel that led at least some human rights advocates – those who also support the right of the Jewish State to defend itself – to question Seif’s nomination.
True, Seif organized and activated an important Egyptian grassroots organization which opposed former Egyptian President Hosnai Mubarak’s use of military trials for civilians through her masterful use of social media. She tweeted out messages warning of oppressive moves by the former Egyptian government, and helped mobilize protesters and supporters of Tahrir Square’s Egyptian Revolution during the winter of 2010-2011. That takes bravery, especially given the alarmingly violent misogyny in Egypt, particularly amongst the young revolutionaries.
But, as was pointed out when Seif’s nomination was first announced, there is a darker side to her social media activity. People who think that the Jewish state is entitled to self-defense and security in the face of decades of existential terrorism find that side utterly inconsistent with the fundamental precepts of the Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award.
Seif’s Twitter account revealed a propensity to express the most vulgar kind of hatred towards Israel, both in terms of how she expresses herself, “#F[expletive deleted]Israel” being a popular choice, as well as the substance of her messages, which advocate terrorism against the Jewish State and which harshly criticized Human Rights organizations that dared to suggest the terrorist group Hamas should refrain from killing Israeli civilians.
Last week Alana Goodman in the Washington Free Beacon reported that additional messages advocating violence against Jews and Israel had been sent out via Twitter by Seif. Here is a translation from the Arabic of the most egregious:
Palestine is my way, and I am full of determination and will. I will draw my blood in the West Bank, I will fight to my death in Gaza, I will support by people in Bethlehem and I will achieve martyrdom in Jerusalem.
How is it possible that the Martin Ennals Foundation considered holding up to the world as a global role model “defender of human rights” someone who published such a message of murderous hatred and hopes to participate in murder? That was just one of the questions put to Mr. Thoolen.
Some cynics suggested that of course such a double standard exists, killing, torture and demonization is only wrong – in the eyes of the global human rights community – when it is about anyone other than Israelis: Jews from the Jewish state. We hoped the cynics would not be proven right.
We were wrong.
Thoolen was kind enough to spend a good deal of time explaining why twitter remarks such as the ones sent out by Seif simply could not be the basis for disqualifying a nominee whose bravery on behalf of Egyptian rights qualified her to be nominated.
He made two points.
One, tweets constitute a different level of expression than, say, university talks or published articles, because they are more spontaneous, and therefore should be subject to a lower level of scrutiny.
Second, and this illuminates the darker problem, Thoolen matter of factly, and repeatedly, justified some of Seif’s rhetoric with the chilling words: “the right of resistance under occupation is very much a subject of international dispute.”
In other words, to those who believe the worst lies about Israel — think Jenin massacre, Mohammed al Dura, Gaza as an open air prison, Israelis detaining Arab Palestinians in order to harvest their organs — visions of which are so often the internal movies constantly looping behind the eyelids of people who talk about “occupation,” Israelis really kind of get what they deserve, don’t you think? And be sure to whisper that with a blended European accent.
Thoolen addressed what he called “an attack” on the “courageous human rights defender” in his blog when concerns were first raised about Seif last May. He was then critical only about “the vitriolic” UN Watch, which first brought Seif’s hatred of Israel and support for violence to public attention.
But how would he explain the latest tweet, the one about achieving martyrdom in Jerusalem? Thoolen was comfortable with that one also. He said the words are not Seif’s own, but are from a song popularized by supporters of an Egyptian soccer team who achieved heroic status as the result of a horrific riot in which tens of Egyptians died, allegedly at the hands of the Egyptian military police.
Thoolen described Seif’s tweeting out the words to the Ultras’ theme song as a kind of “poetic language” for which she really should not be held accountable. Glorifying the brutal murder of innocent Jews as the natural expression of anger about Egyptian military oppression is not surprising or unacceptable even for the most public of global human rights experts.
There was one big concession, if one wishes to see it this way, repeatedly hinted at by Thoolen. This is that after the announcement of this year’s winner, the jury members may then take up the matter of whether its internal procedures need to be adjusted to take into consideration whether and how to weigh comments made by an award contender when using social media.
But how big a concession is that when obviously the jury considers social media activity? After all, that’s how Seif was nominated in the first place.
There were two other finalists for the 2013 Martin Ennals Human Rights Defender Award.
The Joint Mobile Group was created by Igor Kalyapin to reduce the risk of sending investigators on short missions into Chechnya to document Human Rights abuses including disappearances, torture in custody and extra-judicial executions. The other finalist, Mario Joseph, is considered one of Haiti’s most important human rights lawyers. Joseph has worked on some of the most important cases in Haiti, including the current case against the former dictator Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier.
The panel of human rights organizations which selected Seif as an appropriate nominee are among the top ten human rights organizations in the world, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Human Rights First, World Organization Against Torture, International Commission of Jurists and the International Service for Human Rights.
The winner of this year’s award is the Joint Mobile Group, created and represented by Igor Kalyapin. But Seif’s very public approval of violence and terrorism against Israel was not even a consideration about whether the human rights community should hold her up as a global model of human rights advocacy.
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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