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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