Born and educated in Great Britain, Kasim Hafeez, 28, is Muslim. Since visiting Israel in 2007, he has been speaking out against the anti-Semitism he says he was taught in his community.
He lives today in Nottingham, England, and works in the admissions department of a local college.
Hafeez was in New York recently after a weeklong speaking tour of the United States at the behest of StandWithUs, an 11-year-old organization that educates about Israel through social media, speakers and programs worldwide.
Q: You have said that the Muslim community in Britain taught you to actively promote the destruction of Israel. Why do you think they did that?
A: There is an underlying paranoia when it comes to the Jews and Israel. There is an idea that the Jews are trying to control the world. When it comes to Israel, there is a skewed narrative — that European Jews are alien to the region and came to Palestine, stole the land and murdered the indigenous population.
Is it that they just don’t want a Jewish state in their midst or that they don’t want Jews to live anyplace in the world?
When I was younger they said they didn’t want the Jewish state in their midst. As I have gotten older, they now say Israel is the starting point — once Israel disappears, the Jews have no shield to protect them.
The word “Jew” is actually a dirty word to them, is it not?
Many people use the word as an insult; I hear it quite regularly. I will be in a store and there will be a group of people and you will hear someone say, “Stop being a Jew,” or “You’re a Jew.” It’s quite disturbing and has started to spill out into the wider community.
Did you hear this kind of talk at home?
It wasn’t as blatant, but my dad was particularly anti-Semitic. He would say Hitler was a brilliant man whose only mistake was that he didn’t kill enough Jews. He was the only person who went to that extreme in my family.
What was your family’s reaction to your renunciation of those beliefs since your return from Israel?
It’s been quite mixed. I don’t have anything to do with my father anymore. He said, “If this is what you believe, then we can’t have anything to do with each other.”
You say you stumbled across Alan Dershowitz’s book, “The Case for Israel,” and bought it almost as a lark, planning to pick apart its propaganda piece by piece.
Yes, but he put forward the argument that a Palestinian state never existed, that there has always been a Jewish presence in the Holy Land for thousands of years and that although the Jewish Agency in 1948 accepted the partition of the land, it was the Arabs who went to war. That was not even close to what I believed was the truth.
Was there an epiphany moment in Israel for you, a moment when you suddenly realized all that you had been taught was a lie?
It was at the Western Wall because on my way I had seen this crazy tapestry of Israeli society — Christians, Jews, Muslims, Druze — just going about their day-to-day life, which is something I wasn’t expecting. Druze have traditionally been persecuted in the Middle East.
Do you believe in a Palestinian state?
The two-state solution is the internationally accepted formula for peace in the Middle East and … I believe it is the most viable.
But before we even talk about a Palestinian state we need to talk about the charters of Hamas and Fatah calling for Israel’s eradication and the hate education being used to poison children’s minds.
Do you believe Israel discriminates against its Arab citizens?
As with any society, discrimination may exist from individuals; the Israeli government regularly takes steps to stamp this out.
What about Israeli policy in the West Bank?
I think Israeli policy is far from ideal [but] … there are security concerns. … We are constantly fed this idea that settlements are the biggest impediment to peace, which frankly is not true. … I guess the ultimate hope for many is that Israel will leave the West Bank to aid the creation of Palestine. But after seeing what happened in Gaza, would you be in a hurry to leave?