Kasim Hafeez, born and raised in the United Kingdom, is a Pakistani Muslim who grew up in an anti-Semitic family and community. However, research and a trip to Israel changed his perspective and he now considers himself a Zionist. He is the second former Islam member whom has become a Zionist and receive coverage in Guardian Liberty Voice.
Hafeez reports that his father especially was “very blatant and direct” about his hatred of Jews and Israel. In an interview before the recent Hamas-Israel war exposed latent anti-Semitism around the world, Hafeez said that, against all he was exposed to in his life, he nevertheless became a Zionist simply by looking into the facts and seeing what life in Israel is really like.
While a student at university, Hafeez not only campaigned against Israel but said he was prepared to die if he could help “free Palestine” and wipe Israel off the map. An untruth he says he had been told since a young age was that “the Jews came from Europe, stole the land [from Arabs] and voila – Israel.”
Hafeez’ path to Zionism began when he felt a need to formulate logical arguments against Israel by directly attacking what he believed was “Zionist propaganda.” With a critical eye, he read one of the seminal works about the country, The Case for Israel, by American jurist and political commentator, Alan Dershowitz. A self-described expert in the anti-Zionist narrative, Hafeez believed that, in reading the book, he would “be able to disprove it because Israel has no case.”
However, he soon learned–despite his studies–some of the most basic facts about Israel and Jews had never been told to him. One of the most basic, he said, “was a Palestinian state has never existed.” In fact, the Palestine Liberation Organization declared the independence of Palestine in 1988, claiming its sovereignty over the Palestinian territories. The State of Palestine was granted observer status by the United Nations in 2012.
Hafeez’ odyssey continued when, two years later, he visited Israel. Passport Control at Ben Gurion Airport detained him for eight hours after he honestly replied to the question of the purpose of his visit. He told airport security in Tel Aviv that he used to be anti-Semitic, but that now “I’m not quite sure so I thought I’d come and see what it’s like.” He said his detention showed him “unique secutiry situation” Israel is faced with. He admitted that “people from my background … have an awful tendency of blowing stuff up in Israel.”
Kasim Hafeez said he nevertheless felt respected by the airport security agent, who was apologetic and repeatedly offered coffee. This was in marked contrast, he said, to his visit to Saudi Arabia four years earlier, where he said racism was blatant.
Counter to all he had been told, Hafeez was surprised again upon his arrival in Jerusalem, where he encountered a diverse mix of ethnic and religious groups. Despite Jews being the majority in Israel, it is not exclusively Jewish. In 2011, 75 percent of Israel’s population of 7.5 million humans was Jewish, 21 percent Arab, and four percent others. As for religions, approximately seventeen percent of Israelis were Muslim, two percent Christian and another two percent Druze. A crazy mix of people,” he said, remarking further about public signage being in Hebrew, English, and Arabic. This “straight away blows away that idea of apartheid and racism” in Israel.
Wanting to understand what it was really like for Arabs living in Israel, he remarked to those he met how difficult it must be. They looked at him, he said, “like you’re mentally ill.” Especially impactful to Hafeez were conversations he had with a certain people who have traditionally been persecuted throughout the Middle East, Druze. To his surprise he was told of their love for living in Israel and how their sons were enlisted in Israel Defense Forces. All of this, he said, conspired toward his realization that he was experiencing “the real Israel,” the one not seen in Western mainstream media.
Regarding the Islamic culture of his birth, Hafeez said that the widespread notion that Jews have long conspired on a global basis to destroy Islam and also take over the entire world “is kind of ingrained.” He said that the anti-Israel cause has almost become cool so nobody wants to break from the pack “and be seen as an outsider.” For himself, admitting he was wrong was very difficult.
Perhaps, due to his own experiences, Hafeez believes he is not the only Islam member who can have an epiphany about the Jewish people and Israel. He believes Muslims and Islamists need to honestly answer whether the “irrational hatred over a group of myths” is truly worth dying for. The question of whether peace is something they truly desired needs to be honestly answered, he said.
By Gregory Baskin