Last year, I accompanied a group of journalists on a study tour of Israel and the West Bank. One of our engagements was a meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian spokeswoman and founder of the organisation Miftah, Hanan Ashrawi.
Speaking of democracy, freedom and women’s rights, the polished PLO Executive Committee member had the group on a string, so much so that some members even requested a “selfie” at the end of the meeting, wanting to be photographed with such an inspiring figure.
Of course, this Ashrawi that the Western media celebrates as the face of Palestinian moderation is not the whole picture. Her public statements are often contradicted by her actions and pronouncements, or those of Miftah.
The most recent example is her rejection of Israel as a Jewish state on the enlightened basis that she rejects religion-based states on the whole, telling CNN in late December that “I don’t recognize Islamic states, Christian states, Jewish states. A state is a state for all its citizens”. That sounds lovely. However the Palestinian Authority’s own constitution says that “Islam is the official religion in Palestine” and that “The principles of Islamic sharia shall be the main source of legislation.” When pressed by JNS.org for clarification on this point, according to the news source:
Ashrawi responded that Islam was made the official religion of “Palestine” only “for technical reasons-holidays, contractual issues, etc.” She also asserted that the PA constitution “states that Islam is the official religion IN Palestine, which is quite different from saying that Palestine is an Islamic state.” Ashrawi added that while Islamic sharia law is “the main source” of legislation for the PA, it is “not THE source of legislation.”
Semantics can be a confusing thing. But let’s give Ashrawi the benefit of the doubt – even though Israel is a “Jewish” state in terms of holidays and cultural expression, and an inspiration for legislation in exactly the way she say Palestine is “Islamic”. She says she rejects Islamic states too. But let’s have a look at who funds her organisation? Also according to JNS.org, one of the largest donors is the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development, an arm of the Arab League. Every one of the League’s 22 nations bar one states in its constitution that Islam is the official religion. These include Saudi Arabia, an Islamic theocracy that requires its citizens by law to be Muslim. But, according to Ashrawi, “If Arab states declare an official religion it doesn’t mean that they set up religious states or exclusive systems”. See Saudi Arabia example above.
We want to believe Ashrawi. But it’s really hard when there are many more examples of her hypocrisy on the public record.
During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, she rejected any truth to Hamas rockets being found in UN schools in Gaza while speaking to ABC Radio, even though the UN itself had put out two press releases confirming the fact.
A year earlier in 2013, Ashrawi’s organisation Miftah published an article by a Jordanian writer repeating the odious blood libel, that Jews use Christian blood to bake matzah on Passover. When outed by pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon, Miftah claimed to be the victim of a smear campaign against both it and Ashrawi, and said it had been wrongly accused of promoting the libel. Subsequently, Miftah’s tune changed again and it apologised for publishing the article, blaming a “junior staff member”. Elder of Ziyon also reported in 2013 that an article on Miftah’s website not only failed to condemn female suicide bombers but described them with a “clear romanticism”. Further examples of Ashrawi being an apologist for terrorism against Israelis can be found here.
In 2012, American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said Ashrawi had earned a “gold medal for historical revisionism” for claiming that close to a million Jewish refugees from Arab lands had actually emigrated voluntarily and were not refugees at all. Harris declared that Ashrawi “is to truth what smoking is to health” and correctly declared that Palestinian leaders seeking to rewrite history pushes the prospect of a two-state outcome further away. While we’re on the topic of Jewish history, Miftah has also claimed Jews have no connection to the Temple Mount.
It would seem that for all her charm and fluency in English, Hanan Ashrawi is just another extremist, intransigent Palestinian leader looking for any excuse to reject Israel’s existence.