WINNIPEG, CA– Growing up in a predominantly Muslim community, Kasim Hafeez, 28, encountered a great deal of antisemitic and anti-Israel sentiment, be it among friends, at mosque, or on the street. For a time, this sentiment only increased over the years.
Last Monday Hafeez, a British Muslim of Pakistani origin, told a soldout lecture at the JCC Berney Theatre about why he came to completely change his opinion concerning Israel and Jews.
Raised in an antisemitic environment, Hafeez found himself hating Jews and Israel by the time he was a teenager.
“Can you imagine being taught to hate a nation…that its destruction and the slaughter of its people is legitimate, indeed, vital for peace in the region?” asked Hafeez. “That’s what I was taught and many others are taught the same.”
Hafeez recalled that, when he was growing up, his father’s blatant antisemitism and adoration of Hitler’s killing of Jews had a strong impact on him. As well, his uncle read the Al-Imam, an Iranian government propaganda magazine published in London, which contains antisemitic language.
“Although my family is by no means radical extremist, there was always this undertone of antisemitism – that Jews were responsible for many of the world’s ills…indeed, controlled the world,” said Hafeez.
On top of this, Hafeez was regularly inundated with an endless stream of propaganda material and videos from Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, showing graphic images, blaming Israel and Jews for the slaughter of innocent Muslims.
“You become brainwashed without even realizing it,” said Hafeez. “When you’re receiving all these messages saying the same thing with nothing to counter it, the lie becomes the truth.”
All of this led to Hafeez to become consumed with ideas of Jihad and war, and filled with hatred of anyone who disagreed with his belief.
When Hafeez bought the Alan Dershowitz book, The Case for Israel, everything changed.
“I purchased it thinking it was Zionist propaganda,” he said. “But, I found myself confronted with facts I couldn’t find answers for, making me gradually question all I’d heard and come to believe over the years. This led me to become quite depressed and isolated. When I’d ask friends about points raised in the book, they dismissed it as ‘Jews wanting to confuse you.’”
Hafeez began doing his own research about Israel, and ultimately decided to visit the country himself.
In 2007, he did just that. “Thus began my love affair with an amazing nation,” said Hafeez. “Through this and my meetings with Jews (I personally knew none until then), I was touched by their warmth, friendship, and openness. Israel is a democracy under siege. Its values and its treatment of homosexuals and religious minorities is something alien to the region.”
On his return home, Hafeez was determined to support Israel, noting, “If I can stop one person hating like I did, then I’ve achieved something.”
Today, Hafeez is a self-described Muslim who has found an appreciation for Sufi Islam.
“For me, it’s important to be a good person, treat others how you wish to be treated, and make a change for the better,” said Hafeez. “This is why I admire Jewish concepts like Tikun Olam.
“It worries me when I see Muslim clerics shake hands with rabbis and priests, and then preach hatred to their congregations.
“If interfaith is to work, it must be frank and honest. We must confront taboo issues, like Muslims’ attitudes regarding Israel. The Muslim world has been very quick to blame others. We must look at ourselves and ask some very hard questions.”
Hafeez, who has travelled in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, said he “felt more at home in Israel than anywhere else. I’m proud to call myself a Zionist.
“Sadly Israel’s narrative has become so skewed in the West. It’s essential that we take the lead in getting out the truth about Israel.
“I’m saddened to see extremism in the Muslim community rising and, with it, the vilification of Jews and Israel. Muslims must accept Israel and talk of wiping it off the map must be rejected as absurd. We have to accept the right to Jewish sovereignty in their ancient homeland. We couldn’t imagine Mecca in non-Muslim hands.
“I ask that Jewish people not judge all Muslims by the actions of extremists. In Israel, Muslims and Jews live side by side. Muslims serve in the IDF and all facets of society.
“I hope we can work together for our communities and countries to create a world we can be proud for future generations to inherit. It takes small drops to make a river.
“We must send the message that if we stand for peace, freedom and democracy, we stand with Israel. These are human ideals that transcend all bounds of race or religion.”