[News] Why was PA’s Canada envoy forced to resign over a tweet?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Oct 26 13:07:54 EDT 2011

Why was PA’s Canada envoy forced to resign over a tweet?

<http://electronicintifada.net/people/dana-olwan>Dana Olwan
25 October 2011

A video featuring a Palestinian girl reciting a 
poem was at the center of a diplomatic storm in Canada.

Electronic Intifada

On 17 October, the Canadian government subjected 
Linda Sobeh Ali, the chargé d’affaires of the 
Authority’s delegation in Ottawa, to what The 
Globe and Mail described as a “high-level 
dressing down” 
envoy is asked to leave Ottawa after controversial tweet,” 18 October 2011).

Ali’s transgression was her tweeting of a poetic 
recitation by a young Palestinian girl on YouTube 
poem of young Palestinian girl,” YouTube). 
Nationalistic in its rhetoric, the poem invites 
Palestinians and Arabs to work towards freedom, 
revolution and the liberation of Palestine.

Canadian government officials, under orders from 
Baird, the foreign minister, have deemed this 
poem offensive. They falsely claim it culminates 
with a call for “the death of Jews.”

The officials who alerted Baird to the poem 
relied on an English-subtitled version that 
mistranslated the final verse from a call to 
“extinguish the soul of a Zionist” to an 
invocation “to war that raze the injustice and 
oppression and destroy the Jews [sic]” 
turf Palestinian rep,” Toronto Sun, 18 October 
2011). This was the version tweeted by Ali and 
subsequently used as pretext for her dismissal 
from her capacity as representative of the Palestinian Authority in Ottawa.

The incident was set into motion when Baird was 
notified of the tweet by Shimon Fogel, chief 
executive officer of the Center for Israel and 
Jewish Affairs, a 
organization that actively works towards 
strengthening the 
relationship. Two weeks later, with the aid of 
Morris Rosenberg, Baird’s deputy minister, the 
Palestinian representative was brought in for a high-level “sit down.”

Unsatisfied with simply making his own ­ and by 
extension the federal government’s ­ opinions on 
Ali’s conduct known to her, Baird also involved 
the Canadian representative in the West Bank, 
Chris Greenshields, who then notified the 
Palestinian Authority in Ramallah of its dissatisfaction with Ali’s retweet.

Gleeful reporting in media

In an email sent by Chris Day, a spokesman for 
Baird, Ali was informed in no uncertain terms 
that her “serious transgression” has lead the 
Canadian government to “have taken the decision 
to limit communication with this official until a 
replacement is selected.” While the media is 
adamant to point out that Ottawa did not order 
Ali’s removal, the email circulated by Day 
amounted to a discharge, endorsed by the highest 
level of the Canadian government. Or, as The 
Ottawa Sun reported, “The federal government is 
sending the Palestinian representative to Canada packing.”

Linda Sobeh Ali has since shut down her Twitter 
account and, in response to pressures from the 
Canadian government, she has resigned and will be 
heading back to the West Bank or reassigned to a 
different location. Emotional, apologetic and 
regretful is how Ali is being represented to 
Canadians. She is sorry to have retweeted a poem 
she had not seen nor heard. She has no interest 
in spreading “hate” and she “regrets” the poem’s 
“controversial” and political content, she has 
told the media 
envoy apologizes for controversial retweet,” CBC 
News, 18 October 2011). The Palestinian Authority 
has asked her to submit her resignation because 
it has no wish to “offend” Ottawa.

But what exactly is Ali apologetic about? Why 
doesn’t the PA wish to take a stand against the 
Canadian government, a government that has 
repeatedly declared and acted upon its unwavering 
commitment to the Israeli state even in the face 
of illegal settlement expansion, continued land 
expropriation and theft, and mass population removal and displacement?

What part of the poem’s call for Palestinian 
liberation and struggle against Zionism offends 
the Canadian government’s sensibilities? Or does 
this recent attempt merely replicate the 
strategies used in the US to 
the expressions of Palestinian children who live 
under Israeli occupation and experience its 
transgressions on a daily basis? Does the Ottawa 
government take issue with the poem’s strong 
invocations against the settler-colonial project 
of Zionism? Perhaps this designation of Zionism 
as a settler-colonial project is too close for 
comfort for Baird, an important figurehead for 
the settler colonial state of Canada?

An undignified “recall”

Linda Sobhi Ali’s apology and the PA’s “recall” 
of its representative embolden the Canadian 
government’s lie that the poem spreads hate. This 
affair renders apparent the national and 
international politics of public shaming and 
deception being played out against Palestinian 
representation in Canada and by extension 
Palestinian Canadians and the Canadian public at large.

It lays bare how the Palestinian struggle against 
Zionism is being scripted as unjust, hateful, and 
deserving of state censorship and control. This 
latest act of surveillance and discipline needs 
to be understood as a national spectacle of 
racial, national, political and gendered significations.

Sexist stereotypes

Through her apology, Ali is painted as a weak 
female official, an inept representative of a 
loathed non-state entity, whose foolishness and 
recklessness cost her an important job. Relying 
on the tired gendered stereotypes of the 
hysterical, emotional and irrational woman, 
Miranda Stephenson described Ali to CTV as “very 
emotional, very regretful, [and] in tears at points.”

Compelled to disavow her tweet and distance 
herself from the political content and message of 
the poem, a humiliated Ali has said: “I am 
against hate. I am pro-peace. I’m a person who is 
advocating for the dialogue between Jews and 
Palestinians because that is the only way that 
will lead us to a just, lasting peace” 
envoy ‘regrets’ anti-Israel ‘retweet’,” Ottawa Citizen, 19 October 2011).

But these apologies, concessions and disavowals 
are insufficient for a federal government that 
has proven eager to stifle legitimate critique of 
Israel, punish Palestinian representation and 
demonize Palestinians and their allies in Canada. 
Because, like Shimon Fogel, this government 
ascribes to the politics of obfuscation and 
distortion that would have Canadians believe that 
there is no difference between a poem that calls 
for a struggle against Zionism and one that 
spreads anti-Semitism through calling for “a war 
 destroy[s] the Jews” 
official in Canada apologizes for offensive 
tweet,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, 19 October 2011).

Complicit media

What does this reprimand signify in broader 
political terms? It displays the Canadian 
government’s uncritical support for Israel and 
its allies in Canada. In this political climate, 
and in accordance with the new and 
all-encompassing definition of anti-Semitism 
provided by the federal government and signed by 
Baird, speaking out against Zionism and Israel is 
an act of racism 
becomes the first country to sign the Ottawa 
Protocol,” press release, Citizen and Immigration Canada, 19 September 2011).

Meanwhile, the Canadian public is encouraged to 
accept a mistranslation for a fact, showcasing, 
at best, a failure of journalistic integrity, and 
at worst, a willful act of public deception. 
Baird has fired a shot warning the Canadian 
public and the international community at large 
that this government will not tolerate opposition 
to Israel in any form. Expect Ali’s reprimand to 
be one of many pro-Israel performances in the 
year ahead by Canada’s Conservative government.

Dana Olwan is former National Chair of Solidarity 
for Palestinian Human Rights. She resides in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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