Egypt activist Mona Seif, nominated for Geneva human rights prize, hits back at Zionist smear campaign

Mona Seif, the Egyptian co-founder of the No To Military Trials for Civilians Group, is one of three final nominees for the Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

Her outspoken support for Palestine has, however, made her the target of a smear campaign by the right-wing Zionist group UN Watch, the Geneva-based affiliate of the American Jewish Committee.

The winner of the Martin Ennals award, jointly given with the City of Geneva each year, is decided by a jury consisting of ten leading human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

The citation for Seif lauds her work before, during and after the 2011 uprising that led to the overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Here is an excerpt:

In 2010, Mona’s human rights work intensified as she participated in protests against police brutality and torture following the death of Khaled Saeed in police custody. In 2011, during the protests that eventually brought down the Mubarak regime, Mona attracted international attention as she took to social media and provided reporting on the events directly from Tahrir square where she and her family spent ten days protesting. As she said “Using Twitter, using social networks, and with my phone, working on cases of military detentions, tribunals and torture - this has become my own space. I’ve found my own way of being part of all of this now.”

Mona is one of the core founders of the No To Military Trials for Civilians Group, a grassroots initiative which is trying to end to military trials for civilians. Since February 25, 2011, Mona has brought together activists, lawyers, victims’ families and local stakeholders and has staged a nationwide movement against military trials.

Seif, as the citation also notes, “was raised in a family of human rights defenders. Her father Ahmed Seif El Islam is a respected Human Rights Lawyer who spent five years in prison under the Mubarak regime. In 2011 her brother Alaa faced military trial, but refused to cooperate until his case was transferred from a military trial to a civilian one.”

Attack by UN Watch

On 30 April, UN Watch, which attempts to eradicate discussion or criticism of Israel’s human rights crimes from all UN forums, published an attack on Seif, calling on the Martin Ennals Human Rights Award jury:

to cancel its nomination of Mona Seif, an Egyptian activist who openly advocates terrorism and war crimes, as a top contender for the 2013 prize. She openly incites to violence against civilians, terrorism and war crimes.

The evidence for these grave charges? Six tweets Seif made between May and August 2011 lauding protests at the Israeli embassy in Cairo, including the scaling of the building housing it by an activist who came to be known as “Flagman.”

UN Watch also attacked Seif for tweets applauding the sabotage of the Egypt-Israel gas pipeline and for several tweets during last November’s Israeli attack on Gaza which killed 174 Palestinians, the vast majority noncombatants and 33 of them children.

During the Israeli attack Seif openly supported the right of Palestinians to use military force in response to the Israeli air attacks, and objected to Amnesty International’s call for an international arms embargo on both sides as an attack on the right to resist:

Seif clearly supported the right to resist in principle and ridiculed the notion of equating “both sides” when one side is under occupation. She objected to the tendency to characterize all Palestinian resistance as attacks on “civilians” when Palestinians also attempted to target Israeli military sites (although many unguided rockets were fired toward Israeli cities) and four Israeli noncombatants were killed in such attacks.

UN Watch defends violence against civilians

Ironically, while UN Watch twists Seif’s words to smear her as a supporter of “terrorism,” the Zionist group itself has frequently justified and defended violence against civilians by Israel with absolutely no regard for the victims or their rights. Here are just a few of numerous examples.

On 2 June 2010, three days after Israeli commandos murdered nine unarmed civilians aboard the Mavi Marmara in international waters, UN Watch Executive Director Hillel Neuer justified the lethal attack on what his organization termed the “terror flotilla” based on chants some passengers aboard the flotilla had allegedly been heard making.

Neuer claimed, without evidence, that the Turkish humanitarian organization IHH that helped organize the flotilla was a “radical group” with “extensive and documented ties to terrorist groups.”

Neuer has never revised nor apologized for his justifications for Israeli violence against the flotilla even after the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Inquiry, that many criticized as biased toward Israel, found that many of the unarmed victims had been executed by the Israeli soldiers. The official report described the killings of the nine passengers including an American teenager:

Furkan Doğan received five gunshot wounds in the back of his head, nose, left leg, left ankle and in the back, all from close range. A citizen of the United States, Mr. Doğan was a 19-year-old high school student with ambitions of becoming a medical doctor. Mr. Doğan’s motionless, wounded body was kicked and shot upon, execution-style by two Israeli soldiers.

The official report also concluded that “No evidence has been provided to establish that any of the deceased were armed with lethal weapons.”

While UN Watch claims to be assiduous in defending the rights of civilians, it has opposed every effort to investigate Israeli attacks on Palestinian and Lebanese civilians and to hold their authors accountable. It has been a leading voice against the UN commissioned inquiry headed by Judge Richard Goldstone into Israel’s 2008-2009 “Operation Cast Lead” attack on Gaza which left more than 1,400 persons dead, the vast majority noncombatant civilians, and thousands more maimed and wounded.

UN Watch has also promoted bizarre conspiracy theories that prominent financier and philanthropist George Soros was actually behind the Goldstone report.

UN Watch forcefully criticized a recent UN Human Rights Council report into Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land, which are universally condemned as violating international law. According to Neuer, the report was “categorically one-sided, casting Palestinians as the sole victims of the Arab-Israeli conflict, while denying the slightest consideration to any basic human rights for Israelis.”

Last January, Israel boycotted its mandatory periodic UN Human Rights Council review of its record, the first time any country had ever done so. UN Watch was there to defend Israel’s unprecedented refusal to cooperate with a review that all countries go through and denounced the UN Human Rights Council as “a jury of brigands.”

It would seem that for Neuer and his outfit, judging from their years-long record, it is a basic human right for Israelis to kill Palestinian civilians, steal their land, build Jewish-only settlements on it, violently suppress any form of resistance military or otherwise by any means, blockade civilian populations denying them the most fundamental rights, and to do all this with total impunity while whining that Israel is the misunderstood victim.

Maikel Nabil

So far, UN Watch’s smear campaign against Seif resembles its habitual modus operandi, including its recent attack on Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.

UN Watch and other Zionist groups grossly distorted Falk’s words to falsely claim that he had “linked” last month’s Boston Marathon bombing to Israel. That smear campaign succeeded in getting Susan Rice, the notoriously pro-Israel US ambassador to the UN, to call for Falk’s removal.

But an added twist in the attack on Seif is that UN Watch recruited Egyptian Zionist Maikel Nabil to its campaign, quoting him in one of its releases:

Maikel Nabil, a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, jailed by Egypt in 2011 for his human rights activism, also expressed alarm: ”The Martin Ennals Award can be awarded to Mona Seif if its committee is able to explain to the victims of terrorism why they deserve to be killed by those whom Mona supports.”

The irony is that when Nabil was jailed, Seif was one of the leading voices campaigning for his release. Nabil has become one of the leading anti-Palestinian and pro-Israel campaigners in Egypt and last December Nabil went on a tour of Israel organized and paid for by UN Watch.

Seif responds

Mona Seif responded to the smear campaign with this statement on Facebook:

When I learned of my nomination for the Martin Ennals Award I was ecstatic. I regarded it as a great honour for me and for the whole team of the No to Military Trials for Civilians Campaign.

I do not intend to deal with personal matters, such as who started this attack against me and why. Rather, I will -shortly- address the issues that have been raised.

(1) One of the rights that we, the young people of Egypt, have succeeded in seizing is the right to insult our own government and to insult anyone whose policies are bad for our people. We insist on this right.

(2) No-one was ever killed or injured in an attack on the gas pipelines in Egypt.

(3) I have never called for nor celebrated attacks on civilians. My position is very clear: I support people’s right to resist occupation and I resist all attempts at portraying the siege of a predominantly civilian population by the world’s 4th most powerful Army as one of ‘equivalence.’ This vulgar slandering has held our attention for 24 hours and that is more than enough. We need to get back to work.

And of course #FuckIsrael until there’s justice for the Palestinians.

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Comments

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It is highly informative to read this exposé of the activities and various stands of this group. UN Watch seems to concentrate on denigrations and justifications as its raison d'être. Jean Ziegler is another outspoken personality whose frankness has attracted the wrath of UN Watch. Ms Seif is in good company.

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Let me be the lone voice here if I am permitted and say that human rights, as opposed to political rights are quite different. The term 'human rights' recognizes that we are all flesh and blood and should not be murdered for the sake of politics and the violence they may bring. The dichotomy between victim and perpetrator is an important one. But in the end, it is hard to justify rockets fired indiscriminately as anything other than terrorism. The rockets don't care about individuals, who they are, where they are from, what their beliefs are. Rockets are fired at targets because they are in Israel or in Gaza. They don't care about 'human rights.'

There is nothing equivalent about what Palestine and Israel does, but we should remember that power disparities and moral rights do not supersede the rights of humans to not be punished for the crimes of others, despite their nationality or religion. Even if Mona has done some work for Egyptian democracy, she does not care about 'human rights' if she can say that about Israelis hit by rockets. I'm sorry, but that is my humble opinion. Feel free to express outrage now.

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I too deplore rockets firing indiscriminately at civilians. Too bad the U.S. doesn't supply Palestinians with drones and missiles for pinpoint attacks on Israeli terrorists and war criminals. Or more sophisticated rockets to hit military installations that perpetuate and expand the illegal occupation.

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re - Nabil, here is one of his tweets (sourced from the NYT article you linked)

'Maikel Nabil Sanad @maikelnabil
I'm visiting the Israel I like "Rabin's Israel" to speak against the Israel I hate "Netanyahu's Israel"

Doesn't sound like something a Zionist would say. What's an Egyptian Zionist anyway? Any evidence to support this label of him?

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Yes it does. Left and Right are the same. Both branches refuse to halt the destruction of Palestinian homes and agree on forced deportations. Anyone who refuses to abort the law of return, which makes reference to people of one group and grants people of that group more advantage, and that it self is form of discrimination, is a Zionist.

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You are using the word 'Zionist' as a stick to beat up others. Let's forget about labels and talk about ideas, because everyone has their own unique set of them. And Zionism is something that changes over time and among people's understandings. Left and Right are not the same at all. That is a very simplistic way to talk about Israeli politics. It ignores the many people who disagree with Netahnyahu.

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I'm not aware there's a different definition to Zionism than the one I and most people know. Care to elaborate?

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"And Zionism is something that changes over time...."

I am not aware that Zionism has changed one iota since Theodor Herzl first became the "father of modern political Zionism and in effect the foundation of the State of Israel".

Maybe you could also elaborate on that !

p.s. Herzl's life in in Wiki states "( "As a young law student, Herzl became a member of the German nationalist Burschenschaft (fraternity) Albia, which had the motto Ehre, Freiheit, Vaterland ("Honor, Freedom, Fatherland")

Which would seem to indicate a leaning to the rabid right in his early days which could well explain his conception of Zionism !

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Of course Nabil's comments sound like "something a Zionist would say". Many Israel apologists draw a false contrast between Rabin and Netanyahu. But never forget that it was Rabin who expelled the Palestinians from Lydda and Ramle in 1948 and who ordered troops to "break the bones" of demonstrators during the first Intifada. Rabin and Netanyahu are both Zionist exclusivists, neo-liberal ideologues, and close allies of the USA, and Netanyahu's Israel is a direct development of, not a reaction against, Rabin's Israel.
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Rabin was a symbol of the part of the Israeli public who wished for dialogue and compromise with the Palestinians. The PLO saw him as such, as did most international actors and historians. Netanyahu's coalition does not represent the same ideals. To say that the latter's Israel is a development of the former's is such an ambiguous thing to say. Of course history moves forward and the past determines the future. But maybe you can elaborate to draw a better comparison.

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The hypocrisy of zionists is breathtaking. To make the statement;

"...She openly incites to violence against civilians, terrorism and war crimes."

When Israel has been guilty of;

"Squads of Israeli soldiers committed a hideous atrocity in the Palestinian village of Kafr Qasim, 47 innocent people were shot down in cold blood. The careful and premeditated mass murders, never received great attention in the West. Although the Israeli courts convicted eight soldiers of murder, they were all released within two years of their trial."

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The issue isn't what Zionists say, it's what we attribute to human rights. Of course both sides have their own hypocrites, that's the nature of people and self-denial. We are debating whether a person who defends launching rockets at civilian areas (in the context of rockets aimed at them as well), what she considers 'resistance' is worthy of a medal recognizing her human rights. That's the simplest way I can describe this issue.

Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.