Working towards a Palestinian national voice

Many members of the Palestinian Canadian community have been working hard to establish a truly representative Palestinian National Voice (PNV) organization for our community. Laith Marouf, identifying himself as the chapter coordinator for the student group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), on 14 September 2007 published an article attacking this effort (see Palestinian Diaspora: With or against collaboration?). Marouf didn’t mention PNV by name but having attended the PNV organizing conferences with Marouf and having followed his internet criticism of the PNV his target is unmistakable.

Palestinians have legitimately differing opinions on our political situation. I happen to agree with Marouf’s negative opinion about the PLO, the Palestinian Authority, Oslo, negotiations with Israel, the right of return, Mahmoud Abbas, Mohammed Dahlan, etc. Profound changes are necessary. Profound changes are coming. The rise of the PNV organization in Canada is one example of that change.

Palestinian Canadians have suffered because they have not had a truly representative organization to voice their own concerns as a community. Without such an organization our friends and our enemies alike have ignored our perspective and we have had self-interested interlopers speaking in our name. The PNV organizing effort is a direct action to end this. It is being organized around a few basic democratic principles. Membership is open to the entire Palestinian Canadian community over 16 years of age without exception. Each member who registers will have an equal vote in selecting leaders and determining policy. Many details about the organization are still being decided at representative assemblies. We are having our third one this year this month. Here too Palestinians can legitimately disagree with each other on the best model to achieve our objective.

What does deeply concern me, however, is the Marouf’s gratuitous attack on the PNV organizing effort.

Firstly, his article claims that SPHR is marginalized as a “solidarity” group and that “some actors have insisted that these incipient national organizations be centered on … old and largely irrelevant factional identities.” However, there is no PNV related proposal that tells SPHR or any other group what to do, say or believe in order to be part of this new Palestinian national voice organization. SPHR chapters are and will be treated as equal and full partners just like any other community organization.

Secondly, his article complains that “Others are insisting that only Palestinians be allowed to participate.” Yet, the PNV by consensus of all present at the Mississauga Preparatory Conference in January 2007 confirmed that the purpose of our effort was to establish a national organization that would give the Palestinian Canadian community its voice. This was again presented and was unchallenged at the Ottawa Preparatory Conference in May 2007. SPHR chapters were prominently represented at both conferences. If an organization is to be a community voice organization then logically only members of the community being represented can hold votes and set policy.

Thirdly, his article states that “The constant talk of blood quantum (‘only your mother is Palestinian!’) is also designed as psychological pressure against the young students to make it uncomfortable to be in those (PNV) meetings.” On the contrary, to my knowledge only one person posted a suggestion on our Canadian PNV community email list that only people with a Palestinian father should be considered Palestinian. This suggestion was immediately criticized by many people (including myself). The working PNV documents have always called for a membership definition that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of gender and makes no mention of “blood quantum.” Anyway, how could either of these canards be distinctly a “student” issue?

Lastly, his article says that “These issues are being purposefully exaggerated in order to exclude solidarity groups and/or give more voting power for failed ‘community groups.’” Under the draft documents produced by the PNV all groups are treated the same regardless of the basis upon which they have organized themselves. All of the proposals received to date call for a directly proportional congressional model where each group would hold a vote weighted in direct proportion to the number of Palestinian Canadian community members it uniquely represents. If Marouf’s SPHR group represents 10 percent of the community membership in the organization then he would hold 10 percent of the vote in the organization. How is this undemocratic?

If it is to achieve anything nationally or internationally, our Palestinian community needs to settle its differences and unite thorough collective and constructive democratic debate. Today, in Canada, the PNV effort embodies this option.

James Kafieh is a Palestinian Canadian lawyer, past president of the Canadian Arab Federation and a member of the organizing committee working to establish the Palestinian National Voice organization in Canada. He can be contacted at