Political figures join protests in surge of anti-Zionist sentiment

Anti-Zionist protests continued over the weekend reflecting the anger of some Maldivians about Israeli medical assistance being supplied to the country, leading to a rally held by the Tsunami Memorial on Friday with a host of high profile political figures speaking at the event.

Hundreds of people gathered at the protest with some carrying banners in both Dhivehi and English with messages ranging from “Say no to Israeli terrorism” and “Jews said Allah is poor” to “We are with anyone who fights Israel & USA” and “Bloody Zionists”.

The protests are said to be directly focused on deporting an Israeli NGO called Eye from Zion that is conducting eye surgery at a number of hospitals around the country. The religious NGO Islamic Foundation of the Maldives (IFM) said the protests were also targeted at rising concern over “President Mohamed Nasheed’s decision to have closer ties with Israel.”

A host of speakers including State Minister for Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed and former Deputy Leader for the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP, Umar Naseer, addressed attendees, voicing their opposition to accepting any aid from Israel amidst anger at its foreign policy towards Palestine.

Miadhu reported that Sheikh Shaheem spoke during a sermon on the day of the protest claiming that “the history of Jews was deception, trickery, rebellion, oppression, evil and corruption.”

“So it is not it is not acceptable that one who would stab the ummah in the heart could heal the eyes?” he reportedly said. “This philosophy is not acceptable.”

Alongside these comments, Naseer claimed that no aid should be taken by an Islamic state such as the Maldives until Israel settles the issues of occupation in Palestine in solidarity with other Muslims. The IFM claimed that other similar protests were held in Addu Atoll and Fuamulaku over the weekend.

Some 739 people in Male’ and 879 in Addu and Fuvahmulah had registered for treatment at eye camps run by the NGO as of December 9.

Last week, the co-founders of the IFM said that although they were not directly involved in the protests, it would not discourage its members from joining so called anti-Zionist demonstrations such as flag burnings and peaceful protests that have taken place over the last month over concern about the visit of ‘Eye from Zion’.

IFM co-founders Ibrahim Nazim and Ibrahim Fauzee said that they did not wish to “prohibit its members” from taking part in the ongoing protests that it saw as a “spontaneous reaction” to concerns over Israel’s attitude towards Palestine.

Nazim said that the IFM did not favour violence as an organisation and claims by “other organisations in the country” that Jewish people were planning to take over the country were setting back legitimate concerns over the visit of Eye from Zion and Israeli foreign policy.

“What I feel is that some groups are trying to win publicity by making radical statements,” he said. “We do not believe this is good and in the long-term it is not be favourable [towards effectively opposing Israeli activities in the Maldives].”

Fauzee added that he believed the protests reflected the fact that “many people in the Maldives do not accept Israel as a state.”

In response to the anti-Zionist protests and criticism that the government was engaged in a pro-Israel agenda, Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that the government “holds friendly relations with Israel, as it does almost every other nation in the world.”

“We are not at loggerheads with any states, though we have some differences with Burma over the treatment of [formerly arrested dissident] Aung Sun Suu Kyi,” he said. “There is nothing special in terms of agreements with Israel.”

Though Zuhair claimed that the Maldives government has been “consistent on criticising Israel over Palestine and other foreign policy issues it did not agree on”, this was not a barrier to humanitarian cooperation, he said.

Zuhair added that by having bilateral relations with a large number of nations, the Maldives was able to benefit from cooperation based on technical assistance, education and humanitarian aid.

He claimed that the medical expertise offered by Eye from Zion was a strong example of this.

“We ourselves don’t have the means for this type of surgery, which has so far treated 140 patients in Male’ and 40 people across islands in the outer atolls,” Zuhair added. “In this case, the patients that thankful for the treatment they have received, which outweighs the protests against [the doctors].”