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‘Stop lying,’ visiting Arab Israeli activist tells head of BDS-SA

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NICOLA MILTZ

Muhammed Desai of BDS-SA, the organisation just rebranded as Africa For Palestine (AFP), was humiliated more than once during a Newzroom Afrika debate, and called out for a lie.

Desai falsely claimed on TV that the Israeli health ministry warned its citizens of coronavirus only in Hebrew, something he said was typical of apartheid South Africa, which used the medium of Afrikaans to communicate important messages.

Yoseph Haddad, 35, stopped Desai mid-sentence and told him, “Stop lying, I got Israel’s coronavirus warning in Arabic.”

The Haifa-born activist is the founder of Together – Vouch For Each Other, an Arab Israeli organisation which encourages the integration of Israeli society including all its citizens – Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze.

He is in South Africa for Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) an anti-Israel movement driven by boycott groups internationally on university campuses in March. IAW has since been postponed owing to the outbreak of Covid-19.

What made him come to South Africa during an unprecedented viral pandemic, knowing full well he would have to isolate himself for two weeks when he returned to Israel, a country in virtual lockdown?

“I have a mission,” he told the SA Jewish Report this week. “I want to expose the BDS lies. I’m here to tell the truth – the good, the bad, and the ugly.”

“I love that I’m an Arab, and I love that I’m an Israeli. Sure, Israel has problems, but name one country that doesn’t.”

Haddad has no fear. He has stared death in the face after having had his right foot blown off in a Hezbollah terrorist attack during the Second Lebanon War in 2006 when he was serving as a commander in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

Israeli doctors miraculously re-attached his foot after multiple surgeries, and he was able to walk again unaided after a year. He has even gone back to playing football, he said.

Haddad was born in Haifa, one of Israel’s largest and most diversely populated cities, known as the “capital of co-existence”. He grew up in Nazareth, known as the Arab capital of Israel.

“As a boy, I would catch the bus from Nazareth to Haifa after school to play with my cousins. Together we played football with kids from every community. We didn’t care about religion or identity, my friends were Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze,” he said.

So, when Haddad turned 18, he also wanted to be called up to serve in the IDF like his Jewish and Druze friends. It was rare for Arab Israelis to volunteer for the IDF.

“I felt that I was Israeli. I wanted to serve my country and be of service to my own Arab community. People thought I was crazy. My parents supported my decision even though my mother was very scared,” he said.

He realised he had made the right decision one month before he went into the army, when a suicide bombing took place at the beachfront Maxim restaurant in Haifa in October 2003, killing 21 people including Arab Israelis.

“I realised then that terrorism doesn’t differentiate between Jew and Arab. That so long as you are an Israeli, you remain a target. I wanted to defend the entire society including my own Arab community,” he said.

Haddad was eventually selected to serve in one of the IDF’s toughest and most highly decorated infantry units, the Golani Brigade, where he became a commander.

“Imagine me, an Arab, giving orders to Jewish soldiers. And they must obey me! Whoever equates Israel with apartheid is dumb because he is speaking out of ignorance,” he said.

Sadly, two months before completing his service, he was seriously injured in a Hezbollah terrorist attack. “Hezbollah fired an anti-tank missile in my direction narrowly missing me. I saw my foot lying next to me,” he said.

He woke up five days and seven operations later to find that doctors had reattached his foot.

This rescue and subsequent recovery filled him with a desire to give back and make a difference.

He studied political science at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, and became the chief executive officer of a marketing research company.

“I started seeing a rise in anti-Semitism and a hatred of Israel. I wanted to connect Arabs with Israeli society and become a catalyst for change,” he said.

With a group of young Arab Israelis made up of Arab Christians, Muslims, Bedouin, and Druze, he founded Together – Vouch for Each Other in 2018.

“Our aim is to connect Arab Israeli society with Israeli society to create a unified society, diverse but living side by side. We believe in national service, and our motto is, “serve the country and the community”. All of this will help us to find solutions to the problems that Arab Israelis face. We believe Arab society is an integral part of Israeli society, and this demands recognition and acceptance by both sides.”

Haddad has received threats from all sides, including extremists on the left and right of Arab and Israeli minority groups. It doesn’t seem to deter him.

“I have nothing to fear. What can be worse than what I have faced. The only way forward is to tell the truth,” he said.

He shot down Desai with another insult during this week’s studio tv debate.

“I asked the BDS leader in SA, ‘Would you use a corona antidote if Israel develops one?’ Not surprisingly, he didn’t answer me because saying yes would show that he’s a hypocrite, and saying no that he’s an idiot.”

“I’m here to shake people up, to make them question themselves and their beliefs,” he said.

Although progress is slow, he is seeing a shift in attitude back home.

“Five years ago, there were about 200 to 300 Arab Israelis who volunteered annually for national service. This year, there was close to 5 000, and about 48% come from the Muslim sector,” he said.

“I’m not going to say Israel is perfect. I’m here to reveal the truth, also to criticise my country. I do it because I’m a proud Israeli, and I’m obligated to fix it, not to cry about it.”

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. michael keet

    Mar 19, 2020 at 10:21 am

    ‘amazing person Haddad. We all respect you!’

  2. Debbie

    Mar 23, 2020 at 12:14 pm

    ‘Thank you Yoseph Haddad!  You are extremely brave and your actions are greatly appreciated.  With more positivity and people advocating for the truth, things could maybe be so much different.’

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