As Iran calls to destroy Israel, new look at "holiday" with same goal
Toby Axelrod, JTA:
A campaign by Berlin-based activists has resulted in the erasure of "Al Quds Day" from some interfaith calendars in the United States and United Kingdom.The group's site can be found here.
As Iran's president was calling for Israel to be wiped off the map, members of Together Against Political Islam and Anti-Semitism were busy calling for "Al Quds Day" to be wiped off calendars' and the campaign is paying off.
Institutions on both sides of the Atlantic, from Harvard University to Northumbria University in England, have announced that they are deleting Al Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day " a holiday that focuses on the destruction of Israel" from calendars where it had been listed as a religious holiday. Al Quds Day fell this year last Friday. READ MORE
The point is not just to clean up calendars, political scientist Arne Behrensen, a co-founder of the activist group, told JTA, but "to engage the political left in confronting Islamism and Islamist anti-Semitism."
Members of the pro-democracy group include people of Iranian, Kurdish and Turkish background. Many of the Iranian and Kurdish members are refugees from their homelands.
The annihilation of Israel is the raison d'etre of the "holiday" that the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini created after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It is marked with anti-Israel demonstrations in some Islamic countries, as well as in cities with large Muslim populations outside the Islamic world.
Berlin police have taken increasing interest in defusing the event in recent years, since an incident in which an Al Quds Day demonstrator proudly displayed his small children wrapped in mock suicide bomb belts. All posters and banners at the event now must be submitted for approval, including those in Arabic, and statements calling for Israel's destruction are banned.
That may be why Berlin's Al Quds Day demonstrations have declined in numbers, Behrensen said. His group has held counter-demonstrations for three years running.
That trend held true this year as well. Only some 400 marchers attended this year's event on Saturday, down from 1,500 in 2004 and 3,000 in 2003, said Anetta Kahane, a co-organizer of a counterdemonstration and a member of the Berlin Jewish community.
The group also succeeded in getting a German organization to remove Al Quds Day from its calendar in 2003. This year, Behrensen focused on British and American institutions that he found on the Internet.
One recipient of the campaign's recent e-mail, Debra Dawson of Harvard United Ministries in Cambridge, Mass., told JTA she had checked with her group's Islamic chaplain "and he assured me that this day is not an Islamic holiday, so I am removing it from the site."
Spike Ried, president of the Northumbria University Students' Union in Newcastle, England, told JTA his group had removed the event from its online calendar and issued a written apology. It reads in part, "We now understand that this day is considered offensive to Israeli and Jewish people worldwide. "
Students submit dates to the calendar, and Al Quds Day "was included on the understanding that it was a religious day," Ried said. After discussions with both Islamic and Jewish student groups, he added, "we understand now that it is a political day, and have therefore removed it."
The union also has "drawn up measures to ensure that this does not happen in future," he said.
Del Krueger, creator of an online interfaith calendar (www.interfaithcalendar.org) that is a source for many others, told JTA he also had removed Al Quds Day from future calendars.
However, the event remains on the calendar for 2006, where it is defined as a "somewhat controversial Islamic observance."
George Fraser, a City Council spokesman in Dundee, Scotland, said the "entire calendar is being removed" because of the issue. The University of North Carolina in Asheville said it had removed the Al Quds Day listing from its calendar of holy days.
Terry Allen, administrator at the Charnwood Arts Center in Leicestershire, England, said he added Al Quds Day after finding it on Krueger's site, believing it "was a Muslim religious festival." The activists' letter pressed him to look deeper.
"I would like to apologize for any offense which has unintentionally been caused by this mistake," he wrote to the group.
A spokesperson for the Boy Scouts of America told JTA the issue was under discussion there as well.
Behrensen chose to focus on the calendars after reading a lecture by Mansoor Limba, an Iranian, in Malaysia in December 2004. Limba spoke with pride of how Al Quds Day was becoming accepted as an Islamic holiday around the world, recognized by a long list of organizations, including some Jewish ones.
"This is their strategy, to spread their propaganda worldwide," Behrensen said. "We thought, if we want to counter them, let's see what they're doing, and we'll try to prevent their success."