Israelis Legitimate Targets, Canadian Muslim Says: Comments By Islamic Congress Leader Anger Jewish And Other Muslim Groups

January 2005

All Israeli citizens over the age of 18 are legitimate targets for suicide bombers and other attacks by the Palestinian "resistance," the president of the Canadian Islamic Congress says, a view that has outraged other Muslim organizations as well as Jewish groups.

Mohamed Elmasry believes that because all Israeli men and women must serve in the country's army, they are fair targets for suicide bombings and other "low-tech" weapons Palestinian militants may deploy.

He reiterated his position, first broadcast last Tuesday on The Michael Coren Show, an Ontario weekday current-affairs program on Crossroads Television System, in an interview with The Globe and Mail yesterday.

"Israel has a people's army and a draft and therefore they should be considered legitimate targets. They are part of the occupying power, and Palestinians consider them targets for suicide bombers as well as other means," Mr. Elmasry said.

"It's similar to any political struggle where there is an occupying force and occupied people. For example, the Algerians against the French, the Greeks against the Turks, the French [resistance] against the Germans. You have to put it in that context . . . the occupied are using every means available to them including low-tech weapons such as rocket attacks."

He said suicide bombers, who often target civilians on buses, in restaurants and nightclubs in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and other cities, have "mismanaged the resistance.

"Suicide bombings is a technique they are using out of desperation. It's not for me to say if it's okay or not. In the final analysis, it has done more harm than good," Mr. Elmasry said.

All Israeli citizens must serve a term of three years in the army, and then be in the reserves. Mr. Elmasry acknowledged that it is impossible to know which Israelis are currently serving as soldiers, but said out of uniform military personnel at bus stops are legitimate targets.

The Canadian Jewish Congress called Mr. Elmasry's position an invitation to murder all Israelis, regardless of who they are or what they have done. "Their nationality is apparently their crime," said Ed Morgan, the group's national president. "The same logic that endorses targeting Israeli civilians in their home country might equally apply to Israelis visiting Taba, Egypt; or Mombasa, Kenya; or Buenos Aires, Argentina; or, for that matter, Montreal or Toronto."

Several Muslim groups including the Muslim Canadian Congress, the Council on American-Islamic Relations Canada (CAIR-CAN) and the Muslim Lawyers Association denounced Mr. Elmasry's views as well, saying this line of reasoning harms the interests of Palestinians, of Muslims in Canada, and could lead to the loss of innocent lives. "Under international law, Palestinians have the right to armed resistance to an occupying army, but you can't kill civilians and we don't support suicide bombings," said Tarek Fatah, co-founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress. "To say something so hateful will only reinforce negative stereotypes about Muslims."

Riad Saloojee, with CAIR-CAN, noted that under international law, occupied people have the right to resist occupation, but this precludes the targeting of civilians. "Suicide bombings that target civilians also lead to a diminution of the value of human life," he said.

Irfan Syed, a lawyer invited to the Oct. 19 Coren show with Mr. Elmasry to discuss the topic "What is a terrorist," said he and fellow-panelists Peter Merrifield, a terrorism and security consultant, and a B'nai Brith representative, were all stunned to hear Mr. Elmasry's comments. The show's host, Mr. Coren, gave him several chances to clarify his views, he said.

"His comments taken at their plain meaning are unacceptable. They are not the position of our faith and do a disservice to both his organization's work and the Muslim community interests in general," said Mr. Syed, chair of the Muslim Lawyers Association.

Mr. Coren was also surprised: "I have met and interviewed hard line Palestinians . . . but I have never heard anyone say that every Israeli everywhere is a legitimate target."

Mr. Elmasry, a computer engineering professor at the University of Waterloo, in Ontario, said his views are his own, although he was invited on the show in his capacity as head of the Canadian Islamic Congress, which he says represents thousands of Muslims.

"Other members of the organization are free to disagree with me," he said. "We don't have a formal statement on whether armed resistance in particular in the Israel-Palestinian issue is a good idea."

Other executive members of the organization, which has no full time salaried staff, were not available for comment yesterday.

Mr. Elmasry, an occasional columnist for The Globe and Mail, has written about the role of the Muslim vote in the recent federal election, and the increased scrutiny of Muslims since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

His organization also conducts an annual survey measuring "anti-Islam" bias in Canadian media outlets through their use of anti-Muslim phrases including "Islamic terrorist" and "jihad militant." Mr. Elmasry singled out the National Post as having a pro-Israel bias, but said yesterday this bias extends to most Canadian news organizations, including The Globe and Mail.