Campbell Clark
The Globe and Mail (Analysis)
October 17, 2011 - 12:00am

The Palestinian envoy to Canada has been told she’s not welcome in Ottawa after she tweeted a link to a video that the federal government deemed an offensive diatribe against Jews.

Now, Linda Sobeh Ali, the chargé d’affaires of the Palestinian delegation in Ottawa, is just one cut above persona non grata. The Canadian government called her in for a high-level dressing down, made a formal protest to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and has decided to “limit communication” with her until a replacement arrives.

The video shows a Palestinian girl, in tears and shouting with passion, reciting a poem in Arabic, “I am Palestinian.” The English subtitles on the video include a passage where millions are called “to a war that raze the injustice and oppression and destroy the Jews.”

When Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird learned of it about two weeks ago, he instructed his deputy minister, Morris Rosenberg, to call Ms. Sobeh Ali in to complain, and the Canadian representative in the West Bank, Chris Greenshields, to protest to the Palestinian Authority.

“Canada expects the Palestinian Authority to appropriately deal with this serious transgression,” Mr. Baird’s spokesman, Chris Day, said in an e-mail. “We have taken the decision to limit communication with this official until a replacement is selected.”

It’s not clear how quickly Ms. Sobeh Ali – essentially the Palestinian ambassador, although she does not hold that rank because she does not represent a sovereign state – will be replaced. Reached by telephone on Monday, Ms. Sobeh Ali said she is not in a position to comment right now. She denied a rumour she is leaving Ottawa this week, but when asked if the Palestinian Authority has recalled her, she said a polite goodbye, and hung up.

Complicating the matter – in the eyes of some, but not others – is the fact that the English subtitles in the video linked to Ms. Sobeh Ali are a mistranslation of the girl’s Arabic poem in several parts.

The phrase that the subtitles translate as, “to a war that raze the injustice and oppression and destroy the Jews,” is correctly translated as, “to a war that is destroying oppression and kill the soul of Zionism,” according to Salah Basalamah, associate professor in the University of Ottawa’s School of Translation and Interpretation.

Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which first sent Ms. Sobeh Ali’s video tweet to Mr. Baird’s office, said both versions are unfit to be circulated by a Palestinian envoy.

“You’re speaking to someone who doesn’t see a difference,” Mr. Fogel said. Calling for a war for the destruction of Zionism – the movement to establish a Jewish land – is a denial of Israel’s right to exist, he said, and the passion of the girl, shaking as her eyes well up with tears, makes it an entirely wrong thing for a Palestinian envoy to Ottawa to circulate, he said.

“I was shocked at the video,” he said. “And I’m pretty thick-skinned.”

However, Mr. Basalamah, who also writes about Islamic culture, said there is a big difference between the Arabic poem and the English subtitles. The phrase “kill the soul of Zionism” can “not in any way” be interpreted as “destroy the Jews,” he said. Not all Jews are Zionists and vice versa, he argued, and “the problem that Palestinians have with Israel is the ideology that has conducted the Palestinians to be stripped of their lands, and not their religion.”

Mr. Fogel said only a month ago he worked with Ms. Sobeh Ali to plan for a meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Jewish community leaders, but now he would have difficulty reconciling her circulation of the video with the idea that she is working for peace.

Mr. Baird’s spokesman called it a “serious lack of judgment.” And Ms. Sobeh Ali has closed her Twitter account.


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