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Geoffrey Clarfield: On Israel and the ‘family of moral issues’

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Mozuud is designed to have a very strong central pro-Israel content, but also to relate to those issues that are morally similar to Israel, says executive director Geoffrey Clarfield
Mozuud is designed to have a very strong central pro-Israel content, but also to relate to those issues that are morally similar to Israel, says executive director Geoffrey Clarfield

Geoffrey Clarfield is executive director of Mozuud, a Canadian non-profit organization that advocates on behalf of Israel, and a host of other social justice issues, including opposing female genital mutilation, the slaughter of African elephants for ivory, and the persecution of the Yazidi people, a minority religion in Iraq.

Clarfield, 62, spent 16 years in east Africa working in international development before returning a decade ago to his hometown of Toronto.

What does Mozuud mean?

Mozuud is Urdu, which is the literary language of contemporary Pakistan, and means “to be accounted for, to be present.”

We wanted to choose a name from the multi-ethnic fabric of Canada. It’s a kind of call to self-examination and if that works and people go to our website and get attracted to the campaigns and petitions that we invite them to join, all the better.

How did Mozuud start?

It started officially just a year ago, but it had a 10-year gestation. Ten years ago, when the official institutions of Canada were somewhat anti-Israel, a number of people in the Jewish community felt that we weren’t organized effectively to promote Israel, and it was felt that especially after the Holocaust, there will never be enough Jews to defend the State of Israel in the back-and-forth of politics and democratic debate, so there was a need to establish alliances, and it was felt that it was a reasonable thing to conceive of Israel as one of a number of threatened democracies.

So a number of people got together and formed the Canadian Coalition for Democracies, which would lobby in favour of Israel, Taiwan, South Korea, India, and not only threatened democracies, but threatened people around the world.

The CCD dissolved because it succeeded beyond its wildest expectations. They unconsciously felt that things were going so well that some of the verve and some of the focus was lost.

About five years ago, I felt that just writing in the papers here and in the United States and England was not enough, and Irving Weisdorf, a founder of CCD, showed up and started planning Mozuud. He felt it would be similar to the CCD, but much more 21st century and much more website-based, much more petition-based and reaching out to various interest groups, because in the digital age, not everyone supports all the campaigns, and individuals are a configuration of moral commitments.

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So Mozuud is designed with that in mind, to have a very strong central pro-Israel content, but also to relate to those issues that are morally similar to Israel, and the most outstanding are the Yazidi, which is a major campaign we’re involved with.

Does Mozuud have a political stance?

No, we’re much more issue-based. We feel that whoever is pro-democracy and pro-human rights is going to be pro-Israel, and so we’re looking for those people. We’re not in support of any particular party.

How many members do you have?

It’s a digital world. We have a reach of 8,000 people through our website, email blasts and Twitter.

What are the organization’s goals?

We hope to provide an organization that allows not just Canadians, but people from around the world to recognize that there’s a configuration of moral issues. Israel’s at the centre of it, because after the Holocaust, it’s still disproportionately threatened, but it has allies, and there are other countries and peoples in similar situations.

We’re trying to grow the organization so that it becomes an umbrella for people with overlapping and complementary moral outlooks who can act in a certain way. Very often people will see a certain issue, they’ll write a letter to their MP, they’ll have a house meeting, they’ll find a charity to donate some money, and then it stops.

We’re a kind of incubator for 21st-century moral activists.

What are you currently doing?

The website is central. We have petitions and campaigns and we get people to sign them and write to various authorities. We’re very concerned with the Yazidis. The similarity between the way the Yazidis are being treated and the way the Jews of the Middle East, specifically the Jews of Iraq, were treated historically, is just stunning. Very early on, we came to the attention of the Yazidi human rights organizations and they came to us and said, “What can we do together?”

We’ve done an enormous amount of lobbying at the government level with the previous government. We’ve tried to find out who the players are in Yazidi human rights. We’re also helping Yazidis to bring their families to Canada. Thousands of Yazidis are in refugee camps in places like Turkey and Jordan, and if they experience the persecution of jihadis when they were on the run and being chased by ISIS and enslaved and raped and killed, they’re not treated very well in the camps, either, because they’re often run by people who are sympathetic to radical Islam.

We’re trying to get some immigration equality here. The government has decided to almost solely focus on Syrian refugees. We know from inside the refugee organizations that 99.9 per cent of the people coming from Syria are Sunni Muslim Arabs. And that’s not to say they haven’t suffered in this terrible civil war, but the people who have suffered equally, if not more, are the minorities.

The reason why the government has closed down on Iraqi refugees and opened the spigot on Syria is un-transparent and unfathomable.

What if people support some of the causes Mozuud represents, but not its position on Israel?

We believe these are a configuration of moral issues that are related, but that doesn’t mean they are identical. You choose the issue or the range of issues. If you agree with us all the way, that’s great. If you agree with us some of the way, that’s great.

With regards to our position about Israel, it’s really about international law. Israel has rights to all land west of the Jordan River. That does not mean that Israel, when it is negotiating final status, has to keep all land west of the Jordan, but if the general public, Jewish and not Jewish, is not sufficiently aware that Israel has rights there and they are there by right and not might, then we are contributing to the big lie. It’s historically and legally informed, and it’s an absolutely essential piece of truth that we, and many of the organizations we work with, feel has to go out there because we feel that it will contribute to a just and lasting solution in the region.

What is the unifying thread to the causes you support?

Many of the campaigns that we have adopted or support are morally related to Judeo-Christian ethics on a number of levels.

For example, there’s a passage in the Bible that says something like God gave humans the reign over animals. Animal activists might argue about what that means, but I think it means responsible stewardship. Something like the ivory trade, which is perhaps going to destroy the existence of the elephant itself, also causes enormous violence to the villagers who live near elephants. I know this from my personal experience in Africa.

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Unfortunately, Al-Shabaab, an Islamist group in Somalia, is deriving 40 per cent of its funding by poaching elephants and creating havoc and terror in the Horn of Africa.

How does your Jewish background inform the work that you do?

It goes back to the Judeo-Christian ethic. The international development and NGO movement and far too many charities are powerfully influenced by Marxism, and Marxism has a powerful anti-Israel subtext to it. I feel that in doing this work, I’m fulfilling not only the Judeo-Christian ethic, but we’re also showing responsibility to a variety of international issues that should not be monopolized in any way by any specific ideology.


This interview has been edited and condensed for style and clarity.

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