Linda Sobeh Ali and the Mediocrity of Palestinian Leadership

IT HAPPENS that I today regard the sudden retraction from Canadian soil of Linda Sobeh Ali, the Palestinian chargé d’affaires, as someone who has spent a number of years working in communications and public relations. In my profession — which has among other things interpolated me between and among differing cultures — I’ve had to pay due attention to protocol. I like to think I’m reasonably good at this delicate work and that I can smell from a distance those who are not. And at this moment I rather detect the aroma of amateurism on the air.

We are told by a journalist writing for the Star that “Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird objected strenuously” to a video link posted by the official on her Twitter account. Another death by tweet may now be added to the long and growing list, each entry an occassion to wonder once again How foolish can one be? The excuse offered was of the “I had no idea” variety, but quite soon Mr. Baird was informed, by the intermediary Shimon Fogel (of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs)*, of the video’s call to a war that “destroy[s] the Jews.”** There is much to be drawn from the incident, assuming that the account provided by the chargé d’affaires is truthful, as I suspect it is.

I’ll begin with the most common — the cautionary. Janus might well be designated the god of social media, the doors always open to the opportunity to make a fool of oneself. The prospect is worse even than that if you happen to be in the business of politics or diplomacy. This is of course a matter of hindsight, and we all make mistakes. In any case, this blunder yields in my estimation the opportunity to make a more grave and less noted observation: the commonplace amateurism of Palestinian leadership.

The theme has been examined over and again, in considerations that range in temporal and thematic treatments from the early negotiations between a blustering Arab League and an exasperated Churchill to the sloppy performance of Arafat during the 1990s, at the time of the Oslo negotiations. In his book Arafat: From Defender to Dictator, Saïd K. Aburish finely crafts a rounded portrait of the man who combined in his modus operandi the avuncular candy-man, petty tribal warlord, and third-rate autocrat. (Chief among Arafat’s “yes men and sychophants” — Aburish’s phrase — was the current leader and money-man mediocrity, Abu Mazen aka Mahmoud Abbas.) One can not but walk away from the performance feeling that the Palestinian Authority — little more than an extension of Arafat himself — represents both an anti-climax and a diminishment of everyone upon whom it has subsequently impinged. How depressingly easy it is to imagine Arafat, in the age of Twitter, either committing the same error or else doing it “accidentally on purpose,” and then lying about it for personal advantage.

One can better grasp the point by turning things around and considering the theme of competence. This too has been examined over and again, and the contrasting examples are many. Linda Sobeh Ali declared that she had come to Ottawa to do for the Palestinians what others had done for the Jews, which is to say create close and productive relationships. At this, the Palestinians are now almost precisely a century behind, for examples, Vladimir Jabotinsky and Chaim Weizmann and David Ben-Gurion, who under any objective assessment will be seen to have vastly outmaneuvered their Arab counterparts; so much so that the phrase “Jewish lobby” invokes matters of substance and high seriousness, while its counterpart, “Palestinian lobby,” invokes the shabby stereotypes of middle-age hippies and the campus-left rabble.

With so much deployed against it, and now with a Canadian Government that is openly and eagerly partisan toward Israel, the Palestinian cause demands a higher standard of leader it is not likely soon to produce. (One may establish the point even without getting into the topic of Hamas and its vile parent regime in Iran.) The diplomatic mishandling of this week would be merely unfortunate if it did not also underscore an amateurism that has always attended Palestinian undertakings.

*Correction: this sentence originally mis-identified Shimon Fogel as affiliated with the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy. This organization no longer exists: it became the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs in August 0f 2011. Mr. Fogel is its CEO. Return to corrected sentence.

**UPDATE | 19.10.2011 Some have questioned the English translation of the girl’s poem. Salah Basalamah, associate professor in the University of Ottawa’s School of Translation and Interpretation, said the girl is “calling for a war against the soul of Zionism.”
“There is in fact a big difference between calling for a war against Zionism and a war against Jews,” Basalamah told CBC’s As it Happens. The difference between Judaism and Zionism is the difference between a religion and a political ideology, he said. “You could find Jews who are not Zionists and you can find Zionists who are not Jews which means that those two concepts are absolutely not similar although they have a cross section,” Basalamah said.
Shimon Fogel, chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, rejected the attempt to distinguish between Zionism and the Jewish people. “The two concepts are inherently intertwined. The one is simply the expression of the national will and movement as well as the identity of the Jewish people. So I’m not sure it can be dismissed as easily as some would that somehow it’s OK to call for the destruction of Zionism without that being understood as a call for the destruction of the Jewish people or the Jewish state.” Source: Huffington Post.

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