Last week, Mohamed Abubakr, a Sudanese human rights activist, came to speak at Case Western Reserve University as sponsored by Cleveland Hillel, Hillel International, the Office of Multicultural Affairs, CAMERA and several other organizations. Despite growing up under the rigid autocracy of Islamic Sudan, Abubakr has been fighting for women’s rights, LGBT rights and democracy since he was a child.
As a child, he was both shocked and disappointed to learn that the outside world did not treat people with the level of respect and decency that his parents had taught him was appropriate. By the time he was in high school, he helped to found SudanAid, which helps protect children and other at-risk groups. He continued this good work by founding the Of Noor Foundation to educate and empower children, especially girls who are at risk of domestic violence.
Abubakr first encountered antisemitism and anti-Israel campaigning during his college experience at The American University in Cairo. Despite a lot of antisemitic, anti-Israel rhetoric suggesting that Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian students would not be able to get along, he noticed that while many of the Jewish students on the campus were friends with other Jews, they were also friends with Palestinians. He was inspired by the instances of constructive dialogue that he witnessed and wanted to contribute by facilitating dialogue on a larger scale.
After graduating, he joined the YaLa Young Leaders Middle East peace movement in 2011. As a part of YaLa, Abubakr brings Israeli and Palestinian young people, as well as those from other Arab nations, together to talk about the conflicts present within the region. During his talk, he discussed that one of the most important facts that everyone should acknowledge when discussing the Middle East, Israel and territories under Palestinian control in particular, is the complexity of the issues and the number of players involved. He was adamant that no solution could be found without support from the surrounding nations for both Israelis and Palestinians.
One of the aspects of the Western discourse on Israeli-Palestinian conflict that frustrated Abubakr the most was the idea of “boycott, divestment, sanction” (BDS) which calls for Western institutions to pressure Israel economically until it falls apart. He described BDS as a campaign by “a bunch of elitist kids and their European friends telling us how to be good Palestinians.” The economic impact of BDS has been shown to be much worse for Palestinians than it has for Israelis. When the boycotts and sanctions called for by proponents of the BDS movement are put in place, Palestinians are the first to lose their jobs, and without a source of income they are put at a severe disadvantage. Despite media coverage that says otherwise, Abubakr has been told by his Palestinian friends that the BDS movement is not popular with the majority of the Palestinian population and that in order to agree with BDS, “You have to be really ignorant of the conflict and its complexities.”
Abubakr has done so much in his life to increase open dialogue and inspire people to be better. Hopefully, CWRU’s campus can add to his work and make his job a little bit easier.