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Palestinian advocate in Arizona: Conflating anti-Israel and anti-Semitism is 'very dangerous thing'

Last month on The Show, Democratic state Rep. Alma Hernandez talked about a controversial trip she led to Israel, taking more than a dozen of her legislative colleagues out of the Capitol in the middle of the session.

She is Jewish and an outspoken supporter of Israel. Hernandez talked about how the conflict in the Middle East is affecting her life here in Arizona — as well as the political conversation here.

Now, The Show turns to someone on the other side of this conflict who agrees that it is not just an international issue.

Mohyeddin Abdulaziz is a board member of the Arizona Palestine Network and the co-founder of Arizona Palestine Solidarity Alliance. A Palestinian himself, he’s been outspoken in support of his people since the war in Gaza began, advocating for a ceasefire and pushing Democratic voters to refuse to vote for President Joe Biden until he does the same.

Full interview

MOHYEDDIN ABDULAZIZ: This is not an international issue that's not related to Arizona or to us as American citizens. It's very much, it's a local issue for me and it's a local issue for every American here because it is our country and it is our money and it is our weapons. And so it is not really a foreign matter or an, an international issue. It's very much an American issue, an Arizona issue, a Tucson issue, a Phoenix issue. It's our issue as American citizens. This is our democracy and it is our duty and our responsibility to make our voices heard that this genocide must stop.

LAUREN GILGER: So talk a little bit more about that in what ways do you think this is a local issue to you? I mean, as a leader in this community, have you seen or experienced more threats, more hate crime, more violence than before this conflict started?

ABDULAZIZ: You know, there have been demonstrations and rallies and people are going out and yes, we have seen some harassment, and about 20 cars of our people were keyed and, you know, with, with hateful messages scratched on them. And one of the most dangerous things that is happening is that our criticism of Israeli policies, our criticism of Zionism are being portrayed as anti-Jewish. And this is, you know, far from the truth. Most of our allies, most of our, actually, members are Jewish. So so conflating anti-Zionism and anti-Israel with anti-Semitism is a very dangerous thing. And that has been happening more frequently and more loudly these days.

GILGER: Can I ask you about the local political response here, because I know you've been involved in that. Like we've seen a lot of repercussions, you know, immediately following Oct. 7th and on. The House of Representatives unanimously passed a resolution here in support of Israel. There have been several bills addressing this, one that pro-Palestinian groups on Arizona college campuses say would censor them, what you're talking about there. What are you watching at the state Capitol? What have you seen unfold?

ABDULAZIZ: What I am seeing is an assault on our constitutional rights. This is plain and simple. It's really, you know, trying to prioritize Israel over our own rights as Americans. That is what's happening and it should be stopped. We have every right to criticize a foreign country called Israel. We cannot remain silent. It's our duty and our responsibility as our democratic right to do this; 81% of the Arizona Democratic Party voted in their conference just a few weeks ago, 81% said they want a ceasefire.

We have the city of South Tucson, you know, voted to have a cease fire and other resolutions are being considered more than 70% or 80% of Americans say we want a ceasefire. We appeal to our American brothers and sisters to stand with us and to stand against the assault in our liberties that is happening in the Arizona Legislature.

GILGER: What about when it comes to things that cross the line, right? Like we hear from Jewish leaders in the state that they are being threatened, receiving death threats. You know, there was a controversy at ASU over you know, Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian American representative in Congress, speaking there. And then we saw pro-Palestinian protesters, you know, throwing landscaping rocks at student government meetings, students feeling there if they were Jewish that they were under threat. Do you think that there is a line?

ABDULAZIZ: There is a line. We absolutely condemn any violent act. We, we condemn any action that will threaten anybody. We are, as Americans, we have the freedom to speak. We differ on issues but we, we, we need to do that as democratically as peacefully as really required of us. People cannot be violent, and we are accused of being violent, but we have repeatedly asked for evidence of our violence. We got nothing.

GILGER: I want to ask you about one of the big controversies over this that's happened at the state Legislature of late, a trip that 17 house lawmakers from both parties took to Israel during the session led by Sen. Alma Hernandez, who is Jewish. She came on The Show and talked about this and said, you know, it wasn't strictly pro-Israel and that she thought it was important for lawmakers from Arizona to see this firsthand. How does this look from your point of view? What did you think about that?

ABDULAZIZ: I think it's absurd that our legislators go to Israel at this time and prioritize Israel over our own affairs. It was another example of giving Israel an exception, of giving Israel prioritizing Israel above our own local and American matters. That's what matters to us. Rep. Alma Hernandez, the first thing she says, I am Jewish and she also says she's a proud Zionist. That's what we are against, we are against Zionism.

GILGER: Let me ask you lastly, Mohyeddin, that the public mood around Israel and the war in Gaza. The issue of a ceasefire, as you mentioned, has changed in the last several months. And I wonder what you think of or how you're involved in efforts heading into the election, right? Like do you think especially Democratic voters here in Arizona, an important swing state heading into this next election, will be less willing to vote for President Biden if he continues his support for Israel?

ABDULAZIZ: I was involved in the Vote Ceasefire Arizona campaign in the primary

GILGER: Which supported people to vote for Marianne Williamson, right.

ABDULAZIZ: That's correct. Yeah, we asked for a protest vote, to vote for Marianne Williamson and not Biden. Our goal in that campaign was to get 10,500 votes or so for Williamson because that's the margin by which President Biden won Arizona the last time we got more than 15,000. So that should be a clear message to President Biden: Unless President Biden changes course and emphatically and directly and powerfully stands for justice and for peace, he's not going to gain our votes.

GILGER: So that was in a, in a primary election, right. I wonder, do you think, or would you advocate for, you know, people voting or not voting for President Biden in a general election when they're on the Democratic side, when he's up against somebody like [former] President Trump when it could mean that Trump wins the state and the White House?

ABDULAZIZ: Yes. Exactly. That's the, that's the issue. We are horrified by, you know, the prospect of a rise of fascism in this country. But also we do not think that it's our duty as Americans and our responsibility to continue to unconditionally provide support of war and violence, which is what we're doing. So it is up to Mr. Biden to think very carefully about the future of our country.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.