Kuwaitis openly debate normalization with Israel: Betrayal or a sign of the times?

Sunday 6 March 202202:40 pm
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Intense debate raged in Kuwait over the past few days regarding a Kuwaiti journalist’s public calls for normalization with Israel. Commentators were split between those who support what they see as the writer’s right to express his opinion, whatever it may be, and those who see this as betrayal and a deviation from the state’s official position.

This may be the first time that a debate such as this one has taken place, as Kuwait’s successive governments continue to stand by the Palestinians and reject open communication with Tel Aviv.

Most Kuwaitis have also continued to show support for their country’s stance on various occasions, as evidenced by their positions on social media.

Writer Jasem al-Juraid has repeatedly expressed his approval of the recent steps of rapprochement being taken between Israel and several Gulf states, hoping that his country would soon begin to take the same step. This sparked the anger of many Kuwaitis who began calling for his punishment.

“Boycott Al-Qabas” campaign

As a result, Kuwaitis launched a campaign to “boycott al-Qabas”, the newspaper that al-Juraid writes in, suggesting that his articles may act as a space to promote “tolerance of Israel”. Dozens of Kuwaitis shared a screenshot showing that they had blocked the newspaper on social media sites.

Calls to boycott “al-Qabas” newspaper and an attack on journalist Jasem al-Juraid, who called for normalizing relations with Israel. Al-Qabas halted all dealings with him, opening a heated debate about freedom of opinion and cancel culture

Through the hashtag, Kuwaitis reminded of their long history of supporting the Palestinian cause, pointing out that, “Whoever abandons Palestine today, will abandon his own homeland tomorrow”. A Kuwaiti twitter user proudly stated: “We do not only stand in solidarity with the Palestinian cause, we are its founders”. Another added: “Palestine is my compass, always and forever”.

Professor of Modern History at Kuwait University, Ayed al-Juraid, recalled the role of the Kuwaiti press in “boycotting the Zionist entity” around 70 years ago, saying that there “is a lesson in this for those who fail Muslims first cause: Palestine”.

In a brief statement it posted on its social media accounts, the Kuwaiti newspaper stated: “Al-Qabas reiterates its firm and long-standing position against the crimes of the foul Zionist enemy, and its full support for the valiant Palestinian resistance. It also announces the suspension of an opinion piece writer who called for the normalization of relations with the Zionist enemy on his social media accounts”.

But this did not change the position of al-Juraid, who wrote via his Twitter account: “Edy Cohen my friend, they think that the pressure from these people will stop our journalistic and brotherly relationship. May you and your family live happily and peacefully”. Cohen replied to the tweet with the old Bosnian proverb: “The dogs may bark, but the caravan moves on, my friend and brother Jasem. Greetings to you and the great people of Kuwait”.

No to “Silencing Mouths”

But some Kuwaitis rejected what they considered to be “a policy of exclusion and silencing of mouths”. Some criticized the stance that al-Qabas took by submitting to “intellectual terrorism”, as they called it, regardless of their position regarding the writer’s words.

Perhaps for the first time ever in Kuwait... Activists defend Jasem al-Juraid’s right to call for normalization of relations with Israel from a rights standpoint, and those who oppose say that “betrayal (normalization) is not merely a point of view”

Professor of Political Philosophy at Kuwait University, Mohammad al-Wuhaib, wrote: “How far are we from believing in difference and believing in a person’s freedom to express their opinion. This is truly disappointing. All that Jasem al-Juraid did was write an opinion in which he didn’t harm anyone’s dignity. But after it was published, a storm erupted in a fierce campaign that #al-Qabas unfortunately surrendered to, without any awareness and belief in the value of the freedom of opinion, unjustly preventing him from writing. #shame.”

Psychiatric consultant Sulaiman al-Khadhari announced that “in support for freedoms, and based on the principles of journalistic work that require media institutions to respect the intellectual positions of those who decide to work with them, I announce that I will stop writing in the al-Qabas newspaper until esteemed writer Jasem al-Juraid is reinstated.”

Addressing al-Juraid, al-Khadhari added, “One day, these crowds that curse you will understand the value of the freedom you are demanding for them and fighting for. One day, they will know that, even if you disagree with many of them, you fought with everything you had so that their mouths would not be silenced. One day, they will know that freedom is an end, that difference (in opinion) is a necessity, and that diversity is richness... One day!”

Those who support the campaign against al-Juraid and al-Qabas responded by stressing that normalization is a betrayal, and that betrayal should not merely become a point of view.

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