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Rights activist apologises for anti-Semitic comments

Erik Jensen
January 28, 2009
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THE convener of a conference on justice for Palestine, to be held at State Parliament tomorrow, has apologised for making anti-Jewish comments despite having earlier defended them as "private conversation".

Maqsood Alshams, who formed a lobby group called the Asia Pacific Human Rights Institute, organised the conference with three universities to discuss the possibility of Israel being prosecuted by the International Court of Justice.

The Bangladesh-born asylum seeker, who was once nominated for the National Human Rights Award, wrote in private emails obtained by the Herald that Israel had overshadowed the Holocaust in its treatment of Palestine and that God hated Jews.

"The simple answer is that you the Jews are real motherf----- bastards," he wrote in an email to Richard Benkin, a human rights activist based in Chicago.

"You guys are simply assholes … Stop playing the bloody victim games."

In another email, to a Sydney management consultant, Anna Berger, Mr Maqsood said Israel's actions in Gaza were more serious than the Holocaust, comparing the conflict with Hitler's treatment of Jews.

Asked about the emails, Mr Maqsood initially defended his right to a private argument. "Is it anything wrong to have a private conversation? That is not my public view … I am not an anti-Semite at all. I have many Jewish friends."

But late yesterday Mr Maqsood apologised and withdrew the remarks. "I am ashamed to say they were made at a time when I was intoxicated and angry," he said. "Of course, there is no excuse for such remarks."

The universities participating in Mr Maqsood's conference have refused to withdraw support, despite calls from the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.

"It now seems the conference will also serve an anti-Semitic agenda," the board's chief executive, Vic Alhadeff, said yesterday. "The participating organisations - wittingly or unwittingly - have allowed themselves to be used as part of that racist agenda."

Larissa Behrendt, of the University of Technology, said monetary support would remain for the conference as the forum was part of legitimate debate.

"We saw this as being an opportunity for debate [but] there's no space in it for the comments that have been made. There's no excuse for them [but] it doesn't mean the debate we want to have take place should not take place."

Macquarie University and the University of Sydney have also maintained their positions.

The Edmund Rice Centre, a Christian social justice body where the Asia Pacific Human Rights Institute is based, said the remarks were derogatory and offensive.

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