Antisemitic backlash in Pakistan: Unraveling the fallout of Israel’s UN statement


Recently, pro-military political leaders in Pakistan launched a series of antisemitic attacks against Israel, Zionists, and Jews. This came after Israel’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Adi Farjon, expressed concerns about Pakistan’s deteriorating human rights situation and persecution of opposition leaders and activists at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

Farjon’s comments were met with hateful responses from ruling politicians and even former Prime Minister Imran Khan, whose Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party is facing challenges from both the military and the government. Ironically, these antisemitic attacks aimed to delegitimize Khan, whose populist politics pose a threat to the ruling coalition.

During the Universal Period Review (UPR) of Pakistan’s human rights record at the UNHRC in Geneva, Adi Farjon highlighted the alarming issues of enforced disappearances, torture, crackdowns on peaceful protests, violence against religious minorities, and the tightening of blasphemy laws in Pakistan. She urged Pakistan to take appropriate measures to address these human rights violations.

Adi Farjon said: “Israel remains deeply concerned about the overall human rights situation in Pakistan where enforced disappearances, torture, crackdowns on peaceful protests, and violence against religious minorities and other marginalized groups remain prevalent… Israel believes that it is essential that Pakistan heed our recommendations to take all appropriate steps to prevent arbitrary arrests, torture, and other ill-treatment and bring perpetrators of such acts to justice.

“Israel also urges Pakistan to decriminalize same-sex activities in accordance with international human rights standards and to adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that addresses discrimination, including based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Israel is also concerned that in January 2023 Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a vote to tighten its blasphemy laws which are often used to target and prosecute religious and other minority groups”.

Unfortunately, antisemitic sentiments run deep in Pakistan. Over the years, various opinion-shapers in the country have blamed the so-called “Jewish lobby” for various issues, from international cricket controversies to public health campaigns. This dangerous rhetoric perpetuates hatred and misinformation about Jews and Israel.

In Pakistan, Islamic religious scholars and political leaders are known to be nursed in antisemitism. In recent decades, Pakistani opinion shapers have blamed the so-called “Jewish lobby” for working against Pakistani sportsmen in international cricket, dismissed polio vaccination campaigns as “Jewish conspiracies,” alleged an “Israeli hand” in India-Pakistan water disputes, accused Jews and Hindus of promoting Valentine’s Day, and April Fool’s Day against Muslims, dismissed Facebook as a Jewish conspiracy, accused Jews and Israel of targeting Pakistan’s nuclear assets, and so on.

The anti-Jewish views run so deep that in 2012 a Pakistani Christian was forced, along with his family members, to leave his home in Lahore simply because his name was Jew Jurian, triggering a Pakistani official to reevaluate his application for a national identity card.

Following Farjon’s statement at the UN, the Urdu newspaper Roznama Jang published front-page article on July 12, 2023 that further fueled the antisemitic narrative.

Political leaders, such as Sherry Rehman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Attaullah Tarar, accused Imran Khan of being supported by Israel and labeled him as a “fitna”, meaning strife or rebellion in Islamic societies.

According to the Urdu daily, Sherry Rehman stated: “When did Israel become a champion of human rights? The killer of Palestinians has stood up in support of Imran Khan”. Sherry Rehman is seen in the West as liberal and secular.

Speaking at a press conference alongside Attaullah Tarar, Sherry Rehman said: “No former prime minister has engaged in enmity against the country as Imran Khan has done. After failing to get America to criticize [the government of Shehbaz Sharif], Imran Khan has brought Israel to the front… Supporting PTI and [Imran Khan] Niazi from the forum of the United Nations proves who is behind the events of May 9; their links are connecting to the country’s enemies. These are the people behind the atrocities on the Muslim Ummah’s oppressed nations of Kashmir and Palestine”. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) is Imran Khan’s political party whose members are being forced to resign at the behest of Pakistani military.

These comments against Israel might give the impression that Israeli diplomat Adi Farjon expressed support for Imran Khan. In fact, she did not mention Imran Khan in her statement. However, her remarks about Pakistan’s “crackdown on peaceful protests” and “arbitrary arrests” are viewed as Israel’s support for Imran Khan because her observations reflect ground realities in Pakistan where thousands of political activists are being rounded up for trial in military courts. Hina Jilani, the chief of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, has criticized “the arbitrary manner” used to select cases to be heard in military courts following the May 9 protests, adding: “There is no due process in military courts. The independence and impartiality of these courts are always questionable, and people do not get real justice”.

Hina Parvez Butt – a former legislator of Prime Minster Shehbaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League (PML–N) party who was honored as the Young Global Leader 2016 by the World Economic Forum – insinuated about the Jewish faith of Imran Khan’s former British wife Jemima Goldsmith in a tweet declaring Khan to be “Israel’s son-in-law” and as “fitna”, an Islamic religious term which is translated as mischief in Urdu and rebellion in Islamic shari’a literature.

Hina Parvez Butt’s tweet dated July 12 reads in Urdu: “In the manner Israel is supporting this fitnah [i.e., Imran Khan], there is something black in the lentils [i.e., a conspiracy]. Ever since, the path of this fitnah has been blocked, Israel is in great pain”. Along with her tweet, she also published an image of Imran Khan – arguably the most popular pro-Islamist leader in Pakistan today – against the backdrop of an Israeli flag as if he were an Israeli leader and inscribing the image with the words “Israel’s son-in-law” in Urdu.

Imran Khan, far from being a supporter of Israel, has been known for antisemitic observations, often conflating Israel and Jews – accusing “the Jewish lobby” of controlling global media, “the Israeli lobby” of seeking to roll back Pakistan’s nuclear program, “the Jewish and Indian lobbyists” of influencing American government, and even justifying jihad for freedom as a “verse of the Quran” – despite which he hired a Jewish organization for lobbying in the United States.

It may be mentioned here that, anti-Semitism and hatred towards Hindus and India are very much within the poisonous DNA of every Pakistanis.

In the midst of Pakistan’s deepening political uncertainty, Imran Khan’s demands for timely provincial elections faced opposition from the government and the military. This led to mass protests, with some demonstrators targeting military institutions, and Khan’s party, PTI, being forced to resign under pressure from the military.

Amid these events, Pakistan’s political leaders, including Imran Khan himself, resorted to blaming Israel, despite Israel’s critical stance on Pakistan’s human rights situation. The antisemitic remarks made by prominent politicians are concerning, especially considering their education and background. Such rhetoric only exacerbates tensions and fosters hatred.

The recent antisemitic attacks in Pakistan following Israel’s UN statement underscore the need to address and combat hatred and misinformation.

Scapegoating Jews and Israel in response to legitimate concerns about human rights only further divides and harms societies. It is essential for leaders to promote understanding, tolerance, and open dialogue to foster a more inclusive and peaceful future.


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