Noor Dahri is the founder and director of the Pakistan-Israel Alliance, a non-profit which supports and promotes peaceful reconciliation between Israel and Pakistan, believing it to be in the best national interest of both countries to do so. Born in Pakistan before moving to the UK, he is a researcher and commentator on issues relating to counter-terrorism and violent extremism.
Dahri is a regular writer for a variety of websites, including the Times of Israel. His academic background in these fields include Oxford College (England), the University of Maryland (USA) and International Institute for Counter Terrorism (Israel). He is an honorary member of the Zionist Federation UK.
He graciously agreed to speak with Clarion Project Dialogue Coordinator Elliot Friedland about his organization and his hopes for reconciliation between Israel and Pakistan and between Jews and Muslims more generally.
Clarion Project: Why did you set up the Pakistan-Israel Alliance?
Noor Dahri: I have been writing for nearly a year for various Israeli newspapers about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with many articles (including interviews) published during that period. My views have often provoked controversy, most notably in 2014 when I voiced my support for Israel during Operation Protective Edge.
For a Muslim to support Israel over the Palestinians angered many in my community, including in my own family, irrespective of any facts or arguments I presented them with. Working to change perceptions in the Pakistani communities is something therefore that I am deeply committed to.
A turning point was that, after they had seen my writing, I was invited to meet with the Zionist Federation UK, who were very impressed that someone from my background was speaking out for Israel. They offered me honourary membership, which I was proud to accept. Again, this was met with outrage by some, with accusations that I was an infidel, a Jew, a Mossad agent or an Israeli paid puppet sent my way. Of course, they didn’t seem to realise that there’s nothing wrong with being a Jewish supporter – and if I really was a Mossad agent, I wouldn’t be so open in my support of Israel!
The other side of this, however, was that there were also many Muslims whom I knew supported my views – or were curious about the issues relating to Judaism and Israel. I wanted to reach out to Muslims, especially in the Pakistani community, to educate and inform them. But I also didn’t want to create yet another Jewish-Muslim interfaith organisation that focuses simply on religious dialogue and coexistence. Too often I hear from Muslims that they have nothing against Jews – while of course they hate Israel and/or “Zionists.” Traditional interfaith organisations often simply try and focus on the easy stuff, without combating “Anti-Zionism” – the acceptable face of antisemitism.
This is why I wanted to put Israel as the focus of the organisation, since Israel is the target of contemporary antisemitism. I hope the Pakistan Israel Alliance will help to build bridges between Muslims and Jews, and between Israel and Pakistan.
Clarion: On a day to day basis what does your organization do?
Dahri: Since we’ve just launched, we’re very much in the early stages of operations, with our primary goal being simply to raise awareness of our existence. In the near future, I want to start initiating dialogue between British Pakistanis on one hand and Jews and Israelis on the other. I’d like to organise some conferences with representatives from the different Pakistani and Israeli communities looking at problem-solving together.
And last but not least I’m hoping to organise trips for Pakistanis to visit Israel itself.
Clarion: How do you think improving the relationship between Israel and Pakistan will improve relations between Jews and Muslims more generally?
Dahri: I believe that normalising relations between Israel and Pakistan would definitely improve relations between Jews and Muslims generally. “Anti-Zionism” has greatly increased anti-Semitic incidents worldwide, whereas I believe Muslim countries like Pakistan treating Israel like a normal country would make this hatred less common or acceptable.
The lack of relations between the two countries provides a context for misunderstandings and negative stereotypes to flourish. The rejection of any Israeli or even Jewish voices means that Pakistanis and other Muslims have no way of seeing the whole picture. Is it any wonder that so many are outraged during times of war, like Operation Protective Edge, when they only see one side?
Normalising relations would also provide Pakistanis with a much greater opportunity to see Israel for themselves – currently, the Pakistani passport specifies that they aren’t able to enter Israel. Many professionals, such as scientists, academics and even religious scholars, could benefit from building stronger ties to the Jewish state. These kinds of collaboration are actually what brought me close to Israel in the first place, since my primary field of interest is counter-terrorism.
Pakistan is a country that has been plagued by violent extremism for decades – Israel should be used as a role model for how to tackle this problem.
Clarion: What your reception from the wider Pakistani community been?
Dahri: Mixed and challenging. As I said previously, there are many in my community who are simply unable to accept me or my outlook. Support for Israel is unacceptable, but support for Israel from a fellow Muslim is even worse. Even voicing support on social media has resulted in abuse and even death threats, with people denouncing me as no longer being a real Muslim.
Interestingly, I have received a considerable degree of support and interest from within Pakistan itself, especially from within professional circles. I have had people from many different backgrounds contacting me from my motherland to express their full moral support for what I am doing.
There are many people within Pakistan who are interested in visiting Israel for themselves. However, they cannot themselves openly share this support publicly. While there are many more than I expected, I fear that they are still in a minority. I have received enough threats from religious hardliners in Pakistan to know that sadly I cannot return there to visit. Given that I was born and grew up there, this is very upsetting for me.
I hope that one day the situation will change.
Clarion: What is the biggest obstacle you face in promoting Pakistan-Israel ties?
Dahri: The biggest obstacle is from religious and political extremism, which is a huge barrier to normalising ties between Israel and Pakistan. Islamic extremists have threatened me, and would threaten people interested in our work. I have no doubts that it will also be challenging to break down the years of propaganda that have tarnished the image of Israel and her supporters, but if no one steps forward to start promoting different information the situation will never change.
That is why I am willing to take on this role. I hope that by providing a different perspective, no matter how challenging, we can change opinions in Pakistani and Muslim communities.
In the end, I believe that Pakistan, the country I love, has much to gain from improved relations with Israel, and these benefits will outweigh simply clinging onto the ideological extremism that currently poisons the conversation on this subject.