Saturday, May 25, 2019

Finland: Will the Social Democrats Retain a Pro-Iran Anti-Semitic MP in Its Ranks?

A political crisis that has been brewing in Finland over the past few weeks sheds light on the ills of the so-called "center left."

The crisis surrounds Hussein Al-Taee, a new member of parliament from the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which won a narrow victory in the April 14 elections.

A few days after the Finnish elections, Al-Taee, the son of the governor of Najaf in Iraq and a pro-Iranian regime advocate, was exposed for having spent eight years posting anti-Semitic, anti-American and homophobic comments on Facebook. For four of these years, Al-Taee served as an adviser on Middle Eastern affairs to the Crisis Management Initiative (CMI), a state-run conflict-resolution firm founded by the former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, and currently headed by former Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb.

Al-Taee's campaign had centered on his CMI credentials as someone who worked at "bridging peace."

Although Stubb publicly condemned Al-Taee's hate-filled social media comments -- which included comparing Israel to ISIS and referring to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as a "Jew doing what a Jew does best: F***s up everybody to gain everything" -- he has not been asked why a pro-Iranian regime advocate was working for CMI in the first place.

In addition, neither Al-Taee nor the SDP raised the issue of his background as the son of a high-level Iraqi politician or of his ties to Iran during the election campaign. Instead, Al-Taee portrayed himself as a child refugee whose family had fled the regime of Saddam Hussein for the safety of Finland. This narrative fit the image that the SDP wished to project, as an inclusive party that accepts immigrants who have made positive contributions to Finnish society, and that builds trust between different cultures and people.

To make matters worse, when Al-Taee's Facebook posts were first revealed by Finnish-Kurdish blogger and civil rights activist Anter Yasa, the Finnish media responded with derision and disdain to the claim that Al-Taee had, in fact, authored the posts, and accused Yasa of character assassination. The Uusi Suomi news site withdrew Yasa's blogging privileges.

Yasa became a virtual persona non grata, with not a single Finnish news organization even reaching out to him for comment, until the Jerusalem Postreported on story.

The day after that report was published, Al-Taee -- who initially denied having written the anti-Semitic and racist posts, and then claiming that he had authored only some of them -- issued a full confession.

SDP leader Antti Rinne responded by stating that he now realizes Al-Taee had lied to the party. With such high stakes in a close election, one cannot but wonder whether, or to what extent, the SDP did know about Al-Taee's affiliations and views.

As the journalist Lori Lowenthal Marcus pointed out recently, "Notwithstanding their political 'convictions,' the party has stood by the man whose election victory last month gave the SDP the majority over the right wing Finns Party."

While it is true that even a tie-vote between the Social Democrats and the Finns Party would have resulted in the SDP's heading the next government, the loss of one SDP seat would harm any perceived mandate for change, particularly as the Finns Party is polling as the most popular in the country.

In the meantime, with the SDP in the process of distributing ministry portfolios, the question of whether Al-Taee retains his seat or is forced to resign appears to be less of a moral issue for the party than a political one. That situation is as problematic as Al-Taee's covert Shi'ite connections and overt racism on social media.

Al-Taee's apology to his supporters, his party and his former employers at the CMI was equally disturbing.

"I have gone through [the screenshots and Facebook posts] over and over again, and I can say that they are unfortunately real," he wrote on his website. "I have no words to describe the embarrassment I feel about the prejudices, thoughts and language I have used in reference to homosexuals, Jews, Sunnis, Somalis and other groups of people."

At a press conference at the Parliament building, he added, "I wasn't brave enough to admit that the writings were my own."

In other words, Al-Taee was expressing "embarrassment" about his "prejudices, thoughts and language" -- and lying about them -- but did not disavow the sentiments.

Failure on the part of the "center-left" Social Democrats to oust Al-Taee would constitute hypocrisy of the highest order, or else a tacit agreement with hateful positions that the MP has not denied espousing.

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