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The first Australian solidarity delegation to Syria and the strange case of Jamal Daoud
This is a brief account of the first Australian solidarity delegation to Syria (December 2013, almost four years ago) during the US-led proxy war on that independent country. It also deals with the betrayal of Syria by the Jordanian-Australian Jamal Daoud. I am against criticising people who defend Syria or engaging in debate with ignorant and abusive people. However, from his constant attacks on a wide range of people who support Syria, Jamal has made it clear he is no friend of Syria. For the benefit of friends, I will clarify a little history.
The idea of an Australian group visiting Syria was first raised by Syria’s Honorary Consul in Australia, Mr. Maher Dabagh, sometime in early 2013. Our Sydney-based group Hands Off Syria had begun in mid-2012. At that time it was mainly Syrian-Australians. As an academic myself, I was asked by Maher to see if we could form an Australian academic delegation to Syria. Yet after months of trying, I could not secure even one other academic; even though there were several who had long contact with the country. Some were interested but all had various reasons not to come. I myself knew little about the country, having only begun studying its history from the beginning of the conflict, in March 2011. I began to write research papers from 2013 onwards and published my book ‘The Dirty War on Syria’ in January 2016. That book has now been published in eight languages (English, Arabic, German, Italian, Bosnian, Swedish, Spanish and Farsi).
The idea of the 2013 delegation was always a combination of solidarity with a people under attack and study, aiming to meet a range of people and see the country for ourselves. Maher, liaising with Syrian Foreign Affairs, had a clear preference for Australians in the group, to the point of actively discouraging Syrian-Australians.
In the end, we were 11 persons, Consul Maher and his wife, myself, four Syrian-Australian colleagues from Hands Off Syria (Allan, Elle, Jasmine, and Reme), independent journalist Chris Ray, and a Wikileaks group of 3 which included Jamal, Gail Malone and John Shipton. We all paid our own fares to Syria and were hosted for the time of the tour by the Ministry of Higher Education. As co-organiser and the only academic of the group, Maher designated me as leader of the delegation. Syrians regard such things as important, for their own protocol.
Before the trip, both Maher and I knew that Jamal was a difficult person, self-centered and inclined to abuse former colleagues. For example, when his ambitions as a political candidate with The Greens failed, he left the party and abused them. What led Maher to invite Jamal was his link to the Wikileaks Party which, although small and with no MPs, had the best policy on Syria of any Australian political party. Further, Jamal helped bring in John Shipton who, as Julian Assange’s father, attracted more interest in Syria than his party.
Eight of us arrived together in Damascus in December 2013, on a flight from Dubai. Jamal had gone ahead to Jordan, to visit his family. For some reason best known to himself, he invited Gail and John (at that time in Europe) to Jordan, where there was no easy access to Syria. US-backed jihadist-mercenaries coming to southern Syria from Israel and Jordan meant that the Jordan-Syria border was closed, and there were no flights from Jordan to Syria. That meant the rest of the delegation had to wait while the Wikileaks group flew to Beirut and then came overland to Damascus. A car sent by the Higher Education ministry picked them up at the border. While waiting we saw the Ministers for social support and culture, attending a food aid distribution center and some cultural events.
When Jamal, Gail and John arrived, as a group of 11 we began several days of visits to religious leaders and government officials, starting with our host, the Minister of Higher Education and, through him, Damascus University. We also met some other international groups and individuals, staying at the Dama Rose hotel.
At the end of this short period, we met President Bashar al Assad, having a half hour chat with him about politics and the social impact of the war. This visit was beyond the protocol for any ‘academic’ group. We had not expected it. It illustrated the importance the Syrian Government placed on friendly international visits, at that time.
During this time the various meetings (sometimes 5 a day) had gone fairly smoothly. Government officials appreciated the ‘Hands Off Syria’ message, and several remarked on how much John looked like Julian, before reversing the comment. We were well received because we were defending Syria at a time when the war was quite intense. We could hear explosions every morning coming from the East Ghouta area. The chemical weapons incident in that outlying eastern part of Damascus, fabricated by the US-backed jihadists, had led to an international crisis just months before. The propaganda war and the real war were both intense. We could not easily travel outside Damascus by road, as the al Qaeda groups were attacking the road south and north. Only the road to Beirut was relatively safe.
The main embarrassment for the group was Jamal. At meetings with the Minister for Higher Education and the Mufti of Syria, when it came to his turn to speak, Jamal spoke at length in Arabic (mostly about the Wikileaks Party) and ignored our translator, Reme. Only about half our group understood him. In a gentle rebuke, during Jamal’s speech, Mufti Hassoun got up and made a cup of tea for Reme, our neglected translator. When it came time to meet the President, anticipating further rudeness, Consul Maher demanded that Jamal say nothing. He complied.
Jamal had kept the Wikileaks group a bit apart from the rest of us and, after the meeting with the President they decided to leave the country. The rest of us flew to Latakia to visit Tishreen University, the local mayor and a hospital. After that most of us stayed on to visit Damascus, spending time with friends including those we had met on social media. The Syrian Government had provided hotel accommodation and transport during the tour; but after the official delegation ended we paid all our own expenses.
In the Australian corporate media, our visit was reported (and attacked) at first as a ‘Wikileaks delegation’ as the Wikileaks members had arrived home first, in early January 2014. When I arrived a bit later I clarified that it was a broader delegation that included the Wikileaks group. That catalyzed a torrent of abuse from Jamal. He must have felt that my statement diminished his own sense of importance. He responded, not on behalf of the Wikileaks Party but through a social media front group he had set up, ‘Progressive Australians for Syria’:
“Read this moron, Tim Anderson, and what he claimed … ‘the delegation which I led in Syria” … who are you moron to lead any delegation, even to local waste management center.. you stupid moron … without “Wikileaks Party” representatives you would not have access even to meet the mayor of Damascus .. with your other school kids and illiterates invited to participate in this visit” (17 Jan 2014).
In person, Jamal never said such things, but he seems to have found more courage through an anonymous social media page.
He made other similar abuse of the delegation, through a variety of front groups. On his own Facebook page, he was more cautious, though regularly promising that “we” would reveal details of others he saw as rivals.
To my mind, this was and is some sort of pathological jealousy. We had seen it before with his attacks on The Greens. Very soon he would turn on his Wikileaks colleagues. On 3 April 2014, he proclaimed (with more temperate language but similar self-righteousness) on his own blog page, ‘Swimming against the Tide’: “I refused Wikileaks blackmailing” He claimed his former party had moved “to politicise this highly humanitarian aid and solidarity mission to Syria”. The group had raised some funds for an aid project in Syria. Jamal claimed the party had a “hidden agenda” and that it was his mission to expose this.
Although Hands Off Syria members were offended by Jamal’s behavior, we said nothing publicly for the next three years, as he continued to make occasional public statements in support of Syria. Yet he also covertly abused people, including Syrian Consul Maher and his son. We remained silent. With few friends in western countries, the unity of those in support of independent Syria is a precious asset to preserve.
Over the next two years, Jamal began a small operation called ‘Peace Tours to Syria’, where he took small groups to visit Syria. These trips seemed to help fund Jamal’s own visits to Jordan. Nevertheless, they provided a number of genuine people with their first opportunity to visit the war-torn country. Some went on to speak out in support of the Syrian people. For example, retired Canadian school teacher Mark Taliano went on one of Jamal’s tours and later published a book ‘Voices of Syria’.
The wheels began to fall off this operation in 2016. For some reason, Jamal was blocked from entering Lebanon, and then Syria. He complained that this followed Australian Federal Police information passed on to Lebanon in late 2015. He tried unsuccessfully to get access to this information.
I met one of his groups, without Jamal, in Damascus in April 2016. Later it emerged that one of Jamal’s tour guests (in 2017) had been the Israeli agent Jonathan Spyer, who went on to write some vicious anti-Syrian propaganda. Spyer was a high profile propagandist for Israel and had already written several attacks on Syria. His only real cover was that he had two social media identities: Jonathan Spyer and Andrew (his middle name) Spyer. The former was the zionist, the latter less political. Jamal’s tours came to an end. He blamed Syrian security for not vetting his guests. We heard that Syrian security wanted to question him over the incident. Was he just irresponsible, or something worse?
Around this time Jamal’s abuse of others expanded to include several prominent international supporters of Syria. Unfortunately, he was joined by three other Australians (in Queensland), who were attacking prominent US Christian activists who spoke out in support of Syria. They claimed these Christians were linked to ‘Christian-Zionists’ and therefore supporters of Syria’s enemy, Israel. I defended those that had spoken out in support for Syria and refused to allow personal attacks on the social media sites of which I was an administrator. For that reason, several of this ‘anti-Christian-Zionist’ group turned on me too. Jamal would comment on his ‘Progressive Australians for Syria’ page: “Laugh with this moron … apologist of Christian Zionists”. On another occasion he drew on the story of some anti-Syrian Trotskyists (who took a picture of me at a wake in Sydney for Russia’s murdered Ambassador to Turkey; some far-right figures were also present in the picture) saying: “Syria does not need solidarity of such scumbags/fascist apologists … in bed with fascists and neo-nazis.”
The revelations about Jamal taking a prominent Zionist propagandist to Syria coincided with an increase in his attacks on supporters of Syria. He picked up on corporate media and other anti-Syrian sources to use in his abuse. He started another front page ‘Fake experts on Syria’ for this abuse. He called me a terrorist (I had been charged with a political crime in the late 1970s, then exonerated and paid compensation for wrongful imprisonment – see my 1992 book ‘Take Two: the criminal justice system revisited’) and made similar false abuse against others. He called one man a pedophile (as he had a younger Asian wife), independent journalists ‘prostitutes’ (apparently just because they were women), and others ‘Christian-zionists’ and CIA agents. All of this without a shred of evidence. His abuse of those he apparently regard as rivals became his main political activity.
Just prior to the Jonathan Spyer revelations, Syria foreign affairs, through its consul in Australia, requested detailed information from several of us on Jamal’s abuse of supporters of Syria. I wrote to the Consul in May 2017, including this comment:
“Overall Jamal has become a divisive and destructive force amongst the pro-Syria community. As Jamal’s abuse of others was made public, in recent months, he has responded with more abuse, calling others who support Syria (without a shred of evidence) terrorists, pedophiles, spies and Christian Zionists. He uses some anonymous front pages for his abuse, such as ‘Progressive Australians for Syria and ‘Fake Experts on Syria”.
I made some of these criticisms of Jamal semi-public to friends in early 2017. While he made statements in support of Syria I said nothing. However, Jamal’s abuse of a large number of supporters (inside and outside Syria) make it clear that, for whatever reason, he has become an enemy of Syria. I believe in maintaining, so far as possible, the unity of those in support of independent states and peoples under attack by the big powers. However, anyone who systematically undermines solidarity efforts (and not simply by mistake or difference of opinion) undermines that cause.
Source: Tim Anderson, Freesuriyah