San Jose’s City Council cancels the mayor’s “educational trip” to Qatar over human rights concerns, claims stemming from Islamophobia and intolerance towards Islam.
A US mayor has been banned from travelling to Qatar after a move to block the visit by the City Council.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo’s plans to travel to the Qatari capital was rejected by the council through a 8-3 vote over alleged human rights concerns.
According to California’s local San Jose Spotlight, the mayor was allegedly invited by authorities in Doha to attend Qatar Foundation’s Environment and Energy Research Institute from 11-13 June to learn about the institute’s water conservation efforts.
The report said all travel accommodation, as well as meals, would be covered by Doha, “which makes it legally considered a gift to San Jose.”
“On Tuesday, the City Council voted 8-3 to reject that gift,” the report said.
Speaking about the vote, Council member Devora Davis said: “There have been charges with human rights violations from Amnesty International as well as the US state department against Qatar, so I’m concerned about you [Liccardo] going there.
“We [City Council] voted to restrict city travel to American cities for less than the abuses and allegations that have been levelled against Qatar.”
Despite this, Doha News has found that City Council members have previously approved travel to Israel and Saudi Arabia, despite various reports by global rights organisations on human rights violations against both countries.
Mayor Liccardo himself traveled to Israel between 14-22 December 2019 to better understand “critical policy issues affecting both Israel and the United States” as well as gain a deeper learning of “Israeli policies” and “society.”
The trip was sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation. The New York Times reported that as of 2014 “hundreds of Washington lawmakers have” gone to Palestine, sponsored by this program.
“The American Israel Education Foundation has been more prolific than any other in sponsoring overseas trips for members of Congress and their staffs.” So much so, that the entity became “the standard-bearer for foreign Congressional travel.”
One pro-Israel advocate in Washington said the visit is described by lawmaker as the “Jewish Disneyland trip,” according to reports.
The American Israel Education Foundation is the educational arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a fiercely pro-Zionist lobby group.
An Amnesty International report in February amplified previous reports by Palestinian rights groups on Israel’s apartheid crimes against the native population, noting the clear absence of accountability mechanisms within the global community.
Separately, in May 2018 San Jose former Councilmember Johnny Khamis, along with representatives of the Silicon Valley Organisation, Google Ventures and other business officials, went to Saudi Arabia to “encourage the kingdom to invest in Silicon Valley.”
In February 2018, Amnesty International published a detailed report regarding Saudi Arabia’s evident human rights violations, including execution of Shia activists, discrimination against minorities, restricted freedoms of expressions, and torture and other ill-treatment of detainees.
The most rejection of certain council members in San Jose’s Council City were due to the Qatar trip being a ‘bad’ representations to San Jose’s values.
Arguments against the mayor’s trip
The mayor, along with vice mayor and Councilmember David Cohen, voted in favour of the Qatar travel plans.
Councilmembers Raul Peralez and Sylvia Arenas joined voices with Davis and spoke out against Liccardo’s visit to the Arab country, arguing that the trip was “not necessary nor a good representation of San Jose’s values.”
“Liccardo agreed that Qatar does not espouse the same democratic values or freedoms as San Jose, but said the state has made efforts to democratise its nation,” the report said.
He further made note of Doha’s decision in granting “women the right to vote at the same time as men, and women can run for public office.” The mayor also reiterated US President Joe Biden’s description of Qatar as a non-NATO ally to Washington.
“There are many areas where I think we would all agree that we don’t agree with what Qatar is doing in its own country,” Liccardo said. “On the other hand, Qatar has been something of a beacon in many ways,” as quoted by the local-based report.
He also said Doha has made “notable advancements” in its water conservation strategies, desalination methodologies and technologies related to diesel that could be of advantage to San Jose, clarifying this to be the reason for the visit.
“I’m focused on water and I know that they’ve made great gains around providing a potable supply for their three million residents,” Liccardo noted. “Nonetheless, if we don’t communicate, we don’t travel, then we won’t learn.”
As per the report of his trip being allegedly paid for, the California-based mayor said not a “single city dollar would be used” in Qatar.
Should he need to pay for an Uber, for instance, “that would be on his own dime”, he said.
Islamophobia on the discussion table
Maha Elgenaidi, founder and innovation director of the Islamic Networks Group, argued some of the claims that rose out of the council were tainted with Islamophobic sentiments, as certain remarks pinned the human rights abuses to Islam or Islamic law (the Shariah), as opposed to “criticising Qatar” or “an unjust government.”
Elgenaidi said the way in which City Council used Sharia to “describe some of the injustices in Qatar” are not linked to what Islam stands for and therefore it is unfair to blame the Shariah or Islam.
“My grievance is with the disparagement of Islam, which is directly consequential in impacting the level of hate and discrimination against members of the Muslim American community,” Elgenaidi told San Jose Spotlight.
She underlined some obtrusive Islamophobic commentary made by Councilmember Arenas claiming she would be “scared to go to Qatar as a woman.”
Elgenaidi also noted Mayor Liccardo’s statement regarding certain “elements of Islamic law in Qatar’s legal system indicating that is what makes the state unjust.”
The council conversation exhibited vivid intolerance towards Islam. Elgenaidi said the conversation is a clear indication that the City Council should go through anti-racist training.