One of Australia’s most progressive Muslim leaders is taking legal action in Lebanon to clear his name after being labelled a “collaborator” with Israel.
- Dr Rifi can no longer visit Lebanon out of fear he will be arrested for visiting Israel
- He said he was the victim of a pro-Hezbollah newspaper smear campaign because of his role with Project Rozana
- The organisation helps Palestinian children receive medical treatment in Israeli hospitals
The allegation was initially made by a newspaper aligned with Shia militant group Hezbollah.
Sydney GP Dr Jamal Rifi said he was the victim of a smear campaign orchestrated by Hezbollah and its supporters.
“Now they’ve twisted all these facts and they labelled me a Zionist, working with the enemy, and a collaborator, shame on them,” he said.
Dr Rifi is a prominent member of Australia’s Sunni community. He can no longer visit Lebanon out of fear he will be arrested for visiting Israel, which is illegal for Lebanese citizens.
“I’m going to take them to court and I’m going to prove that what I’ve done is something noble, it’s something good,” he said.
The Lebanese-Australian doctor has revealed he has been targeted by Hezbollah supporters in Australia because of his role with Project Rozana, an organisation that helps sick and injured Palestinian children receive medical treatment in Israeli hospitals.
Dr Rifi is a director of the charity along with leading figures from Australia’s Jewish community.
He blamed the trouble on articles that appeared in Lebanon’s Al Akhbar newspaper that linked him with what it described as “Zionists” in Australia.
Al Akhbar is daily newspaper that is generally supportive of Hezbollah.
The journalist who wrote the articles about Dr Riffi, Lea Azzi, stands by her work.
“The story is about Project Rozana. It is a medical and humanitarian project and under this umbrella they are normalising the relationship with Israel,” she told the ABC.
“So the enemy becomes a human who helps and serves us and the problem is the collaboration of Arabs in that project.”
After the article’s publication, a group of Lebanese lawyers reported Dr Rifi to authorities for visiting Israel as part of his work with Project Rozana.
It is illegal for Lebanese citizens to visit Israel without government approval.
“Yes, I went to Jerusalem, and by the Lebanese laws this is against a law made in 1954,” he said.
“I needed to go there to physically assess the situation, to meet with the parents, and to know what I’m doing is right, and at the same time to meet with the Palestinian authority representative.
“And that is what we are doing, it is not normalisation with the enemy, or the Jews.”
Azzi criticised Dr Rifi for working with Project Rozana founder, Melbourne Jewish businessman Ron Finkel.
“The problem is that the founder of Project Rozana is — not because he is a Jew, we don’t have any problem with Jews — but this person is a Zionist,” she said.
She said Arabs should not be involved with any projects in Israel — even medical charities.
“We stand against any collaboration between Israel and Palestine. These people came to occupy our land and force out the native dwellers,” she said.
“This doesn’t only concern the geographic land of Palestine, we should be all concerned and not allow any collaboration with Israel.”
Dr Rifi is furious at Azzi.
“She is living in the slums, she actually wanted to dictate to us in Australia how we’re going to live our life. Shame on her,” he said.
“We are all human beings. The prophet Mohammed, his next-door neighbour was Jewish. The prophet married a Jewish lady.
“This lady wants to stop Muslims and Jewish [people] interacting. She can do that in Lebanon. They have Lebanese citizens who are Jewish.
“What, are they living actually in the middle ages?”
Dr Rifi said he would not be able to visit his elderly mother in Lebanon until he has convinced authorities of the value of Project Rozana.