Terry Glavin: The curious case of Khaled Barakat

Israelis say he’s a leader of a terrorist group who is running a Canadian charity. Supporters say he is a victim of Israeli intimidation

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He’s a high-ranking member of a Palestinian terrorist organization best known for dramatic airplane hijackings, suicide bombings and a 2014 massacre at a Jerusalem synagogue that left several worshippers severely injured and five dead, including Toronto-born rabbi Howie Rothman. That’s how Israeli intelligence agencies describe 51-year-old Khaled Barakat, who has lived in Canada off and on for nearly 20 years and currently resides in Vancouver.

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It’s not how Barakat’s supporters describe the man. Barakat’s associates say he is a Palestinian rights activist and a freelance writer who is being victimized by an Israeli campaign to intimidate human-rights organizations. I’ve made several attempts to speak with Barakhat over the past two weeks. On Monday, an intermediary finally informed me that Barakat wanted me to know that “he is unavailable for discussions” with me.

For several years, the Israeli security service Shin Bet has been unequivocal: Barakat is an active and senior member of the Peoples Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a listed terrorist organization in North America, the European Union, Japan and Australia. Canada listed the PFLP in the renewal of Canada’s national security laws following the Al Qaida terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the same year a PFLP assassin murdered Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Zeevi.

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And yet there Barakat was, only last week in Vancouver, presenting himself for an interview with the Khomeinist English-language propaganda channel, Press TV.

Israeli intelligence agencies are not alone in situating Barakat in the upper echelons of the PFLP’s chain of command. He is described in several Palestinian news websites as either a “leader of the PFLP” or a member of the PFLP’s governing central committee. Israeli intelligence agencies say they have intercepted PFLP documents that also identify him as a key operative in the organization.

All this has been made known to Canadian intelligence agencies, law-enforcement authorities and senior federal politicians.

Still, for years now, Barakat has been appearing at rallies and meetings across Canada. He’s travelled to and from Europe several times as well.

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Barakat’s lawyers are currently engaged in a court battle in Germany, seeking to overturn a four-year ban on entry imposed on him two years ago after he was detained in Berlin in 2019, and later deported, owing specifically to what the German Interior Ministry called Barakat’s proclivity for violent, antisemitic rhetoric. An association of lawyers opposing Germany’s actions in the case says there is “no evidence that Khaled Barakat is an official of the PFLP,” and that Barakat denies it.

In December, 2015, Barakat was in Brussels, Belgium, for demonstrations to mark the anniversary of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, a particularly bloody episode in the on-again, off-again war between Israel and Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls the Gaza Strip. Barakat attended the Brussels events in his capacity as the coordinator for the Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa’adat, the PFLP secretary-general currently serving a 30-year jail term in Israel arising from his 2008 conviction on a variety of terrorism offences.

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In June, 2016, Barakat was in Bulgaria to attend the funeral of Omar Nayef Zayed, whose mysterious death in the Palestinian embassy in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia continues to invite speculation that implicates either or both the Palestinian Authority and Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence agency.

Just last October, Barakat travelled to Madrid to help organize the “Palestinian Alternative Revolutionary Path Movement” conference, bringing together militants devoted to a rejection of the Palestinian Authority’s cooperation with Israel and the “resistance by any means necessary” standpoint counselled by the PFLP.

Established as an armed Marxist-Leninist movement in 1967, the PFLP’s hard-line opposition to accommodation with Israel has left the organization on the outer fringes of Palestinian militancy ever since the Palestinian Liberation Organization signed the Oslo Accords in 1993. The PFLP’s main financial and political backers nowadays are Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus, Khomeinist Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

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Barakat is intimately associated with an organization called the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, an organization Israeli intelligence agencies call a PFLP “proxy” that functions as the terror group’s overseas recruitment, fundraising and propaganda arm. And here’s where you’d think things get especially awkward for Barakat and Samidoun, and Canada, too.

On February 28 last year, Israeli Defence Minister Benjamin Gantz signed an order designating Samidoun a terrorist organization. In announcing the order, Israel’s National Bureau for Counter-Terror Financing stated that Barakat is central to Samidoun’s operations:  “Representatives of the organization are active in many countries in Europe and North America, led by Khaled Barakat, who is part of the leadership of PFLP abroad. Barakat is involved with establishing militant cells and motivating terrorist activity in Judea & Samaria [the West Bank] and abroad.”

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Three days later, on March 3, 2021, the Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network was formally registered by the federal Corporations Canada agency under the Canada Not-for-Profit Corporations Act. Samidoun’s address was listed as a post box on Commercial Drive, in East Vancouver.

By then, the Israeli foreign ministry and Jewish advocacy groups in Canada were losing their patience. B’nai Brith has developed a thick file of correspondence going back to January 2020, warning several cabinet ministers (most of whom have since been shuffled to other portfolios) of its view that it appears as though the PFLP has “inexplicably been allowed to set up shop in this country.”

Early last year, Israel proposed a briefing under the information-sharing terms of the 2014 Canada-Israel strategic partnership agreement, to discuss the situation. The April meeting brought together more than 50 Israeli and Canadian officials, including representatives from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the RCMP and the Canadian Border Services Agency.

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Israeli ambassador Ronen Hoffman told me he had “the utmost trust in the Canadian authorities” and that Israeli-Canadian cooperation on countering terrorism is being handled by professionals. But it’s not as though the ambassador is content with Samidoun’s ability to secure Canada’s formal recognition as a genuine non-profit corporation in this country.

“It’s highly alarming that modern terror organizations, in their tactics of concealment and disguise, have methodically adopted pseudonyms from the world of human rights and civil society organizations to hide behind.”

B’nai Brith chief executive officer Michael Mostyn is not so reticent. His organization’s most recent effort was a January 12 letter sent directly to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, declaring that Ottawa’s inattention was “inexcusable.” Mostyn says Samidoun’s registry should be revoked and the organization should be dissolved.

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Last month, Samidoun’s partner organization in France, the Collectif Palestine Vaincra (CPV), was disbanded by a decree signed by French President Emmanuel Macron. The group’s dissolution was authorized under sections of the French security law banning groups that provoke discrimination, hatred or violence based on ethnicity, nationality, race, or religion and engage in acts that incite terrorism.

Israeli authorities say Shin Bet obtained PFLP documents during a raid of the PFLP’s offices in Ramallah in 2019 that suggest the PFLP expects its association with Samidoun to be more or less clandestine. According to those documents, the connections in Canada are so close that that Barakat was reprimanded by his PFLP comrades for insufficiently distancing the PFLP from Samidoun.

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In its filings with Corporations Canada, Samidoun listed three directors: Thomas Gerhard Hofland of Amstelveen, the Netherlands, Joe Catron, of Flushing, New York, and Charlotte Lynne Kates, of Vancouver. Kates is Barakat’s wife.

The Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy says Kates is Samidoun’s “international coordinator,” and Barakat’s political activism is functionally indistinguishable from Samidoun’s campaigns on behalf of PFLP prisoners. Barakat’s “Campaign to Free Ahmad Sa’adat,” for instance, appears for all intents and purposes a Samidoun campaign. Barakat and Kates travel together in Europe, and Kates gives speeches at the same events that Barakat gives speeches.

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Barakat’s residency status in Canada is unclear. An online Arab news site that interviewed him in November 2020 reported that Barakat was born in the village of Dahiyat al-Barid on the outskirts of Jerusalem in 1971, and went on to live in several Arab and European countries, and later the United States, until his residency permit was revoked and he was deported in 2003. Around that time, Barakat started showing up in Vancouver “radical” circles. The No One Is Illegal organization lists Barakat as a founding member, and Barakat was showing up as a Palestinian student activist at the University of British Columbia in 2004.

Kates’ status is similarly unclear. An American citizen, Kates had already become something of a celebrity radical in New Jersey when she was a teenager. She was involved in a dramatic schism among Palestinian activists at Rutgers University, where she completed a law degree before showing up in Vancouver about a decade ago.

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Shimon Fogel, president and chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, said the situation is untenable. “The links between the PFLP, a listed terrorist entity in Canada, and Samidoun, are clear. We are deeply troubled that the founder and leader of Samidoun, Khaled Barakat, and his wife Charlotte Kates are able to lead Samidoun from Canada with apparent impunity,” Fogel told me. “This should be shocking to all Canadians.”

Two weeks ago when I first tried to reach Barakat through Samidoun’s email address, what I got was an anonymous response: “Khaled Barakat is not a member of Samidoun, although he is someone for whom we have a great amount of respect.” The email directed me to Samidoun’s statements in support of Barakat’s legal case in Germany, and statements to the effect that the organization would not be intimidated by Israel’s designation of Samidoun as a terrorist organization.

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“Israel’s ongoing attacks on Palestinian advocacy and human rights organizations, including Samidoun, have unfortunately become routine. We see this not only in the case of Samidoun but also in the case of the six large NGOs similarly designated only months later. This is a transparent attempt to suppress advocacy for Palestinian rights that holds Israel accountable internationally.”

This is a reference to the Israeli government’s controversial decision to outlaw several non-governmental organizations last year on the grounds that they were being manipulated by Palestinian terrorist groups, and charitable funds were being diverted to outlawed organizations. The designations were loudly protested by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – but Samidoun’s terrorist listing was unrelated to those cases.

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I sent two further requests, specifically asking to speak with Kates. Several days passed, then this: “Khaled Barakat is not a member of Samidoun, as previously noted.” Shortly after reaching out to Barakat by Facebook messenger I got another anonymous response from Samidoun’s email account: “We are familiar with your previous work that seeks to smear and attack Palestine advocacy in Canada, as well as the fact that you have been honoured and lauded for ‘exposing BDS,’” referring to international campaigns of boycott, divestment and sanctions aimed at Israel. The answer again was a clear ‘no.’

Meanwhile, Jewish community leaders were shocked at the antisemitic slogans and calls for violence that were cheered during an anti-Israel rally at Dundas Square in Toronto on Monday. “This hate rally is particularly troubling given that later this week, Jewish communities around the world will pause to mark Yom HaShoah,” said CIJA national board chair Gail Adelson-Marcovitz, referring to Holocaust memoriam. “We are equally alarmed by the apparent involvement of terror-tied organizations, like Samidoun.”



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