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New SDP MP under scrutiny over contentious Facebook posts

The MP’s employer, Martti Ahtisaari’s Crisis Management Initiative, says it stands behind Hussein al-Taee.

Hussein al-Taee
Hussein al-Taee Image: Kalevi Rytkölä / Yle

Fledgling politician Hussein al-Taee, who was recently elected to parliament on a Social Democratic Party ticket, has come under intense scrutiny over old Facebook posts about the situation in the Middle East.

Among other things, the new MP from Vantaa appeared to compare Israel to the extremist group Isis and to endorse content posted by a pro-Russia advocate who was sanctioned by Ukraine over his apparent support for the illegal annexation of Crimea, according to reports last Thursday by STT news agency.

Al-Taee has not disputed the veracity of his comments in the open Facebook group in which they were posted.

"I want to apologise for comparing Israel to Isis, because the comment was simply stupid and it does not in any way represent my opinions or values," al-Taee told STT.

SDP party secretary Antton Rönnholm told STT that the party plans to discuss the matter with al-Taee after the Easter break. Rönnholm added that it is important for the SDP that the newly-minted lawmaker has apologised for his writings.

Al-Taee received 4,000 votes in recently-concluded parliamentary elections, enough to gain a seat in the Uusimaa district. During his campaign, he said he was a conflict resolution professional and that he had often spoken at the parliament and at ministries in a professional capacity.

Employer stands behind al-Taee

Meanwhile, al-Taee has the backing of his employer, Martti Ahtisaari’s Crisis Management Initiative, an independent organisation that acts as a peace broker in global hotspots.

Communications and fundraising director Elina Lehtinen told STT that the new MP’s work for the organisation had been impeccable and very successful. Lehtinen said that it was enough for CMI that al-Taee had apologised for any offence his comments may have caused. She added that she had discussed the matter with al-Taee himself, but had not reviewed the contentious comments in any detail.

"We have not gone through the comments in detail. It must be noted that the majority of the [public] comments are ones that he does not recognise as his own. There are clearly some elements that are deliberately being used to sabotage him," she remarked, declining to speculate who might want to harm al-Taee.

"In Iraq al-Taee has inspired confidence among parties to the conflict and has brought together representatives of three groups: Shiias, Sunnis and Kurds. There is nothing to suggest that his work has been in any way unethical," she declared.

Lehtinen pointed out that no one works alone at CMI and that all projects are supervised by the organisation itself as well as donors. "Conflict resolution is always [about] teamwork. Our credibility does not lie in the hands of one person."

Lehtinen noted that given his new role as a member of parliament, al-Taee’s work at CMI will be on hold for the next four years. "At the moment he has chosen this path and he will be an MP for the next four years. I don’t believe that he will be actively involved in any CMI projects," she commented.

Facebook group run by pro-Russia actor

One of al-Taee’s posts dates back to 2014, when he had already begun working at Ahtisaari’s Crisis Management Initiative. At the time, he addressed Sweden’s intention to recognise Palestine as an independent state.

"The countdown will now begin, we’ll see how the Swedish government will change and Stockholm or Malmö will really start to explode. The Mossad [Israeli intelligence service] will never forgive Sweden for this," he wrote.

Al-Taee also repeatedly compared Israel’s actions to that of the extremist group Isis, according to STT. The group’s administrator and owner is Janus Putkonen, who previously worked as editor of Verkkomedia.org, a website that described itself as a challenger of the mainstream media. The site offered Russia-friendly content as well as anti-vaxxer articles and was very critical of the USA and Israel.

STT reported that Al-Taee commented frequently on Putkonen’s posts and links to Verkkomedia content without challenging the reliability of its sources. "I’m not quite sure that I know even now who Janus Putkonen is, but I do not endorse his ideas. I think his worldview is quite distasteful and problematic. When I began to see the Russia-friendly slant, I didn’t get involved and I quit the group," al-Taee told STT last Thursday.

In March, Ukraine placed Putkonen on a sanctions list for his role as an election observer in Russia-backed elections in the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine. He was also a press centre chief in the region.

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