Azopardi says El Hana’s posts were ‘absolutely unacceptable’, but adds ‘it’s not the Youssef I know’
GSD leader Keith Azopardi was unequivocal on Monday that language used by party candidate Youssef El Hana in some social media posts spanning several years had been “absolutely unacceptable and wrong”.
But he said too that the posts in question did not reflect “the Youssef that I know”, describing him as a proponent of interfaith harmony who deserved a chance to serve his community as the first Moroccan-born Gibraltarian elected to public office.
In posts as recently as 2021, Mr El Hana had expressed support for the Palestinian cause in sometimes trenchant and derogatory language against Israel, something which has caused deep offence to many in Gibraltar’s Jewish community.
The posts resurfaced after Mr El Hana was confirmed as a candidate on the GSD slate, prompting him to post a statement on his social media in which he apologised for causing offence.
“I've made my views clear to Youssef in no uncertain terms,” Mr Azopardi said.
“He knows what those are and that some of the language used was unacceptable, absolutely unacceptable and wrong.”
“He knows that. He has apologised.”
Mr Azopardi said that while he had been aware that Mr El Hana had “some views on the Palestinian issue”, he had not seen the posts he considered unacceptable until after the selection process.
Mr Azopardi met with James Levy, the president of the Jewish community, last Thursday to express his personal apology for the comments.
But he acknowledged too that for many, the apology fell short.
“I recognise the hurt in the Jewish community, I've made my position very clear,” Mr Azopardi added.
“When I met the president of the Jewish community - this is not about the GSD trying to recover votes, it's really not electoral - I sought to speak to him so that he understood that I shared the view that some of these comments were completely wrong and unacceptable.”
But he added: “I understand that the fact that we've said that and that he has issued an apology may not be enough for some people, I understand that.”
Without seeking to downplay the serious nature of the comments, Mr Azopardi nonetheless raised concern that the social media uproar around the issue was being driven by people “who have political axes to grind”, even though the GSLP/Liberals have made no formal statement in respect of the controversy.
The social media noise, he said, was an attempt to “distract” from “the real issues” that voters are concerned about.
He stressed again that Mr El Hana had apologised for the online statements, which Mr Azopardi were at odds with “the Youssef that I know”.
“The Youssef that I know is a different person who is for interracial religious harmony, who organises iftars because he wants to see that harmony,” Mr Azopardi said.
Mr Azopardi said people who knew Mr El Hana spoke highly of him, adding that he was “a symbol of hope” to the Moroccan Gibraltarian community “…that for years, possibly decades, has been discriminated against in Gibraltar.”