Blood­li­bel­not­bade­nough­foruk­court

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment - John Ware

ALIBEL bar­ris­ter once gave me some very good ad­vice. I was pro­duc­ing a TV doc­u­men­tary about a se­nior mem­ber of the IRA who’d sanc­tioned a se­ries of bomb­ings and shoot­ings. He was also an elected politi­cian and I wanted to call him all the names un­der the sun. The bar­ris­ter wisely coun­selled cau­tion. Peer­ing over his rim­less spec­ta­cles, and draw­ing heav­ily on a Turk­ish cig­a­rette, he mused: “Look. Why don’t you just re­port the facts?”

So, what are the facts in the im­broglio over Raed Salah, the most prom­i­nent Arab leader liv­ing in Is­rael to­day? The most sig­nif­i­cant one is that the Home Sec­re­tary lost on all counts in her at­tempt to per­suade the Up­per Im­mi­gra­tion Tri­bunal that Sheikh Salah’s pres­ence in the UK was not con­ducive to the public good. Her case that he’s a rab­ble rous­ing an­ti­semitic preacher was “not a fair por­trayal” of his views or words as a whole” and that there was no ev­i­dence that his pres­ence had caused “any dif­fi­culty of any sort”.

Salah’s pres­ence, maybe. But the at­tempt to re­move him did cre­ate a very nasty sit­u­a­tion in north London. Ex­trem­ists stormed into a mosque vis­ited by MP for Finch­ley and Gold­ers Green, Mike Freer and called him a “Jewish ho­mo­sex­ual pig” be­cause he sup­ported the ban on Salah. He had to re­treat to a locked room for his safety.

As if an­tic­i­pat­ing such events, the pre­vi­ous day, the lower im­mi­gra­tion tri­bunal had found Salah’s “words and ac­tions” did in­deed have a ten­dency to be “in­flam­ma­tory, di­vi­sive, in­sult­ing, and likely to fo­ment ten­sion and rad­i­cal­ism”. Their col­leagues in the Up­per Tri­bunal have now com­pletely over­turned this.

Hailed by his sup­port­ers as the “Ghandi of Pales­tine”, Raed Salah’s main pur­pose in vis­it­ing Bri­tain was to pro­mote the view that Is­raeli gov­ern­ments have been stealth­ily con­spir­ing to de­stroy Is­lam’s third most holy site, the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and re­place it with a third Jewish Tem­ple. The slo­gan ‘Al-aqsa is in dan­ger’ was made up by Hitler’s wartime ally Hajj Amin al-hus­seini,to in­sti­gate anti-jewish ri­ots and to raise funds. Nonethe­less, if Salah’s al­le­ga­tion is true to­day, or even con­tains a wisp of truth, the right to freely ex­press it would quite prop­erly trump any con­cerns about how an­gry it might make Bri­tish Mus­lims.

So I want to pose a sim­ple ques­tion: does it seem even re­motely likely that an Is­raeli gov­ern­ment would plot such a sacri­le­gious act know­ing it would in­flame not only its 1.7mil­lion Arab cit­i­zens, the 2bil­lion Mus­lims be­yond its borders, and alien­ate al­most the en­tire globe? How­ever far-fetched Salah’s imag­i­na­tion might seem, sev­eral MPS and mem­bers of the Lords were keen to give him and his sup­port­ers a plat­form in Par­lia­ment.

Ismail Pa­tel, who heads the Le­ices­ter-based Friends of Al Aqsa, said the Home Sec­re­tary’s decision to try to de­port Salah be­cause he was an in­flam­ma­tory an­ti­semite was based on “noth­ing more than hearsay”. Other Is­lamist or­gan­i­sa­tions, sev­eral MPS and Baroness Tonge sug­gested like­wise.

For the Labour MP, Jeremy Cor­byn, Salah was a po­ten­tial “part­ner for peace”; for a for­mer as­so­ci­ate for­eign ed­i­tor of the Guardian, the Home Sec­re­tary was be­ing “ab­surd” in ban­ning a “much re­spected” leader; the Guardian it­self brushed aside the al­le­ga­tions against him of an­tisemitism and in­cite­ment, pub­lish­ing in­stead sev­eral apolo­gias; the New States­man said he had been “the tar­get of a vi­cious and con­certed smear cam­paign by the pro-is­rael lobby in the UK.”

So who is the real, so-called “Ghandi of Pales­tine”? The Is­raeli Po­lice say that, in a ser­mon in 2007 out­side the Al Aqsa mosque, Salah in­voked the in­fa­mous “blood li­bel” that Jews used the blood from the rit­u­alised mur­der of gen­tile chil­dren to bake bread at Passover. Salah’s hosts — the Mid­dle East Mon­i­tor­ing Or­gan­i­sa­tion (MEMO) — ini­tially quoted Salah as hav­ing de­nied mak­ing these com­ments or that he had been charged with racism and in­cite­ment. When it was pointed out to MEMO that Salah had in fact been charged, MEMO said he was never con­victed “due to lack of ev­i­dence.” Also un­true: the ev­i­dence has yet to be tested in an Is­raeli court.

In court in the UK, Salah de­nied that his ref­er­ence to “blood” be­ing used in “holy bread” was a ref­er­ence to the blood li­bel against Jews. “I have never in­voked the blood li­bel” he protested and “would not do so.” The judges in the Up­per Tri­bunal found that he had and that his 10-para­graph ex­pla­na­tion as to what he ac­tu­ally meant, with his ob­scure ref­er­ences to the Span­ish In­qui­si­tion and the con­flict in Bos­nia, was “all wholly un­per­sua­sive.”

And yet, to these judges, this mat­tered not too much. They con­cluded that, with the ex­cep­tion of the blood li­bel, over­all, Salah’s lan­guage — al­beit “in­tem­per­ate” — was in fact di­rected at the Is­raeli state ”rather than Jews as such.” They based this on the fact that, in his ser­mon, Salah had of­fered Jewish syn­a­gogues pro­tec­tion when, as he ev­i­dently be­lieves, Is­rael suc­cumbs to a Caliphate.

The judges came to a sim­i­lar view over a poem that he had writ­ten in 2002 in which he spoke of “op­pres­sors” who “de­cayed our land” and were “germs and mon­keys”. Salah’s be­hav­iour could not be de­fined as un­ac­cept­able, the judges con­cluded. Re­ally?

I don’t know how much the judges know about the Mid­dle East but even the dogs in the street know that it is not un­com­mon for Mus­lim hate preach­ers to re­fer to Jews as a kind of bacil­lus and to re­gur­gi­tate Qu’uranic ref­er­ences to Jews as mon­keys.

The judges did find Salah’s speech had pro­moted the idea of “vi­o­lent protest” be­cause he had called for an “in­tifada” and re­ferred to the virtue of “blood­shed” and mar­tyr­dom as “the most beau­ti­ful mo­ments of our destiny.”

BUT BE­CAUSE Salah had yet to come to trial in Is­rael, even though he had been charged, the judges held that the Home Sec­re­tary should not have taken the Is­raeli indictments into ac­count. Again, I pose a sim­ple ques­tion: if, as the judges ac­cept, Salah said these truly dread­ful things, can it be right that the safety of Bri­tish Jews and the state of communal ten­sion gen­er­ally should be con­tin­gent upon the tar­di­ness of an over­seas ju­di­ciary?

Read­ing the judg­ment, one gets the im­pres­sion that the judges con­sider that Jews are just a bit too touchy about crit­i­cism. Oth­er­wise, why dig­nify the sug­ges­tion from Salah’s side that the CST (which pro­vided ac­cu­rate ma­te­rial to gov­ern­ment lawyers) “may be over­sen­si­tive in its de­tec­tion of an­tisemitism (in the sense of anti-jewish rather than gen­er­ally an­ti­semitic at­ti­tudes).” I strug­gle to see the dis­tinc­tion, just as I imag­ine a Pales­tinian might strug­gle to see a dis­tinc­tion be­tween Is­lam­o­pho­bia and “anti Mus­lim at­ti­tudes.” But ref­er­ences to Jews as child killers, blood bak­ing mon­sters, germs and mon­keys — whether or not “germs” and “mon­keys” re­lates to the Is­rael state or its cit­i­zens? This comes across as the lan­guage of deep, vis­ceral, racist, loathing.

So for me, this cases raises not only some awk­ward ques­tions about the in­sou­ciance of the Tri­bunal but also about the way the Gov­ern­ment’s le­gal team pre­pared and pre­sented the ev­i­dence. The judges as­serted that the ev­i­dence was “not a fair por­trayal” of Salah. The blood li­bel, and in­vo­ca­tion to mar­tyr­dom was “not a sam­ple (of the ev­i­dence be­fore them), or ‘the tip of the ice­berg’: it is sim­ply all the ev­i­dence that there is.”

In fact, the ev­i­dence be­fore them was only the ev­i­dence that was tested in court. I un­der­stand the Trea­sury So­lic­i­tors had sev­eral ex­am­ples of other al­leged Jewish li­bels by Salah but, for what­ever rea­son, chose not to put them be­fore the court.for ex­am­ple, in Oc­to­ber 2001, an ar­ti­cle pub­lished in Salah’s name by the jour­nal of his Is­lamic Move­ment, pro­motes an­other grotesque an­ti­semitic li­bel, with its clear im­pli­ca­tion of Jews be­ing be­hind 9/11: that “4,000 Jews… 4,000 Jewish clerks” were warned to avoid the Twin Tow­ers that day. “On the other hand”, Salah is re­ported to have said, “this warn­ing did not reach the 2,000 Mus­lims who worked in the World Trade Cen­tre…”

And then, just last year, af­ter the death of Osama bin Laden, Salah’s Is­lamic Move­ment de­scribed the Al Qae- da leader as “the sheikh, the mar­tyr, bin Laden” and said the US spe­cial forces that killed him were “mer­ce­nar­ies who have sold their con­sciences to cursed Satan.”

The Trea­sury So­lic­i­tors also chose not to use ev­i­dence from the Is­raeli Com­mis­sion of In­quiry into the Arab ri­ots of Oc­to­ber 2000, which found that Salah was “re­spon­si­ble… for the trans­mis­sion of re­peated mes­sages en­cour­ag­ing the use of vi­o­lence and the threat of vi­o­lence as a means to achieve the goals of Is­rael’s Arab sec­tor.”

IN THOSE ri­ots, 12 Arab Is­raelis were killed, and one el­derly Jewish man was stoned to death af­ter an Is­raeli Arab mob went on the ram­page us­ing fire­bombs, gun­fire, rocks, and sling­shots against both Is­raeli cit­i­zens and po­lice. At a “Peace” rally two weeks ear­lier or­gan­ised by Salah’s Is­lamic Move­ment on his for­ever theme “Al Aqsa is in Dan­ger”, Salah is re­ported to have told the crowd: “the Is­lamic world has ex­clu­sive rights to all the holy sites in Jerusalem and Is­rael has none.” The crowd is said to have re­sponded: “In spirit and blood, we shall re­deem Al Aqsa.”

None of this was put be­fore the judges even though the Home Sec­re­tary was ad­vised that the ev­i­dence against Salah was “very finely bal­anced.” Whether that ap­plied to all of the ev­i­dence avail­able to the lawyers, or just the few pieces they chose to test, I can­not say.

Le­gal is­sues aside, one might rea­son­ably have ex­pected the Guardian — of all news­pa­pers — so of­ten in the van­guard of ex­pos­ing racism, at least to have re­marked upon Salah’s wild Jewish con­spir­acy the­o­ries and his move­ment’s praise for bin Laden. But it did not. Nei­ther did the In­de­pen­dent, nor the New States­man. In­deed, the lat­ter expressed ju­bi­la­tion. The In­de­pen­dent is now a mar­ginal news­pa­per, the once great New States­man even more so. But the Guardian? It could not even bring it­self to re­port the first im­mi­gra­tion tri­bunal’s ver­dict that Salah had a ten­dency to be an “in­flam­ma­tory, di­vi­sive” and “in­sult­ing” preacher “likely to fo­ment ten­sion and rad­i­cal­ism”.

The “Ghandi of Pales­tine” is now back in his home town of Umm al-fahm Uhmm, just in­side Is­rael where he has been the thrice elected Mayor. He spent 10 months here fight­ing to clear his name and, when vic­tory came, it was fol­lowed by an ex­plo­sion of right­eous fury by his sup­port­ers.

Be­fore de­part­ing from London Salah was the guest of hon­our at a party for 350 at a West London lo­ca­tion. Ac­cord­ing to his hosts, the “most poignant words” came, not from any of the many speak­ers queu­ing up to pay their re­spects, but when the Supreme Guide to the Egyp­tian Mus­lim Brother­hood tele­phoned to con­grat­u­late him per­son­ally. As most JC readers will know, the Brother­hood is the par­ent or­gan­i­sa­tion of Ha­mas, to which the gov­ern­ment lawyers said Salah’s Is­lamic move­ment in Is­rael is linked.

Mo­hammed Sawalha of the Bri­tish Mus­lim Ini­tia­tive, said the Home Sec­re­tary should re­sign “or be sacked by the Prime Min­is­ter.” Sev­eral oth­ers re­ferred to what they clearly re­gard as the ma­lign and dis­pro­por­tion­ate power of what they call the “Is­rael lobby. Jeremy Cor­byn, sup­ported by Salah’s lawyer, Tayyab Ali, has de­manded an in­quiry un­der the Public In­quires Act of 2005. With the great­est re­spect to Messrs Cor­byn and Ali, this 2005 Act is in­tended for dis­as­ters of con­sid­er­ably greater sig­nif­i­cance than the ban­ning of a sin­gle preacher whose views have yet to cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion of the wider Bri­tish public. To put it mildly.

Still, it is a fact that many of those sup­port­ing the Home Sec­re­tary were in­deed “Pro-is­rael” to the ex­tent that they would like to see a na­tional home­land for one of the world’s small­est pop­u­la­tions whose peo­ple have been per­se­cuted through­out much of their his­tory. It’s also a fact that those who ha­bit­u­ally as­sign the “ProIs­rael” pre­fix to oth­ers, do so from what they con­sider to be a su­pe­rior moral po­si­tion.

But whether one is “Pro-is­rael” or “Pro-pales­tinian”, why any Bri­tish cit­i­zen, let alone MPS or lib­eral na­tional news­pa­pers, should have ob­jected so pas­sion­ately, and with such primeval fury to the Home Sec­re­tary putting the ev­i­dence against Salah to the test, is be­yond my un­der­stand­ing. And that’s a “Pro Bri­tish” view, by the way.

John Ware is a broad­caster

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