Published by The Electronic Intifada
Palestinian religious leader and rights activist Sheikh Raed Salah was arrested by the UK government in June, supposedly for “flouting” a ban on entering the country, as much of the UK press put it.
But it later emerged that Home Secretary Theresa May issued the exclusion order only two days before Raed Salah entered the UK for a speaking tour. Crucially, neither he nor his tour organizers had any idea there was such a ban in place. A lawyer acting for the Home Office admitted as much in the High Court on 15 July, saying Salah “didn’t do anything wrong.”
Following his initial arrest, UK courts have released Salah on bail pending the outcome of his challenge to a government order that he be deported, and have also rejected a government appeal aimed at having his bail revoked.
While the UK Border Agency (UKBA) gave no prior warning to Salah, it was revealed last Wednesday that the same agency gave a written warning of a ban to an extremist Israeli settler named Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, who has incited the murder of non-Jews, including civilians and children.
A UKBA letter to Elitzur detailing an exclusion order was published by the Voice of the Jews website on Wednesday. It said Elitzur fell foul of UK policy against “Unacceptable Behavior,” and gave examples including the justification of “terrorist violence” (“Restraining order from the UK to author of The King’s Torah” [Hebrew], 10 August 2011).
The letter is addressed 20 July, only two days after Salah was released on conditional bail pending a full hearing of a judicial review against his deportation from the UK. It states that Theresa May on 11 July (while Salah was still detained) “personally directed that you [Elitzur] should be excluded from the UK on the grounds that your presence here would not be conducive to the public good” — exactly the same grounds she used to exclude Salah.
It then goes on to specify Elitzur’s authorship of a book called Torat Hamelech or The King’s Torah, which details how Jewish religious law supposedly permits the killing of non-Jews and “advocates Jewish discrimination against Gentiles,” as the UKBA put it.
According to the letter, the book further states: “Anywhere where the presence of a gentile poses a threat to Israel, it is permissible to kill him, even if it is a righteous gentile who is not responsible for the threatening situation.” Israeli media reported quite extensively on the book from the time it was published (see “Another rabbi detained over ‘racist book’,” Ynet, 19 August 2010).
Why wait till now?
While Salah strongly denies making the anti-Semitic statements attributed to him by enemies, and cited by the Home Office, Elitzur make no bones about writing the racist book. The website of the Jewish religious school in Yitzhar (an Israeli settlement near the Palestinian city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank) openly lists Elitzur as the author of The King’s Torah, along with another rabbi, Yitzhak Shapira (“Od Yosef Chai” [Hebrew], accessed 11 August 2011).
Why the ban was only issued last month remains unclear. The King’s Torah was published in 2009, and got more attention in the Israeli press in 2010 when Elitzur and Shapira were arrested for incitement to racism. The Voice of the Jews article claims “Elitzur had no plans to travel to Britain in the near future, and the step was taken as a preventative one.”
Home Office confirms letter
The Electronic Intifada contacted the Home Office — the UK’s interior ministry — to ask why the letter had been issued now (the UKBA is part of the Home Office). Although a spokesperson confirmed the authenticity of the letter, the official refused to comment on the timing, stating only: “We can confirm that Mr. Elitzur has been excluded from the UK on grounds of unacceptable behavior. The government will refuse people access to the UK if we believe they might seek to undermine our society. Coming here is a privilege that we refuse to extend to those who seek to subvert our shared values.”
The spokesperson also declined to comment on whether the case had been coordinated with Israel, or if it had any links to Salah’s case, saying that they don’t discuss the details of individual cases.
Could the UKBA’s ban on Elitzur be designed to “balance out” the ban on Salah and make it appear as if UK policy is non-discriminatory, or to somehow equate Salah — a well-respected community leader who has not called for violence — with a racist extremist who has? It is difficult to tell from the evidence. However, it is clear that while allegations of racism against Salah are, at best, based on extremely shaky evidence, Elitzur’s racism is not in doubt.
As a settler leader, Elitzur has been at odds with the Israeli state, mainly on the basis that Jewish settlers should have an even freer hand to colonize the West Bank. In 2009 he was involved in what Israeli journalist Didi Remez described as a “settler rebellion” against the so-called settlement freeze.
Elitzur detailed plans for how to thwart the Israeli army and police: “When in every settlement a police patrol car becomes an unwanted presence, and administration inspectors understand they have 10 minutes to run away before their tires are punctured, the government’s ability to enforce its decrees will drop sharply” (“Document: Settlers prep to terrorize West Bank,” Didi Remez’s Coteret blog, 6 December 2009).
Elitzur was arrested by the Israeli police in 2010 over his co-authorship of The King’s Torah (“Another rabbi detained over ‘racist book’ “, Ynet, 19 August 2010).
The case seems to have been quietly dropped since then, although it is possible the charges are still technically active. The UKBA letter to Elitzur was addressed to “Mr Yosef ELITZUR, Yitzhar, West Bank.” The copy appearing on the Voice of the Jews site included headers suggesting it had been faxed to the yeshiva.
Israeli goverment and US tax-exempt support for extremism
Despite apparently being at odds with the school, it emerged at the time that Israel actually funded Od Yosef Chai yeshiva. According to journalist Max Blumenthal, the school received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Israeli government departments in between 2006 and 2010. It also benefited from donations from a US tax-exempt, nonprofit organization called the Central Fund of Israel.
Blumenthal says Yitzhar and its yeshiva are notorious for hosting “a small army of fanatics who are eager to lash out at the Palestinians tending to their crops and livestock in the valleys below them.” The settlement also has apparent links to alleged Jewish terrorist Jack Teitel, and was apparently the launching base for 2008 attacks on the Palestinian village of Burin using homemade rockets (“How to Kill Goyim and Influence People: Israeli Rabbis Defend Book’s Shocking Religious Defense of Killing Non-Jews,” Alternet, 30 August 2010).
The timing of the UKBA letter to Elitzur, two days after Salah was released on bail, seems unlikely to be a coincidence. Did the government have reason to believe Elitzur was intending to travel to the UK, perhaps to speak or raise funds? We simply don’t know, and the government won’t comment. If we take Elitzur at his word when he says he was not intending to travel soon, the government ban smacks of tokenism after the ban of Salah. And why was Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, the other author of <em>The King’s Torah</em>, not also banned? Many questions remain unanswered, but perhaps the only thing Salah and Elitzur do have in common is that the Israeli government is unlikely to shed any tears over their respective exclusion orders from the UK.
Dena Shunra contributed reporting and translation from Hebrew to this article.
Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. His first book Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupationwill be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is www.winstanleys.org.