UK government conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism in Salah trial

[Court report for Electronic Intifada] Two days of testimonies in the trial of Sheikh Raed Salah reveals that the UK has named as a “principle source” in its deportation case against the Palestinian leader a pro-Israel lobby group with a history of smearing critics of Israel as anti-Semitic.

Published by Electronic Intifada.

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | Birmingham | 30 September 2011

Renowned Palestinian activist and religious leader Sheikh Raed Salah was at theUK’s Sheldon immigration court in Birmingham this week. His appeal against the government’s decision in June to ban him from the country is now being heard in earnest, with testimonies from Salah and several expert witnesses on Monday and Tuesday. In a related development, the High Court in London today ruled that part of Salah’s dention in June was unlawful.

For the first time, the government named as a “principle source” in its case against Salah the Community Security Trust (CST), a registered British charity with a record of smearing critics of Israel as anti-Semitic, and the only non-government source named in court. A day-one promise to check on further sources was not fulfilled on the second day.

Leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Salah entered the UK legally on 25 June for a speaking tour that included the Houses of Parliament. While Home Secretary Theresa May later said she banned him on 23 June, the Home Office now admits it had not told anyone about the exclusion order — least of all Salah or his tour organizers.

Salah was arrested on 28 June and detained for almost three weeks until released by a High Court judge on restrictive bail conditions. The Home Office is seeking to deport him, but were initially blocked from doing so when Salah launched an appeal.

The Electronic Intifada was in Birmingham, closely following the two-day proceedings. A panel consisting of Senior Immigration Judge N.W. Renton and Immigration Judge C.J. Lloyd listened quietly as witnesses were called by the legal teams of Salah and the Home Office.

Day one: Government witness cross-examined at length

Acting for the government, barrister Neil Sheldon called a single witness: Jonathan Rosenorn-Lanng, a senior case worker with the UK Border Agency (orUKBA, a part of the Home Office). Acting for Salah, Raza Husain then spent almost the entire day Monday cross-examining Rosenorn-Lanng.

Rosenorn-Lanng was the case worker from the UKBA’s Special Cases Directorate who prepared the secret document presented to the Home Secretary used as the basis for the exclusion order against Salah. Although he repeatedly emphasized under cross-examination that he was just a case worker and “would not pretend to be an expert at all” on Israel and the Palestinians, he said evidence he presents to the Home Secretary in such cases is always checked by experts in the relevant country or by “community experts.”

Husain pressed him to reveal precisely who had first asked for Salah to be banned from the UK, and who were the sources. Rosenorn-Lanng said he didn’t know how the case first came to the attention of the Home Secretary, but he claimed “the Jewish community” had felt threatened by Salah’s presence. Husain asked who exactly he meant by “the Jewish community,” pointing to several passages from the document. Rosenorn-Lanng confirmed four specific portions were obtained either directly from the CST, or from the CST via the government’s Department for Communities and Local Government.

Husain then questioned the credibility of the CST, citing the testimony of their witness Dr. Robert Lambert, retired head of the Metropolitan Police’s Muslim Contact Unit. Dr. Lambert testified that the CST “often tends to be biased” when it comes to Muslim criticisms of Israel, regularly conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Rosenorn-Lanng said the UK government considers the group to be “fair and balanced.” At one point he commented that “we haven’t used every single thing the CST sent to us” and also pointed to a “small [UKBA] research team that has access to a number of websites.”

Salah’s attorney pressed Rosenorn-Lanng on places the CST (and hence also theUKBA) had misquoted, misrepresented and taken out of context Salah’s words to make it appear as if he was an anti-Semite. The UKBA document even has quotes from Salah in which the word “Jews” is inserted, it was said in court. Husain asked if the witnesses considered it misleading that in one version of a quote he had rendered the words “you Jews” outside of quote marks whereas in another version it was inside quote marks. Rosenorn-Lanng said it wasn’t misleading, characterizing it as a different presentation based on updated evidence.

Husain said the actual target of Salah’s condemnation was not Jews in general but the Israeli state, saying he was clearly not referring to notable Jewish critics of Israel such as Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappe or Geoffrey Bindman (a British lawyer who put up some bail money for Salah).

Rosenorn-Lanng attempted to defend the credibility of the CST, at one point making the Freudian slip of describing it as a “eminent Israeli organization” before correcting himself that he meant to say “eminent Jewish organization.”

Salah accuses his critics of deliberately misquoting him

On Tuesday, proceedings accelerated as Salah’s team squeezed three DVDs of video evidence and all four of its witnesses in before the end of the two-day slot allocated by the court system. Dr. Stefan Sperl, an expert in Arabic poetry from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, gave an analysis of the original text of a poem by Salah called “A Message to the Oppressors” saying it was addressed to all “perpetrators of injustice,” whether Jews or not. He said aJerusalem Post article characterizing it as anti-Semitic was deliberately misleading. A version with the words “you Jews” inserted into the poem seems to have been used in the UKBA document.

Dr. Lambert, the retired head of the Metropolitan Police’s Muslim Contact Unit, testified in person that while the CST had a good record in the realm of public safety in terms of its role in providing security for Jewish communities, it was difficult for it to understand that legitimate political grievances with Israel and anti-Zionism were quite distinct from anti-Semitism.

David Miller, a sociology professor from the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, submitted his report on the CST as part of the evidence, and provided a copy of that report to The Electronic Intifada. It gives a short history of the CST and its “controversial monitoring of pro-Palestinian activists,” summarizing that it has a “tendency to treat denunciation of Israel or Zionism as evidence of anti-Semitism.”

Although perhaps most famous for its role in recording anti-Semitic incidents, and providing security for the UK Jewish community, the CST has been accused by some in that community of having a deeply pro-Israel agenda. Tony Greenstein, an anti-Zionist activist and blogger with a strong record of criticizing anti-Semites, has written about occasions when CST security have removed or barred Jewish anti-Zionists from public meetings. Greenstein also says the CST refused to record an anti-Semitic attack left on his blog because the commenter was a Zionist (see “CST Thugs Violently Eject 2 Jewish People from Zionist ‘Environmental’ Meeting”, “Community Security Thugs Bar Jewish Opponents of Gaza War from Liberal Judaism Meeting” and “When is an anti-semitic attack not anti-semitic? When it’s a Zionist who is being anti-Jewish,” Tony Greenstein’s blog).

But the centerpiece of the second day was the testimony of Raed Salah himself. Confidently speaking through a court translator, Salah assertively challenged Sheldon’s cross-examination and the government evidence for misrepresenting his words. On several occasions, he challenged Sheldon to quote him more fully and in context, questioning why he stopped some quotationss short.

For example, the words “you Jews” had been inserted into the original text of Salah’s poem (without even square brackets), seemingly by the Israeli press (“Civil liberties, The Jerusalem Post,” 20 June 2009).

That Jerusalem Post article was cited by UK bloggers who campaigned against Salah, such as Michael Weiss, to misleadingly portray him as an anti-Semite. Rosenorn-Lanng had earlier admitted that the UKBA had not sought the original text of the poem, relying instead on Internet sources (“PSC comes to Parliament …,” The Telegraph politics blog, 29 June 2011).

But Salah was clear that the poem was addressed to all perpetrators of injustice, regardless of religion, race or group. He pointed out that his poem also addressed Arab oppressors with certain references to the Quran, and also addresses Pharaoh as an oppressor. Salah said according to a certain historical interpretation of the Biblical and Quranic stories, Pharaoh was an Arab. And that he had oppressed the followers of Moses. “God is not a racist,” Salah said.

Aside from the mangled version of his poem, the other main citation the government gave was a speech Salah gave in Jerusalem in 2007, in which he had talked about Israeli soldiers shedding the blood of Palestinians. The citation had reportedly included the line: “Whoever wants a more thorough explanation, let him ask what used to happen to some children in Europe, whose blood was mixed in with the dough of the holy bread.”

Hostile press coverage in Israel inserted the word “Jewish” in square brackets before the words “holy bread” (“Islamic Movement head charged with incitement to racism, violence,” Haaretz, 29 January 2008).

But Salah’s legal team argued that he was actually referring to the Spanish Inquisition.

When Sheldon accused Salah of invoking the classically anti-Semitic blood libel, Salah countered: “this interpretation is out of bounds, and has no origin in fact.” He then went into some detail, saying that his purpose had been to liken the Israeli occupation forces to the inquisitions in Europe that used to shed the blood of children, and which used religion to perpetuate injustice.

Another government accusation against Salah was that he had encouraged Palestinians to become “shahids” (martyrs) in defense of the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Rosenorn-Lanng had repeatedly used the Arabic word instead of the obvious translation. Salah again patiently went into some detail to explain the meaning of the word martyr. He clearly stated that, should the Israelis ever demolish al-Aqsa Mosque, he and other Muslims would refuse to leave the mosque, even it it meant their martyrdom at the hands of the Israelis.

There was a similar government attempt to misrepresent the word “intifada,” which Sheldon classified as dangerous language. Salah explained he was referring to a civic uprising against injustice, and as proof of this pointed to his call in the relevant speech to lawyers, heads of state, scholars and political parties to join the intifada.

At the end of the second day, the hearing was adjourned until Monday, 3 October, when the two attorneys will sum up their cases. After that, a judgment is expected within ten days.

Meanwhile, Sheikh Raed Salah is still living in London on bail, and must regularly report to the authorities, wear an electronic tag, refrain from addressing the public and observe a night-time curfew. Salah could return to Palestine if he chooses, but is staying in order to clear his name, and challenge the government ban.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. He edited the book “Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation”, out in October. His website is www.winstanleys.org.


UK bans Israeli settler rabbi who called for killing of non-Jews

[Report for Electronic Intifada] The UK has banned Rabbi Yosef Elitzur, who has incited the murder of non-Jews, including civilians and children from coming to the country. But the timing is curious.

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.

“Settler revolt”

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.

UK court releases Raed Salah as government case flounders

[Electronic Intifada] After nearly three weeks in British jails, influential Palestinian activist and religious leader Sheikh Raed Salah was conditionally released today. He had been granted bail in the High Court on Friday, where The Electronic Intifada watched as the British government’s case against him floundered.

Originally published by The Electronic Intifada

 

After nearly three weeks in British jails, influential Palestinian activist and religious leader Sheikh Raed Salah was conditionally released today. He had been granted bail in the High Court on Friday, where The Electronic Intifada watched as the British government’s case against him floundered.

Leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Salah had been on a speaking tour in the UK when he was abruptly arrested on the way back to his London hotel on the night of 28 June. The full legal case against a government order banning him from the country is likely to be heard in September.

“We will continue to fight the Home Secretary’s exclusion order,” said Salah’s British solicitor Tayab Ali, who described bail as “the first step towards justice.”

In a press release, Daud Abdullah, director of the Middle East Monitor (MEMO), who had invited Salah to Britain to give talks to politicians and academics, said: “We are confident that the release of Sheikh Raed will be the beginning of a successful attempt to exonerate him from the character slurs and allegations that have appeared in some sections of the media.”

Salah was not present at the High Court on Friday, but the small court room was filled with his supporters. Towards the end of a long day of debate, the judge, Mr Justice Stadlen granted bail. He then spent nearly two hours detailing his rationale. He also imposed several restrictive conditions the Home Office had asked for. Salah will have to wear an electronic tag, report daily to an immigration center and observe a 6pm to 9am nighttime curfew. Perhaps most onerously of all, Salah will be barred from speaking to the public. The Electronic Intifada understands that this particular condition will in effect bar Salah from speaking to the press as well.

Arrested during speaking tour

On the night of 28 June, arresting police officers had told Salah he was going to be deported because of immigration offenses. Stadlen noted in summarizing his reasons for granting bail that this point appeared on the police custody record. But a government lawyer admitted in court on Friday that when Salah had entered the country using his Israeli passport on 25 June he had done so legally.

Steven Kovats QC was the barrister presenting objections to Salah’s bail application on behalf of Home Secretary Theresa May. He said since no one had informed Salah of any banning order, he was actually entitled to get on the plane to the UK and “didn’t do anything wrong in doing that.” It was an admission of something his supporters have said all along. In his summary, Stadlen clarified Salah “was admitted lawfully” on a six-month visitor’s visa, and said it was accepted Salah’s entry was not in contravention of an exclusion order.

Some UK journalists and bloggers had falsely accused Salah of entering the country illegally. Salah had no problems with his Israeli passport at Heathrow airport, but anti-immigration sectors of the press used this point to paint a picture of supposedly lax British border controls.

At a Parliamentary Select Committee hearing one week after his arrest, Theresa May claimed she had personally signed an exclusion order on Salah two days before he entered. She said she deemed his presence “not conducive to the public good” since he engaged in “unacceptable behavior” — one of the legal grounds possible under the law on exclusions. May said there would be a “full inquiry” into why “something went wrong” – he was let into the country without even being questioned by the UK Border Agency (Home Affairs Select Committee: The Work of the Home Secretary, 5 July, Parliament TV).

But it became clearer on Friday that Salah had been in the UK on at least four previous occasions between 1997 and 2009, and there had been no objections then from the government. Kovats said the government could not confirm or deny this, saying “we have no record of his movements” in our databases, but did not deny it was true. As an Israeli citizen, Salah does not need to apply for a visa before arriving in the country. Also, said Kovats, his passport was issued in 2011, so contained none of the old arrival stamps.

BDS, refugee rights advocacy “unacceptable behavior”

Raza Husain QC presented a long and detailed argument for bail on behalf of Salah. As it unfolded throughout the morning, refuting the Home Office’s objections in some detail, it became clear that May’s “unacceptable behavior” rationale was indeed a reference to alleged anti-Semitism. Husain made detailed rebuttals of the specific accusations that formed part of the government’s objections to bail.

The British press had circulated accusations of an anti-Semitic “poem” they attributed to Salah. But under instruction from Salah, Husain emphasized he absolutely denies writing the poem and “finds it offensive” because of its anti-Semitic content.

Husain made a point-by-point rebuttal of several accusations of anti-Semitism on behalf of Salah. He categorically denied anti-Semitic statements attributed to him, and contested that several other statements the government had cited were actually examples of legitimate free speech.

The Home Office listed as another example of “unacceptable behavior” an interview with MEMO in which Salah advocated the Palestinian right of return and the boycott divestment and sanctions movement (“Raed Salah: Israel preparing to complete the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians,” MEMO interview, 14 June).

The government did not even attempt to contest Husain’s rebuttals. Kovats replied they were not currently in a position to do so. He even admitted there were “disputes of facts” on whether or not Salah had actually said the statements – statements their own objection to bail document seems to have attributed to him. In his summary, Stadlen said he had heard no evidence to support the alleged statements.

Israeli indictments made on same day as UK order

It was also revealed on Friday that on the very same day May now says she signed the exclusion order, 23 June, two indictments against Salah were issued in a Jerusalem court. These related to an allegation of incitement from 2007 and an allegation of “obstructing a Police Officer” from April 2011.

This coincidence, along with Israel-like rationales in the government’s case for objecting to the bail application, seem to back up Salah’s accusation that Israel bears responsibility for his arrest in the UK. For example, the government objection to bail also alleged that Salah has links with the Turkish charity IHH, which they said was alleged to have provided Hamas with aid – a claim rejected by IHH.

The government submissions also alleged Salah has links to Hamas. Husain, acting on instructions from Salah, absolutely denied this. The only evidence the government seemed to present on this point was a statement Hamas had issued on one of its website protesting his arrest.

As a well-known and important Palestinian leader of popular resistance against Israeli discrimination in Jerusalem, Salah’s arrest evoked condemnation from the the whole Palestinian political spectrum, including appointed, UK-recognized West Bank Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (“Salam Fayyad says Sheikh Raed’s arrest will harm the PA,” MEMO press release, 30 June).

The government’s case seemed almost farcical at times. At one point, an individual from the Home Office team sitting behind Kovats passed the barrister a note. Kovats then made the point that the continuation of multiple hearings for Salah’s case was attracting unwelcome attention. This seemed to be a reference to the media, but the judge was not impressed. “That’s not a very attractive argument, is it?” said Justice Stadlen, causing the court room to stifle a laugh.

Salah had said soon after his arrest that he “will not yield voluntarily to the deportation” and that his lawyers will fight the court case. He is now seems to be making good on that promise.

At one point, Justice Stadlen read out parts of a transcript in which immigration officials interviewed Salah, asking if he was willing to leave the country. “Where to?” he is said to have replied, “I plan to end this visit.” He was also recorded as laughing, and explaining: “I am happy to go back but I want to finish my visit.”

Friends of Al-Aqsa Chairperson Ismail Patel said in a press release bail was “a tremendous relief. It is worth remembering that this situation was wholly avoidable and the Home Secretary’s arrest of Sheikh Raed Salah and attempt to deport him were not backed up with any firm evidence.” Patel was one of two people putting up bail money totaling £30,000 ($48,000).

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 Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

Palestine is Still the Issue: The Freedom Flotilla, Raed Salah, and Israel’s myth of invincibility

[Ceasefire column] Despite Israel’s posing as the region’s strongman, its attempts to crush simple acts of Palestinian civil resistance and international solidarity demonstrate how weak and morally bankrupt it really is, argues Asa Winstanley.

Originally published in Ceasefire

By Asa Winstanley

The second flotilla of activists intent on reaching Gaza by sea has so far been prevented from sailing by the Greek authorities. The Greek coast guard boarded two ships attempting to make a break for Gaza and forced them back to port. The reason given was unconvincing: they feared for the safety of passengers in light of what happened last year when Israel killed nine Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara. So why, then, did they not instead pressure Israel to allow the ships to sail safely?

In Britain last week, Raed Salah, a prominent leader of Palestinian popular resistance in Jerusalem was arrested by UK border police. Home Secretary Theresa May had apparently banned Salah from the country – although no one seemed to have been told about the ban before he flew into Heathrow airport, entering legally on his Israeli passport.

Salah is an Israeli citizen, elected three times as the mayor of Um al-Fahm, one of the largest Palestinian towns in the 1948 territories. Salah is currently challenging the deportation order in the courts, and his lawyers have started libel actions against several British journalists who had accused him of anti-Semitism.

These events do seem to demonstrate Israel has a degree of control over the policies of other countries. But I argue these are in fact symptoms of shared economic interests (or perhaps we could say desperation in the case of Greece), and common ideologies of racism and colonialism in the case of the US and Britain.

For example, the British press furore that surrounded the entry of Salah did not focus on any alleged “threat” to Israeli interests. In fact the tabloids were generally hazy about where he even comes from. Instead the picture they put forward was along the lines of “isn’t it disgraceful this scary bearded Muslim extremist managed to sneak into our country?”

Considering that Israel has for years tried and failed to find some way of silencing Salah, it would not surprise me if it turns out they had some hand in his arrest (Salah himself said from prison that Israel bore the responsibility). But a British political and media establishment which so often uses Muslims as scapegoats has its own reasons to generate irrational fear about Salah.

Pro-Israel lobbyists like to talk about the “shared values” of Britain and Israel. They, of course, claim these are nice things like democracy and human rights. But in cases like the unjustified arrest of Raed Salah, we start to see the real shared values of Israel and Britain: in this case racism and Islamophobic scare-mongering.

We also see the reality of shared interests and common methods when comparing Israeli and British wars (such as in Afghanistan). Israel and Britain use similar justifications when killing civilians: they were just “collateral damage”. Torturers in the respective armies were just a few “bad apples”. Fighters on the other side use “human shields” (an accusation which in the case of Israel is a matter of projection bias: Israel’s genuine use of Palestinians as human shields is well documented by human rights groups).

With Greece, we should perhaps be more surprised. The country has a history of stormy relations with Israel. In 2009, Greece actually blocked an arms shipment during the Israeli onslaught against the Gaza Strip.

But the recent financial meltdown seems to have changed things. There have been reports of increased Greek-Israeli ties, such as tourism links, a joint air force drill, a proposed natural gas pipeline project and even the sale of large amounts of riot gear to Greece. It seems the tear gas reserves are being depleted by Greek police attempting to put down the popular Greek protest movement against IMF austerity measures.

For those who want to act in solidarity with Palestinian human rights, such ties can seem like formidable obstacles. But we should bear in mind that Israel is very much in the business of talking up and exaggerating its own power. It wants to re-build its myth of invincibility, so damaged by the 2000 and 2006 military defeats by volunteer resistance fighters in Lebanon. Now Israel is increasingly moving into the the arena of talking up its diplomatic power.

In this context, having to lean on a state in as dire financial straits as Greece is perhaps more of a sign of weakness than anything else. The very first Free Gaza boats in 2008 were allowed through with very little publicity. By demonising simple solidarity actions like the flotillas to Gaza and the “Welcome to Palestine” fly-in to Tel Aviv airport yesterday, Israel is humiliating itself in front of the world.

The act of attempting to deliver a cargo of letters to Gaza has led to a massive military, diplomatic and financial counter-operation – in a climate of near hysteria, with Israeli politicians talking as if they are in some sort of war. Speaking about the fly-in, one minister even invoked the 9/11 attacks: “We should… keep in mind what happened in the Twin Towers disaster”. A regime that resorts to such ridiculous, oxymoronic terms for its critics as “human rights militants” is very much on the wrong side of history.

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 Occupation” will be published by Pluto Press in October. His Palestine is Still the Issue column appears in Ceasefire every other Saturday. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

UK deportation order against Palestinian leader to be appealed

[Electronic Intifada] After a furor in the British press, a political leader of Palestinian citizens in Israel remains in a British jail tonight. Authorities cut his speaking tour short by arresting him this week.

First published by Electronic Intifada.

Asa Winstanley | The Electronic Intifada | London | 1 July 2011

After a furor in the British press, a political leader of Palestinian citizens in Israel remains in a British jail tonight. Authorities cut his speaking tour short by arresting him this week.

Sheikh Raed Salah said from prison that he “will not yield voluntarily to the deportation” and that his lawyers will challenge it in the courts. Tour organizers said Friday a formal appeal would be lodged by the end of the day.

Activists accuse Israel of putting pressure on the British government to harass Salah, and Salah himself said “Israel carries the full responsibility for his detention in the United Kingdom.”

Leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Salah was arrested and handcuffed by police as he returned to his London hotel from a talk Tuesday night. Yet the UK Border Agency had allowed him to enter the country through Heathrow airport on Saturday, giving no indication anything was wrong.

UK police treated Salah like “a criminal”

Dr. Ibrahim Hamami, a London-based Palestinian activist told The Electronic Intifada on Wednesday that Salah had been given until 6 July to file an appeal against his deportation, and would also be able to seek release on bail. Salah had arrived legally on his Israeli passport without even being questioned, tour organizers said.

The police “treated us badly,” said Salah’s translator Hassan Sanalah, who was with him during the arrest. Sanalah told The Electronic Intifada on Thursday that one policeman “tried to push me [and said] ‘don’t interfere, I’m not talking to you, I’m talking to the man,’ to Raed Salah. I told him he doesn’t speak English but he didn’t care.” They refused to let Sanalah accompany Salah to the station, and said they would use their own translator.

Tour organizers Lubna Marsawa and Samira Quraishy arrived at the hotel just in time to witness Salah being taken away in a police van.

“You felt for him,” Quraishy told The Electronic Intifada yesterday. “He’s such a lovely man, so humble and so polite and so sweet. I felt so angry.” Quraishy works for the Middle East Monitor (MEMO), a group that organized the tour.

Marsawa, also a Palestinian citizen of Israel, tried without success to accompany Salah in the police van. She described the situation as “very humiliating … arresting someone like him [as if] he was a criminal.”

Marsawa added that police seemed to have have been given information that she and the other organizers were violent people. She described how a police woman ran at her, apparently “scared that I may attack them or something.”

Libel proceedings filed

Salah has been in the UK speaking to the public and politicians about the Arab uprisings, and to help the Palestine Solidarity Campaign launch a new campaign on Jerusalem. Before the arrest he spoke at public meetings in London and Leicester, as well as a roundtable in Parliament with MPs and researchers organized by Liberal Democrat Baroness Jenny Tonge. Organizers were given no notice from authorities there was any problem, said Marsawa.

The arrest came after a campaign this week by pro-Israel bloggers and right-wing tabloids such as the Daily Mail accusing Salah of anti-Semitism, a charge he strongly denies. MEMO said the charges were an “absolute lie and a malicious fabrication” and that Salah’s lawyers had begun libel proceedings against journalists in three British newspapers, including Evening Standard London editor Andrew Gilligan.

Gilligan then claimed on his blog he had received no such legal papers, but the offices of Farooq Bajwa & Co countered Friday by releasing a copy of the letter they had written to to Gilligan on behalf of Salah demanding a retraction (“Who is lying?,” 1 July).

According to Adalah- the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, Salah has never been charged with incitement or anti-Semitism in Israel. The accusations of anti-Semitism in the British press cited unreliable sources such as MEMRI, a discredited translation service run by a former member of Israeli intelligence.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting to launch the Jerusalem campaign at the House of Parliament’s Grand Committee Room went ahead in Salah’s absence on Wednesday evening, despite press reports it had been “banned” or moved to “an undisclosed location.”

Was Salah banned?

After the arrest, Home Secretary Theresa May issued a statement on the Home Office website on Wednesday saying Salah “was excluded and that he managed to enter the UK. He has now been detained and the UK Border Agency is now making arrangements to remove him [from the country]” (“Islamic movement leader detained,” 29 June).

Later that day, the Speaker of the House of Commons reported that “The Home Secretary informed me late last night that Sheikh Raed Salah has been arrested with a view to deportation on the ground that his presence is not conducive to the public good” (Hansard, Commons Debates, 29 June, column 978).

Some British journalists and pro-Israel bloggers are claiming he entered the UK in spite of a ban, and that the UK Border Agency had made a mistake. But Sanalah told The Electronic Intifada the police who actually made the arrest did not mention any ban or “exclusion.” They instead talked of “a deportation order against him.”

As late as Monday afternoon, one MP questioning Theresa May in the Commons seemed to think Salah had not yet been banned.

MP Mike Freer, a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel, said: “The Home Secretary will be aware that Mr Raed Salah has been invited to speak in the palace precincts [Parliament]. Given this man’s history of virulent anti-Semitism, will the Home Secretary ban him from entering the UK?”

May replied only in general terms about “excluding” visitors whose entry “is not conducive to the public good,” stating that the “Home Office does not routinely comment on individual cases.” There was no specific mention of a ban on Salah (Hansard, Commons Debates, 27 June, column 614).

Mail journalist warned of arrest

Meanwhile, Marsawa accused the Daily Mail of “strange” behavior, and both she and Sanalah spoke of the paper following them around the country. Sanalah said the Mail’s coverage was “politically motivated and racist.” The Mail is well-known in the UK for its anti-immigration editorial positions, and is often accused by critics of Islamophobia.

When Marsawa spoke to Mail journalist Nick Fagge in Leicester he seemed sure Sheikh Salah must have got into the country illegally, she said. Later that day, he said he wanted her to know police may visit Sheikh Salah that night. Marsawa told Salah about the journalist’s warning, but they did not take it seriously. However, when Salah returned to the London hotel with his translator that night he was in fact arrested.

Marsawa says Salah has spoken in Germany, France and Ireland in the past with no such trouble. He has also been in the UK on at least four previous occasions, but had then spoken to mostly Muslim and Arab audiences. “They [only] want the Muslims and the Arabs to make charity, to feed people and to be in the mosques,” Masarwa said.

Marsawa explained that Salah represents a large number of Palestinians in Israel, and was also an important leader for the wider Arab world. He is known as a defender of Palestinian rights in Jerusalem and a leader of ongoing peaceful resistance against the occupation of East Jerusalem, Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes and evictions from Palestinian neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah.

Possible previous assassination attempt against Salah

The Islamic Movement is a legal political group in Israel that chooses not to participate in the Knesset (Israeli parliament), although a separate southern faction does stand candidates. Salah has three times been elected mayor of his hometown Umm al-Fahm, one of the largest Palestinian towns in Israel.

“Sheikh Raed was arrested so many times in his life. Israel was looking for a very single small reason to put him in jail … they would love to arrest him,” Masarwa explained.

In May 2010, Salah was on the Mavi Marmara when it was stormed in international waters by Israeli commandos who killed nine persons. Salah claimed at the time Israeli forces had tried to deliberately assassinate him. One of the victims, Ibrahim Bilgen, bore a likeness to Salah (“Did Israel try to assassinate Sheikh Raed Salah on Mavi Marmara but kill a Turkish engineer instead?,” Ali Abunimah’s blog, 2 June 2010).

In its September conclusions, a fact-finding mission dispatched by the UN Human Rights Council said Ibrahim Bilgen had been “one of the first passengers to be shot” by the Israelis “in a manner consistent with an extra-legal, arbitrary and summary execution” (“Report of the international fact-finding mission to investigate violations of international law …,” UN Human Rights Council Fifteenth Session, A/HRC/15/21, p 29, 37 [PDF]).

UK changing law to accomodate Israeli war crimes suspects

British foreign policy in recent years has been generally regarded as less warm to Israel than in other European states. But the country is moving to change its law to accomodate Israeli war crimes suspects.

Activists and lawyers have tried to use British universal jurisdiction laws to hold accountable high-profile Israeli political and military figures accused of war crimes such as Tzipni Livni, Dan Meridor and Major General Doron Almog. All have had to cancel trips to the UK after judges issued warrants against them.

Both the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government and the previous Labor government under Gordon Brown moved to change the law so that the government will be able to stop such prosecutions. In April the changes passed in the House of Commons and the law has now gone to the House of Lords for final approval. Critics say the changes will make it far more difficult to bring anyone accused of serious human rights violations before British courts.

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 Occupation will be published by Pluto Press in October. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

Updated: British prime minister steps down as JNF patron

[Electronic Intifada] A spokesperson for David Cameron on Friday refused to comment on the rationale behind the British prime minister’s decision to step down from his position as honorary patron of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The move comes as pressure on the JNF steps up in Britain, and is being hailed by activists as a big victory in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.

A spokesperson for David Cameron on Friday refused to comment on the rationale behind the British prime minister’s decision to step down from his position as honorary patron of the Jewish National Fund (JNF). The move comes as pressure on the JNF steps up in Britain, and is being hailed by activists as a big victory in the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Campaigners with activist group Stop the JNF had written to Cameron earlier in May calling on him to cut his links with the JNF. Registered as a charity in the UK, the JNF is involved in development of illegal settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the destruction of Palestinian Bedouin villages in the Naqab (Negev) inside Israel and stands accused of institutionally racist practices and complicity in ethnic cleansing since 1948.

Cameron’s press office told The Electronic Intifada that the decision had been made after a review of all the charities Cameron supported: “This is not a particularly recent decision,” said a spokesperson on Friday. In a short statement Thursday, the prime minister’s office had said the JNF was one of a “number of charities” Cameron stood down from following the review which was undertaken “[f]ollowing the formation of the Coalition Government last year.”

The statement did not specify any reason for the move. When asked if it was related to the JNF’s involvement with Israeli settlements in the West Bank (which the British government, in line with international law, considers illegal) the spokesperson said they were “not going to get into any further details.”

The spokesperson implied that Cameron is only involved in local causes: “The charities that he’s currently involved with will normally be charities in his [local parliamentary] constituency … or a couple of national campaigns. There aren’t really any that deal with specific issues in specific foreign countries,” he stated. He would not comment on why this had changed after Cameron had become prime minister.

The JNF’s UK office refused to comment on the matter. A report in The Jewish Chronicle on Thursday suggested “time constraints” were behind the move, although the email statement did not mention this (“Cameron leaves the JNF,” The Jewish Chronicle, 26 May 2011). On the Spectator website Monday, staunchly Zionist columnist Melanie Philips used her blog to describe the move as “the latest act of aggression against Israel by HMG [Her Majesty’s Government],” and suggested that the time constraints justification are “unconvincing” (“Cameron drinks the Kool-aid,” Spectator blogs, 30 May).

The spokesperson refused to name the other groups, saying he didn’t “think it would be very fair on the other charities that he stepped down from to name them.” While the statement claimed a “full list of all the charities and organizations the prime minister and Mrs. Cameron are associated with is published on the Cabinet Office website,” several searches for this list were unsuccessful. The spokesperson declined to provide The Electronic Intifada with a link to the list.

According to a list on the JNF’s UK website, the move leaves former Prime Minister Gordon Brown as the only serving member of parliament left as honorary patron to the group. Other figures on the list include staunch supporters of Israel such as former prime minister and current Quartet envoy Tony Blair and Israeli government figures such as Shimon Peres. An open letter signed by campaigners calling for current Labour leader Ed Milliand to “break from this tradition” of party leaders patronizing the JNF was printed by The Guardian in October. So far he has not followed Brown, Blair or Cameron (who became patron while opposition leader).

The JNF is a quasi-governmental organization that controls large swathes of state land in Israel. This land is reserved for the use of Jews only — to the detriment of Israel’s 1.5 million Palestinian citizens, and the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who were expelled from that land by Zionist militias in 1947-48.

The JNF has in recent years tried to re-brand itself as an environmentally-friendly charity, an effort critics have branded “greenwashing.” But pressure on the JNF mounted Saturday as Friends of the Earth (FoE) Scotland, at its annual general meeting, voted to endorse the Stop The JNF campaign. Chief Executive Stan Blackley said FoE Scotland was “pleased” to join the call for revocation of the JNF’s charitable status, according to a Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) press release (“Friends of the Earth Scotland endorses call …,” Stop the JNF website, 28 May).

The JNF has been connected with ethnic cleansing and abuse of Palestinian rights on both sides of the green line — the internationally-recognized armistice line between Israel and the occupied West Bank.

Journalist Max Blumenthal reported that the fund recently “set its sights” on al-Araqib in the Naqab (or Negev) desert. The Bedouin village has been destroyed 21 times since July 2010 so that the JNF can “develop” the area as part of the government’s Judaization campaign (“On Land Day, the Jewish National Fund’s Racist Legacy is Exposed,” MaxBlumenthal.com, 30 March 2011). The JNF is also involved in funding projects in illegal West Bank colonies such as Sansana in the south Hebron hills.

According to Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, as of 2007 the JNF owned a total of just over 2.5 million dunams of land (a dunam is the equivalent of 1,000 square meters), the majority of which was seized from Palestinian refugees.

In the course of a 2004 legal challenge by Adalah, the JNF confirmed in a response to the court its discriminatory policies against non-Jews: “The JNF is not the trustee of the general public in Israel. Its loyalty is given to the Jewish people in the Diaspora and in the state of Israel … The JNF… does not have a duty to practice equality towards all citizens of the state” (“Land Controlled by Jewish National Fund for Jews Only,” Adalah press release, 29 July 2007).

Stop the JNF, which emerged in May of last year, is a working coalition of different campaigning groups including the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network and the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC). The campaign will be holding a series of workshops in London on 4 June.

Asa Winstanley is a freelance journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. He is the editor of a book about the Russell Tribunal on Palestine coming out on Pluto Press later in 2011. His website is www.winstanleys.org.

Front page photo: Bedouins carrying signs reading “JNF robs Bedouin land” protest in front of the Jewish National Fund office in Jerusalem, 1 February 2011. (Anne Paq / ActiveStills)

I wrote this update to the story, and it appeared on the EI editors’ blog on the 9th of June:

Last month Asa Winstanley reported for The Electronic Intifada on how British Prime Minister David Cameron had stepped down as honorary Jewish National Fund patron. Asa, a journalist in London who blogs at winstanleys.org and who can be followed on Twitter, wrote up the following update and analysis after the prime minister’s spokespersons broke the silence on Cameron’s resignation:

When I called the Number 10 press office to get a comment from British Prime Minister David Cameron for my story for The Electronic Intifada on his resignation as honorary Jewish National Fund (JNF) patron last week, the two spokespersons I talked to were polite enough. But it was clear there was a decision not to comment on reasons.

A few days after my story was published, this line changed. The Jewish Chronicle (JC) last Thursday published a new story in which they had managed to coax out new details: “a spokesman confirmed that the reason [for his resignation] was JNF’s links to Israel”

However, Number 10 is also now saying it was about “having an organisation that was specifically focused around work in one specific country. We spoke to JNF to say this had nothing to do with a policy issue.” To make things even more clear: “This has absolutely nothing to do with any anti-Israel campaign … The Prime Minister’s clear views on Israel are on record.”

So what are we to make of this? Was this a victory for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement or not? Stop the JNF thinks it was, but this seems to be contradicted by the new rationale published in the JC Thursday, 2 June.

In this context, it’s important to clarify two points. Firstly, BDS is about concrete results to challenge Israeli apartheid policies such as those funded by the JNF. It’s not just a list of things to boycott so we can feel good about ourselves. Secondly, it is worth clarifying that The Jewish Chronicle, under its current editor, is staunchly pro-Zionist (remember, this was the paper that recently published a columnist who expressed “pleasure” at the murder of Vittorio Arrigoni, the Italian ISM activist based in Gaza).

On the first point: it is clear that, regardless of the reasons for Cameron’s resignation, the move is clearly a big setback for the JNF in UK. The “Israel: right or wrong” crowd are very much gnashing their teeth about it. As well as the rantings of Melanie “Mad Mel” Phillips that I reported on in my original article, in the new JC piece Zionist Federation chairman Harvey Rose said the decision sent a “terrible message” to Israel supporters in the UK. Former JNF President Gail Seal said that it was “very damaging … It undermines the work we are trying to do for Israel. It’s broken a chain since 1901 where we have always had a British prime minister as a patron. It’s very sad and I’m very upset about it.”

On the second point: As far as I can tell, the first place this story emerged was in the JC on 26 May, in a very short piece buried on the website (I have not had a chance to check if it was in the print edition or not): “Cameron leaves the JNF”.

It seems that these few short paragraphs were essentially based on Stop the JNF’s detective work: i.e. keeping an eye on the JNF UK website, and noticing that Cameron’s name had been quietly dropped. It seems that the JC was caught in a dilemma: they clearly did not want to draw attention to Stop the JNF’s claim of victory, but it was obviously too big to altogether ignore. When the story was picked up and reported on by The Electronic Intifada, Harriet Sherwood in the Guardian and others, it seems the JC decided to try and salvage the narrative.

I think it would be naive for Palestine activists to take David Cameron as a political ally. He has not broken from long-standing British policy in support of Israel (even if he does not seem to be an ideological Christian Zionist like Tony Blair). This is also the man who, while in opposition infamously said “If by Zionist you mean that the Jews have the right to a homeland in Israel and the right to a country then I am a Zionist”.

Rationale aside, in my opinion, this is clearly a material advance in the campaign against the JNF and its funding of apartheid and ethnic cleaning throughout historical Palestine.