Sheikh Raed Salah is greeted by wellwishers. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Mehdi Hasan: Raed Salah takes on the Home Secretary and the press... and wins

"So what next?"

He was dubbed a "vile miltant extremist" and an "anti-Semitic preacher of hate" by the Daily Mail, a "hate preacher" by the Sun and an "'anti-Semitic' speaker" by the Jewish Chronicle. He was arrested and detained on the orders of the Home Secretary Theresa May while MPs and peers from across the political spectrum queued up to denounce him. The Community Security Trust (CST) "welcomed" his detention and provided a dossier of his alleged "hate speech" to the Home Office. 

But over the long weekend, Sheikh Raed Salah, the Palestinian leader of the largest civil society body in Israel, who had been visiting the UK at the invitation of the London-based, pro-Palestinian group, Middle East Monitor (Memo), received a letter from the Upper Immigration Tribunal stating that the decision to detain him appeared to have been "entirely unnecessary" and that his appeal against it had succeeded "on all grounds".

From yesterday's Guardian:

The home secretary was "misled" when she moved to throw a leading Palestinian activist out of the UK, according to an immigration tribunal ruling that strongly criticised her decision and found in favour of his appeal against the government's attempts to deport him.

. . . [Salah] sought damages for unlawful detention, and the high court ruled that since he was not given "proper and sufficient reasons" for his arrest until the third day of his detention, he should receive damages for that period.

The ruling of the immigration tribunal, made known on Saturday, states that May "acted under a misapprehension as to the facts" and was "misled" in relation to a poem written by Salah. It also decided she took "irrelevant factors" into account in relation to indictments against Salah, and a conviction in Israel in 2003 over charges that his organisation funnelled funds to a banned charity in Gaza.

Asa Winstanley has a detailed write-up of the Salah story here and, in today's Telegraph, Mary Riddell observes:

In the latest reversal for Mrs May, a judge strongly criticised her attempt to deport a Palestinian activist, ruling that she was wrong about the danger posed by Sheikh Raed Salah. In a decision labelled "entirely unnecessary", she had been misled about his supposedly anti–Semitic poetry and planned to ban him on the basis of a fragment from an old sermon.

Few may be delighted by the sheikh's victory, but his case illustrates the right of every individual to protection against an overweening state. The balance between Parliament, the executive and the judiciary is vital and endlessly fragile. At times, judges veer towards the political arena; at others, politicians attempt, with the public urging them on, to usurp the role of judges. We are now at such a moment.

On the whole, however, the press - especially the right-wing newspapers! - have been rather quiet about the Salah decision which is strange given how much (negative) coverage they heaped upon him last summer. There hasn't been a peep from the Jewish Chronicle, nor from the Times or the Sun. An annoyed Express went with the headline:

Fury as preacher wins fight to stay in UK

The CST, meanwhile, having been criticised by the Guardian's David Hearst for its role in the affair ("the CST should. . . examine its conscience"), has issued a defensive statement on its website saying:

CST is disappointed that Salah’s exclusion has been overturned. . . Some of the media coverage (for example in the Guardian) has noted that CST provided several pieces of evidence to the Home Office regarding Salah’s previous statements and activities, and carries the implication that CST is reponsible for misleading the Home Secretary by providing her with inaccurate information.

This implication is something that CST utterly rejects, and which is not supported by the facts.

So what next? I'm told Salah is preparing to sue members of Her Majesty's press over their alleged smear tactics; Hearst writes of how "[l]ibel writs will now be pursued against those who fabricated and peddled" the "dodgy quotes" attributed to the preacher. This could all get very interesting - especially given the fact that Lord Leveson has heard evidence about media Islamophobia and any serious inquiry into "media ethics" surely has to take a position on the media's lazy and simplistic coverage (demonisation?) of Muslims and the use of "gotcha" quotes.

Doesn't it?

 

UPDATE:

Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle, has informed me via Twitter that the JC website was closed for Passover, which is why there wasn't a "peep" out of the JC, online, in the immediate aftermath the ruling. However, the current print edition of the JC, out today, has extensive and in-depth coverage of the Salah case - including this bizarre, over-the-top leader in which the Guardian newspaper is accused of producing a "classic, shocking and immensely significant example of pure antisemitism". Hmm....

UPDATE 2:

I've been rung up by a guy (coward?) using a fake name, pretending to be a member of the public, who accused me of supporting Raed Salah's alleged "blood libel" and who has since written up his version of our phone conversation on a right-wing, Islamophobic blog. He seems to be as dumb and close-minded as some of the commenters below, so let me say this slowly, very slowly: just because I don't agree with the Home Secretary and the media's treatment of Salah, a man I've never met or spoken to, doesn't mean I automatically support everything Salah has said or done in the past. Does that make sense? Take your time.

To those below the line who claim I expressed "solidarity" with Salah, show me where I did so? Do you have a single quote to back up your claim? I say again, disagreeing with the state's treatment of an individual doesn't make you a supporter or apologist for that individual; it makes you a supporter and defender of due process, fair trials and human rights.

As for the "blood libel" row, let me say that it is one of the most disgusting, heinous and unforgivable of anti-Semitic smears in existence - which is probably why Salah has been so keen to deny having used it, though it does, I have to say, seem as if he did use it. The judge in the case, of course, didn't accept his denial. Interestingly, the respected if controversial Israeli historian Ilan Pappe supports Salah on this particular, contentious issue and it is worth pointing out that the Israeli government curiously decided not to prosecute him for those seemingly inflammatory comments at the time. Forgive me, therefore, if, for now, I sit on the fence on this one...

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.