Sheikh Raed Salah is greeted by wellwishers. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496