Sheikh Raed Salah: a defence

Has the Islamic Movement leader become the UK's first Palestinian political prisoner?

Source: AFP

Sheikh Raed Salah
has been the target of a vicious and concerted smear campaign by the pro-Israel lobby in the UK and unfortunately our government has now weighed in to give legitimacy to the systematic persecution of Palestinians on British soil as well.

Sheikh Raed is the Palestinian leader of the largest civil society body in Israel and works with the largest umbrella body of Palestinian organisations, the High Follow Up Committee. As soon as the Middle East Monitor (MEMO) began to publicise the fact that we were inviting Sheikh Raed to the United Kingdom to take part in a series of public and parliamentary speaking engagements, a vicious campaign of demonization began against him in parts of the British media. Pro-Israel bloggers and journalists began to call him an anti-Semite, a hate preacher, and other libellous and defamatory statements were made against him. This is despite the fact that he has never been convicted of anti-Semitism in Israel, has spoken openly in Tel Aviv University, and has repeatedly denied and rejected all of the allegations made against him. Sheikh Raed's solicitors immediately began legal proceedings against several journalists and Sheikh Raed has made it very clear that he was willing to challenge all allegations against him in the British courts.

However, it seems that the pro-Israel apparatus went into overdrive to ensure that he would not get the opportunity to freely and publicly refute these allegations and he was arrested, without warning, late at night on the third day of his stay in the UK. It was later claimed that Home Secretary Theresa May had issued an exclusion order against him banning his entry to the UK. If this was indeed the case however, neither he, nor his lawyers, nor MEMO as his hosts, were ever informed. In fact MEMO and his solicitors called the Home Office before his arrest to clarify his status in the UK and they refused to confirm or deny anything in relation to his particular case.

He did not, as some papers have alluded, sneak into the UK. He flew from Ben Gurion airport straight to Heathrow. He was not stopped or questioned at either end. He came in openly and publicly using his Israeli passport as he has when visiting the UK on several occasions in the past.

The double standards operating here are chilling. While the government is doing its utmost to change the British laws on Universal Jurisdiction to make it easier for suspected Israeli war criminals to visit the UK without the fear of arrest warrants being issued against them, at the same time they are happy to arrest Palestinian leaders who have committed no crime but are here to expose Israeli war crimes and discuss peaceful methods of resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Although the unjustifiable arrest of Sheikh Raed will be challenged on the individual merits of his case this has become about more than just the case of a single man. He represents a much larger issue. The attempted character assassination of Sheikh Raed is typical of the targeting of all prominent Palestinians. He is a spokesperson for the Palestinian people; for the people of East Jerusalem whose homes are routinely demolished; for the Muslims and Christians who are being denied access to their holiest sites of worship; for the native Palestinian residents who are being made homeless in favour of pro-Israel immigrants who come from abroad to usurp their land. He is being treated as a criminal despite having committed no crime.

The shocking treatment of Sheikh Raed will backfire as it is simply exposing the fact that, once again, the British authorities seem willing to do the Israelis' dirty work for them no matter how much it flies in the face of British standards of justice, democracy and free speech. The UK, it seems, now has its first Palestinian political prisoner.

Dr Hanan Chehata is the press officer for the Middle East Monitor

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.