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

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.

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