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

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David Blunkett compares Labour membership to failed revolution “from Ukraine to Egypt”

The Labour peer and former home secretary says new members need a “meaningful political education”, and accuses unions of neglecting their “historic balance”.

There are three sorts of opposition. There’s the civil society opposition, with people campaigning in their own specific areas, people who’ve got an interest group or are delivering social enterprise or a charity. I don’t think we should underestimate that because we're going to have to hang on to it as part of the renewal of civil society.

The second is the opposition formally, within the House of Commons: those who have agreed to serve as the formal shadow ministerial teams. Because of what I’d describe as the turmoil over the last two years, they’ve either not been able to be impressive – ie. they’re trying very hard but they don't have the coherent leadership or backing to do it – or they’ve got completely different interests to what it is they’re supposed to be doing, and therefore they’re not engaged with the main task.

Then there’s the third, which is the informal opposition – Labour linked sometimes to the Lib Dems and the SNP in Parliament on the opposition benches as a whole. They’re not doing a bad job with the informal opposition. People getting on with their work on select committees, the departmental committees beginning to shape policy that they can hopefully feed to the National Executive Committee, depending on the make-up of the National Executive Committee following this year’s conference. That embryo development of coherent policy thinking will be the seed-bed for the future.

I lived through, worked through, and was integrally involved with, what happened in the early Eighties, so I know it well. And people were in despair after the ‘83 election. Although it took us a long time to pull round, we did. It’s one reason why so many people, quite rightly in my view, don't want to repeat the split of 1931 or the split of 1981.

So they are endeavouring to stay in to argue to have some vision of a better tomorrow, and to persuade those of goodwill who have joined the party – who genuinely believe in a social movement and in extra-parliamentary non-violent activity, which I respect entirely – to persuade them that they’ll only be effective if they can link up with a functioning political process at national level, and at townhall and county level as well.

In other words, to learn the lessons of what’s happened across the world recently as well as in the past, from the Ukraine to Egypt, that if the groundswell doesn’t connect to a functioning party leadership, then, with the best will in the world, it’s not going to achieve its overall goals.

How do we engage with meaningful political education within the broader Labour party and trade union movement, with the substantially increased rank-and-file membership, without being patronising – and without setting up an alternative to Momentum, which would allow Momentum to justify its existence as a party within a party?

That's the challenge of the next two years. It's not just about someone with a vision, who’s charismatic, has leadership qualities, coming forward, that in itself won’t resolve the challenge because this isn't primarily, exclusively about Jeremy Corbyn. This is about the project being entirely on the wrong trajectory.

A lot depends on what the trade unions do. They command effectively the majority on the National Executive Committee. They command the key votes at party conference. And they command the message and resources that go out on the policy or programmes. It’s not just down to personality and who wins the General Secretary of Unite; it’s what the other unions are doing to actually provide their historic balance, because they always have – until now – provided a ballast, foundation, for the Labour party, through thick and thin. And over the last two years, that historic role has diminished considerably, and they seem to just be drifting.

I don’t think anybody should expect there to be a party leadership challenge any time soon. It may be that Jeremy Corbyn might be persuaded at some point to stand down. I was against the challenge against him last year anyway, purely because there wasn't a prepared candidate, there wasn't a policy platform, and there hadn’t been a recruitment drive to back it up.

People shouldn’t expect there to be some sort of white charger out there who will bring an immediate and quick end to the pain we’re going through. I think it’s going to be a readjustment, with people coming to conclusions in the next two years that might lead the party to be in a position to fight a credible general election in 2020. I’ve every intention of laying down some good red wine and still being alive to drink it when the Labour party is elected back to power.

David Blunkett is a Labour peer and former home secretary and education secretary.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition