CST Blog

"Doctored quotes" and CST

7 October 2011

As has been widely reported, CST provided information to the government to assist their efforts to exclude, and now deport, the radical Arab-Israeli preacher Sheikh Raed Salah from the United Kingdom. We did this because we believe Salah to have made antisemitic and extremist statements in the past; and because Salah has a criminal conviction for funding Hamas-linked charities which are proscribed in Israel.

Salah's lawyers have claimed that some of the statements made by Salah included quotes which had been "doctored" to falsely show him to be antisemitic, by inserting the words "Jew" or "Jewish" when Salah did not say those words. This claim has been repeated by the Guardian, and now by the pro-Palestinian website Electronic Intifada.

We are concerned by any implication that CST may have doctored the relevant quotes, or passed on false quotes by Salah in order to mislead the government.

CST completely rejects the claim that any of the  quotes by Salah which we provided to government were "doctored", by CST or anyone else. After our intervention, the Guardian altered their story to clarify that their article was only relaying claims by Salah's lawyers, and not reporting them as fact. They also inserted a line stating that "There is no suggestion that CST doctored the quotes", and removed a line suggesting we had not checked the quotes for accuracy.

For the record, and because Salah's supporters appear to be spreading false and misleading information about CST, we feel it is important to clarify what these quotes were, and how CST used them.

The 'blood libel' speech

The first relates to a speech made by Salah in Jerusalem in February 2007, known as the 'blood libel' speech, in which he said:

We have never allowed ourselves, and listen well, we have never allowed ourselves to knead the bread for the breaking of the fast during the blessed month of Ramadan with the blood of the children. And if someone wants a wider explanation, you should ask what used to happen to some of the children of Europe, whose blood would be mixed in the dough of the holy bread.

This section of the speech was reported as follows in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2008:

"We have never allowed ourselves to knead [the dough for] the bread that breaks the fast in the holy month of Ramadan with children's blood," he said. "Whoever wants a more thorough explanation, let him ask what used to happen to some children in Europe, whose blood was mixed in with the dough of the [Jewish] holy bread."

CST included this newspaper article in the material we sent to the government about Salah. The medieval antisemitic trope of a 'blood libel', where Jews were accused of killing Christian children and using their blood for religious rituals (including making Matzot), is well known and we considered, and still consider, Salah's speech to be a contemporary example of an antisemitic blood libel.

Salah's supporters have focused on the fact that Haaretz put the word "Jewish" in square brackets immediately before the words "holy bread". This is their basis for claiming that this quote is "doctored". The use of square brackets to indicate a speaker's meaning, in order to clarify or explain the actual words they used, is a universal journalistic convention. We took the Haaretz article to mean exactly this: that Salah did not actually say the word "Jewish", but that he was talking about Jews. Putting a word in square brackets into a quote does not mean that the quote has been "doctored", because the square brackets are there precisely to indicate that the speaker did not actually use the word they contain.

However, because the accuracy and reliability of our information is so important to CST, we continued to search for a primary source for Salah's speech rather than relying on a newspaper article. We eventually found just such a source: an Israeli court indictment, in which Salah was charged with inciting antisemitism for making this speech (he still faces this charge in Israel). This included an extended transcript of Salah's speech, which confirmed that Salah did not use the word "Jewish". We translated it into English and published it on the CST Blog, with the full Hebrew indictment available to download.  We were the first people to obtain, translate and publish this indictment and transcript, which can be read in full here. We sent the transcript and translation to the government, and specifically pointed out that the word "Jewish", in square brackets in the Haaretz article, did not appear in the transcript.

It is clearly absurd to claim that CST "doctored" this quote by inserting the word "Jewish", or tried to pass off someone else's "doctored quote", when we were the first people to publish definitive proof that Salah did not use the word "Jewish".

In contrast, Salah initially denied having made these comments at all, but now admits making the comments while offering an alternative meaning for them. He also initially denied having been charged in Israel for making the comments, but then admitted that he had been charged but claimed that the charges failed due to lack of evidence. This is still not true: he still faces charges in Israel relating to this speech.

Salah claims that his reference to the use of children's blood in holy bread was in fact a reference to Christian persecution of Muslims and Jews during the Spanish Inquisition. We completely reject this explanation, which makes no sense. Firstly, there is no such 'blood libel' accusation against Christians, whereas it is a common antisemitic accusation against Jews, initially in Europe and in more recent times in the Middle East. Secondly, immediately before the 'blood libel' section of the speech,  Salah identifies Christians and Muslims together as victims of Israeli/Jewish persecution, and immediately after it he says "G-d all mighty, is this religion? Is this what G-d wants? G-d will confront you for what you are doing…”. This line makes perfect sense if "religion" refers to Judaism, and very little sense for it to mean Christianity.

Looking back at what was happening in Israel in February 2007, a major public controversy was raging in the Israeli media at the time over a book by Israeli Professor Ariel Toaff, Pasque di Sangue, which claimed that some medieval blood libel allegations were based on credible evidence (a claim Toaff later withdrew). The subject was already circulating in public debate when Salah made his speech. For all these reasons, it remains our assessment that Salah's claim that children's blood was used for holy bread was about Jews, and that it was an antisemitic reference; and that this is how it would have been received by its audience.

The poem

The second claim of "doctored quotes" relates to a poem written by Salah in the Islamic Movement publication Sawt al-Haqq wa-al-Huriyya, dated 4th January 2002. CST initially came across parts of this poem in an article by Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which erroneously claimed that they were from a speech. We passed this to government as follows, with the Cooper article referenced in a footnote:

At an undated event, Salah made several anti-Jewish assertions. He firstly claimed that the Jews are “butchers of pregnant women and babies,” and followed this up by maintaining that the Jews are “thieves, you [Jews] are the bacteria of all times... The Creator meant for you to be monkeys and losers... Victory is with the Muslims, from the Nile to the Euphrates.”

Again, we used the word "Jews" in square brackets in the quote to indicate meaning, not to claim that Salah actually used the word, according to the universal convention. And once again, because we did not want to rely solely on media reporting, we searched for the primary source for these quotes. These eventually were found in the form of the poem, and we passed this Arabic poem, with a full English translation and some textual analysis, to the government. We pointed out in this analysis that the poem does not use the word "Jews". The claim by the Guardian that this involved an "admission that a reference to Jews was inserted" in our initial report is completely wrong, because we never claimed that Salah had used the word "Jews". The Guardian itself often uses square brackets around a word or words in a quote to indicate meaning, not usage, as do all other newspapers.

Again, had we wanted to fool the government or anyone else into thinking that the poem contained the word "Jews", we would hardly have tried to find evidence to the contrary and then pointed it out to government.

Salah claims that this poem (which he initially denied having written) is about the Israeli state, but not about Jews. It is our opinion that through lines such as "The sly apostates"; "you are the germs of all times"; "The Creator had deemed you to be monkeys (and) losers"; and "The victory is the 'crown' of all good tidings to the faithful Muslims"; the poem uses religious terminology and theological references to blur any distinction between the Israeli state and Jews in general, and between a political conflict and a religious one. Given this, it is our opinion that this poem demonstrates the potential to radicalise attitudes amongst British Muslims towards British Jews.

CST, antisemitism and Israel

Some of Salah's supporters appear to misconstrue, perhaps deliberately, CST's mission and purpose. We work to combat antisemitism, terrorism and extremism in the UK. We provided the UK government with information about Salah because we consider him to have a record of propagating antisemitic and extremist views, and because he was due to visit this country. We take all forms of antisemitism seriously and we expressed our concerns to government on this basis. We did not do this on behalf of Israel or in pursuit of Israel's policy objectives, but to combat antisemitism and extremism in Britain. There is a difference between combating antisemitism and Israel advocacy; a distinction that Salah's supporters appear incapable of recognising.

So, for example, for Electronic Intifada to describe CST as an "anti-Palestinian group" is not only grossly insulting but is also nonsensical. It suggests that our work combating antisemitism in the UK is intrinsically anti-Palestinian, which in turn suggests that Palestinians are intrinsically antisemitic. This is a disgraceful slur on both Jews and Palestinians. In fact we work with British Muslims and other minorities to combat Islamophobia and other forms of racism and extremism in Britain.

We say repeatedly in CST publications and on this blog that we do not deny anybody the right to criticise Israel or to campaign against it. All we ask is that when doing so, people take care not to use antisemitic language or to make common cause with antisemites. These requests - which on the surface should not be too demanding for any anti-racist - repeatedly fall on deaf ears, or even worse are mocked by those who should know better. It has now reached the stage that, when we point out that Raed Salah has made antisemitic statements, his supporters accuse us of lying. This does not just excuse antisemitism; it encourages its growth.

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