Raed Salah's incitement is not welcome here
20 November 2014
The horrific murder of four Rabbis and a policeman at a synagogue in Jerusalem on Tuesday was a shocking reminder that the rising tension in Jerusalem and the West Bank is taking on an increasingly religious dimension. This should be of concern to the many British Jews and British Muslims who care deeply about Israel, Palestine and especially Jerusalem, because they do so largely on the basis of religious identities and affiliations. The record number of antisemitic incidents in the UK this summer shows how easily overseas conflicts can be imported into the UK. As Wednesday's Guardian editorial explained, a religious conflict cannot be limited to the territorial boundaries of Israel and the Palestinian territories:
The fear, then, is that what has long been a bitter and bloody territorial conflict will escalate into something even more intractable: a holy war. By attacking men as they pray not, it is worth stressing, in the occupied West Bank or in annexed East Jerusalem but inside the boundaries of pre-1967 Israel proper Tuesdays killers risk turning the conflict of Palestinian against Israeli into a battle of Muslim against Jew.
This poses particular risks for communal tensions in the UK, and it is important that everybody in this country who wants to campaign for one side or the other does so responsibly. An example of a group doing the opposite - seeking out the most inflammatory and extreme voices, and amplifying them to a British audience - comes at a meeting this Saturday organised by the Palestinian Forum in Britain, at which Sheikh Raed Salah is the guest speaker.
We presume Salah will be speaking by video link, because he is banned from entering the UK. In 2011 Salah visited the UK and the Home Secretary, having initially tried to prevent him from entering the country, then tried to have him deported. Salah overturned the deportation order but he remains excluded from the country and cannot return.
In 2007, Salah made a speech in Jerusalem at which he invoked the antisemitic blood libel. He was recently convicted of racist incitement in an Israeli court as a result, having previously also been convicted of inciting violence for the same speech. Even the immigration tribunal that overturned his deportation order found (paras 49-59) that Salah's speech contained "a blood libel against Jews".
Salah, then, is a convicted racist and inciter of violence who has previously used antisemitism to encourage his followers. He is one of the main proponents of the lie that Israel intends to destroy the al-Aqsa mosque. This is an incendiary and false claim that is fuelling the current violence in Jerusalem, as it has done before. It is a lie that was first used by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Nazi-supporting Mufti of Jerusalem, in the 1920s. It is also a claim that carries the greatest risk of importing these tensions into the UK, precisely because it pinpoints the conflict as one of religious claims rather than national or territorial ones.
Salah repeatedly expresses his opposition to Israel in religious terms. For example, in his 2007 'blood libel' speech, he said:
...the Israeli establishment wants to build a temple that will be used as a prayer house to G-d. How insolent and what a liar he is. He who wants to build a prayer house for G-d; it is inconceivable that he should build a house for G-d when our blood is still on his clothes, and our blood is still on his doors, and our blood is in his food, and our blood in his drink, and our blood passes from one terrorist general to another terrorist general.
And thus we proceed in our path and are not fearful except of G-d blessed is His name. We are not afraid, only of G-d... The most beautiful moments in our destiny will be when we meet G-d as shahids [martyrs] in the premises of the Al-Aqsa mosque.
Just this month, in response to the rising tension, he has glorified "the blood of our martyrs" and has called on Muslims all over the world to lend their support, saying:
The issue of Al-Aqsa Mosque is not just an issue for individual Palestinians, Arabs, or Muslims; it is the issue of the Islamic nation, Arab world, and all of Palestine. It is a matter of our civilizational and historical right and a matter of our present and future.
Salah's message is one of incitement, hatred and religious conflict. He is the last person whose voice is needed in the UK at this moment. If he plans to attend the Palestinian Forum in Britain event in person, we expect him to be stopped at the border. If he is due to speak by video link, then this is a loophole in the law that needs to be closed. And we call on the Palestinian Forum in Britain to think again about its choice of speaker.