Comment | Raed Salah’s victory raises awkward questions for UK government

On Saturday, Palestinian civil rights leader Raed Salah won a comprehensive victory against deportation from the UK. Ibrahim Hewitt, senior editor of Middle East Monitor, says the case raises serious questions about freedom of speech, political lobbies and Theresa May's future.

New in Ceasefire, Politics - Posted on Friday, April 13, 2012 0:00 - 0 Comments

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It would be easy to dismiss the Upper Immigration Tribunal’s decision regarding Shaikh Raed Salah’s appeal against deportation as just another instance where the government has failed to prove its case against what the right-wing media calls “hate preachers”. Cue columns of anger directed at incompetent government agencies, civil servants and ministers. However, failing to learn the lessons of the Salah case would be a grave error.

Home Secretary Theresa May, said Mr. Justice Ockelton in his judgement, “acted under a misapprehension as to the facts” and “Most importantly, she was misled…” As a result, “the matters raised by the Secretary of State are not a fair portrayal of the appellant’s views or words as a whole”. So much so, in fact, that “[T]here is no evidence that the danger [which could result from Salah’s presence in the United Kingdom] perceived by the Secretary of State is perceived by any of the other countries where the appellant has been, nor, save for the very tardy indictment, is there any evidence that even Israel sees the danger that the Secretary of State sees”. This is a damning indictment of the Home Secretary’s actions and, as one Tory broadsheet put it, Mrs May has been “humiliated”.

All of which leads us to question where the government’s evidence came from, and who or what prompted the Home Secretary to act.

The answer lies in emails obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request. These showed that the Community Security Trust (CST), a UK-based charity which provides security for the Jewish community and its institutions, submitted a dossier to the Home Office which, after less than half-an-hour, caused a senior civil servant to ask if Salah could be prevented from speaking in the Houses of Parliament.

The leading Palestinian activist and community leader inside Israel (he is an Israeli citizen) had been invited to the UK primarily to speak to Peers and MPs at Westminster. It is here that the real issue at stake in this case becomes obvious: freedom of speech.

This was not about terrorism, public disorder or even anti-Semitism as has been made out by the “hate journalists” who reserve their most twisted epithets for Muslims. This was about a Palestinian’s right to address members of the oft-called Mother of all Parliaments on the issues facing Israel’s non-Jewish citizens, such as discriminatory legislation, house demolitions and ethnic cleansing. Israel is far from the blameless democracy that its supporters claim it to be, which is why they set out to do all within their power to prevent the less wholesome aspects of Israeli policy being laid bare in public discussions. And that power and influence turned out to be quite considerable.

Having received the CST’s “increasingly dodgy” dossier, which the charity claims, had been submitted in response to a direct request, the Home Secretary and her advisers opted not to consult any other community organisations, whether Palestinian, Muslim or Jewish, nor even speak to the organisation that had invited Salah, the Middle East Monitor. Dr. Daud Abdullah, MEMO’s director, has spent the past ten months coordinating Salah’s efforts to clear his name and is under no doubts that this was all about freedom of speech:

“It is significant that the Vice President of the Upper Immigration Tribunal chose to emphasise that the right to freedom of speech ‘is, as numerous authorities show, a right entitled to general protection’ in his judgement,” said Dr. Abdullah. “The pro-Israel lobby set out to denigrate a leading campaigner for Palestinian rights and prevent the people of Britain from hearing his words, using the government and the media as their preferred censorship tools.”

The ease with which the CST’s advice was not only sought but also acted upon, to the virtual exclusion of other “evidence” according to court records, should be of great concern to anyone worried that one of Britain’s great offices of state could be used in this way.

Moreover, the CST has been the recipient of around £100,000 in Home Office funding in 2009 and 2010. In 2010, it was given £2 million by Education Secretary Michael Gove to improve security at Britain’s state-funded Jewish schools. This provoked an angry response in the Jewish Chronicle because the Department for Education had bypassed the main representative body of the Jewish community, the Board of Deputies.

Although it would be reasonable to expect a community group in receipt of British government funding to act in Britain’s best interests, the government seems to have been persuaded very easily by a recipient of state funds to act in the interests of a foreign state at the expense of core British values of justice and fair play. The clichéd “tail wagging the dog” springs easily to mind.

The judgement in Raed Salah’s favour was the culmination of a number of legal challenges by his lawyers that demolished the government’s case slowly but surely. This raises some interesting questions: how is the Home Secretary able to get away with the colossal waste of public money expended on pursuing a case that a senior judge has now described as “entirely unnecessary”? How and why were basic standards of security assessment overlooked in the haste to prevent Salah from informing the British public of the considerable difficulties and discrimination faced by his community within Israel? Above all, why was a pro-Israel community group given such access to a Secretary of State, with such devastating effect, to the exclusion of almost anyone else?

It is right that Jeremy Corbyn MP has called for a public inquiry into this affair in order not only to get the answers to such questions but also to make sure that government procedures can be put in place to prevent such misuse of influence by lobbyists from ever happening again. Does the government have the courage of its convictions to allow such an inquiry to be held? It’s doubtful, unless it is prepared for the possible, some would say probable, exposure of even closer links between the pro-Israel lobby and the government, ministers of state and civil servants alike.

Whatever happens, the Raed Salah judgement provides evidence that justice can still prevail in British courts, despite the best efforts of senior politicians to block it. “Truth will out”, wrote Shakespeare; how right he was, but will the government learn this lesson from Britain’s greatest playwright? I shan’t hold my breath.

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Ibrahim Hewitt

Ibrahim Hewitt is Senior Editor at the Middle East Monitor (MEMO).

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