This is a cross post by Dave R of The CST Blog
One of the central allegations against Israeli sheikh Raed Salah, which led the Home Secretary to order his exclusion from the United Kingdom, was that he made a speech in Jerusalem in 2007 which invoked the antisemitic ‘blood libel’ and which led to a riot, and that he faces charges in Israel for inciting racism and inciting violence as a result.
The response of Salah and his British supporters, principally the Middle East Monitor (MEMO) organisation that invited him to the UK, was do deny that he had ever made the comments, and to claim that he faced no such charges.
Seven months after those initial and forthright denials, and notwithstanding several confusing and contradictory statements since then, MEMO have finally confirmed what CST has been saying for months: that there is indeed a case against Salah for inciting racism and violence still “pending before the Israeli courts.”
The story began on 16th June 2011, when MEMO published a statement from Salah’s office in Israel which read:
It has been claimed that he repeated a “blood libel” by saying, “among those whose blood was mixed with the sacred (Jewish) bread”; this is an absolute lie and a malicious fabrication. Sh. Raed was questioned by the Israeli authorities over allegations that he made such a remark, which he refuted categorically challenging them to provide any shred of evidence and they could not.
On the same day, MEMO issued a press release of their own which claimed:
A specific allegation was made with regard to ‘blood libel’ in Harry’s Place and apparently adopted by other sources. Sheikh Raed was questioned with regard to that statement by the Israeli authorities and he refuted their claim. Hence no charges were brought against him in this regard.
However, MEMO later changed their press release to read:
Memo would like to make a correction to this press release. While the release states “Hence no charges were brought against him in this regard” we would now like to clarify that while charges were brought against him, he was never convicted due to lack of evidence.
This was the first example of MEMO changing their position, from claiming that no charges had been brought to admitting that charges had been brought but implying that Salah had been tried and acquitted, or that the charges had been dropped.
This was the line peddled by MEMO’s editor Ibrahim Hewitt in another article on 6th July:
Charges of blood libel have been levelled at him in Israel as well as in Britain; the strange thing is that in Israel he has been found not guilty of such ridiculous charges
Unfortunately for Hewitt, on the very same day as his article CST published a set of Israeli court indictments, obtained from publicly available sources which MEMO (or any UK journalist) could have accessed, proving that Salah did still face charges for inciting racism and violence at the Jerusalem speech.
Embarrassingly for MEMO, by this stage their inaccurate claim that Israel had not prosecuted Salah for antisemitism, or that he had been tried but not convicted, had even made it into a Guardian editorial.
At this point MEMO quietly stopped claiming that the ‘blood libel’ comments were fabricated. Instead, they settled on a new (if faintly ridiculous) defence: that he did make the comments, but he was talking about Catholic persecution of Jewish and Muslim children during the Spanish Inquisition.
Then on 27th November, MEMO published a 52-page booklet (pdf) giving their version of events in “The Sheikh Raed Affair”. Funnily enough, we could not have done a better job of summing up MEMO’s confusing claims over the blood libel charges.
On page 11, they give their original position that he was never charged:
Sheikh Raed was questioned by Israeli authorities about the anti-Semitism allegations at the time they were first circulated and no charges were ever brought against him.
On page 9, they admit that he has been charged, but claim it was only after he came to the UK in June 2011:
Prior to coming to Britain in June 2011, Sheikh Raed had never been charged with anti-Semitism inside Israel itself. However, since the UK exclusion against him, two indictments in Israel have been issued.
But on page 8, they say that the charges were first laid in 2007:
In 2007, he was indicted for inciting violence and racism after it was said that a speech he gave led to public disorder. He was also accused in the media of having invoked an ancient blood libel against Jews.
Phew! It is hard to know what to think. Either he was never charged with inciting violence and racism, or he was charged in 2007 but the charges were dropped, or he was charged in 2007 but acquitted, or he was not charged until 2011.
Helpfully, MEMO have now clarified matters, quoting a statement by Salah’s Israeli lawyer Hussein Abu Hussein:
With regard to the other cases linked to Sheikh Raed that remain pending before the Israeli courts, Abu Hussein said, “there are two more cases; the first relates to Sheikh Raed Salah’s alleged incitement during his Friday sermon in Wadi al-Joz, and the second relates to Israeli police claims that Sheikh Raed attacked a police officer on his return from performing the Hajj pilgrimage a few years ago.”
All this confusion could have been avoided a long time ago. As Haaretz reported at the time, Salah was first charged with inciting racism and violence in January 2008 (not 2007, the year he made the speech, as MEMO wrongly claimed in their booklet). This is why, in 2010, Salah was quoted in the Jerusalem Post as saying “all of the four remaining cases against me should be closed”. Presumably Salah’s Israeli lawyer, and Salah’s office in Israel, knew these facts back in June 2011. It is just a shame that MEMO (“Our unique selling points are to provide reliable primary sources of information”) could not be relied upon to relay the basic facts accurately at the time.