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More extremist than their Israeli paymasters

The decision by London's Queen Mary University to pull the plug on an event hosted by the Middle East Monitor (MEMO), the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and the Islamic Forum of Europe is disappointing, but not surprising. It followed a hysterical hue and cry by Israel's lackeys in Britain who falsely claimed that the guest speaker, Shaikh Raed Salah, had previously made anti-Jewish remarks, which he has categorically refuted. That accusation, too, is no surprise. Even Jews who oppose Israeli policies have the mud of "anti-Semite" thrown at them. What is utterly grotesque, though, is the shameless manner in which the Israel lobbyists have shown themselves to be even more extreme than their paymasters in Tel Aviv.

Evidently bankrupt of any intellectual, moral or political tools to stem the growing tide of international support for the just nature of the Palestinian cause, Israel's British hirelings mounted a scurrilous smear campaign to sabotage the Queen Mary event as well as an appearance by Shaikh Salah at a meeting in parliament. A number of fantasies were concocted to prevent a legitimate debate on the conflict that has destabilised the Middle East for decades.

The propaganda circulated about Salah is manifestly ludicrous and defies all logic. They are patent lies. If the accusations had any factual basis, he, an Israeli citizen, would have been arrested and prosecuted for them in Israel, where he has lived all his life. Everyone knows that the Israeli authorities exercise little restraint and need no excuse to act with impunity against those whom it deems to be its enemies at home and abroad.

Suffice to mention that only last month Raed Salah spoke at Israel's prestigious Tel Aviv University, in accord with its declared policy of "freedom of expression". This was not the first time that the Palestinian leader had spoken there; in 2009, he took part in a programme in the university and the event passed without incident or any disturbance. In defending its decision not to ban Salah last month, despite opposition from the Israeli far-right forces, Tel Aviv University said: "The university committee approves requests for public events as long as they don't run the risk of endangering the public well-being or damaging property or are violations of the law."

What is conveniently overlooked by the Zionist cheerleaders in Britain is that Salah has never been convicted of incitement to racial hatred or anti-Jewish remarks in his homeland. That is not his way. His problem is not with Jews because of their religious belief or race, and never has been. His well-documented struggle is against the occupation, aggression and crimes by Israel against the Palestinian people. Hence he has been tried and convicted and incarcerated on many occasions for defending their right to live on their land and to worship in and preserve their sanctuaries, foremost of which is Al Aqsa Mosque in occupied Jerusalem. Across the Middle East and in many parts of the Muslim world he has earned the accolade "Shaikh of Al Aqsa".

There is no doubt that religion constitutes a fundamental aspect of Raed Salah's life and personal appeal. Yet, he has never advocated the use of religion as an instrument to oppress or deny the rights of others, unlike some fanatical rabbis in Israel. Where were Britain's Israel lobbyists and apologists when Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the former Chief Rabbi of Israel and the leader of the most important Orthodox political party in Israel, declared that, "Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] and all these evil people should perish from the world. God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians"? Where were they when the same rabbi told his followers in 2001, "It is forbidden to be merciful to [the Arabs]. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable"?

What the mediocre journalists in thrall to Israel who churn out cheap propaganda fail to tell their readers is that Shaikh Raed Salah has been at the head of a legitimate organization in Israel for many years in the face of efforts by extremist elements to proscribe it. During the past two decades, his organization has emerged as is the largest civil society movement representing Arab Israelis. He was elected mayor of Umm al-Fahem, the second largest Arab city in Israel, for two consecutive terms and voluntarily resigned to devote his energies to the preservation of the Islamic identity of Jerusalem and its sanctuaries. During his tenure he had access to and regular contact with Israeli officials, including ministers of interior. He could have chosen the easy way and accepted money, privilege and a life of comfort, but he didn't.  

It is only on account of his massive influence, which extends well beyond Israel, that his detractors have sought to vilify and silence him. The murder of the Turkish engineer, Ibrahim Bilgen, by Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara in May 2010 led to widespread speculation that the real target was in fact Shaikh Salah, who bears a startling resemblance to Bilgen. At a hearing in August 2010, Salah told an Israeli court, "IDF soldiers tried to kill me. They shot at someone else they thought was me."

The apparent assassination attempt on board the Mavi Marmara was not an isolated operation. In July 2010 a Jewish terrorist, Chaim Pearlman, and activist for the extreme right-wing Kach movement told an Israeli court that he was contacted by a person who worked for the Shin Bet security service to commit violent acts, including the assassination of Raed Salah, the head of the Islamic Movement in Israel.

Queen Mary University is not the first and will probably not be the last to uphold a culture of censorship of any debate on Palestine. This is an eminently self-defeating policy, as it will encourage students and the wider public to find out more about this conflict. They will soon realise that racism is used cynically by the Israel lobby as a means to silence dissent and voices that are critical of Israel's scandalous human rights record.

Having failed to silence him at home, it appears Israel's extremists have commissioned their surrogates to silence him abroad. As for Shaikh Raed Salah, his status among millions of Muslims will only be enhanced by this decision, for he will remain a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness against oppression. From his unique position in Israel, he has already emerged as one of the most credible and powerful defenders of Palestinian rights. Whether the Israeli establishment and its cohorts in Britain like it or not, he is recognised universally not simply as the leader of the Islamic movement in Israel, but as a preeminent Palestinian leader who towers high above the cheap propaganda merchants and their defamatory bile. They can and will continue to peddle their stock-in-trade garbage, and places like Queen Mary University will bow before them in submission and censorship. The comforting thought is that Shaikh Raed Salah will be remembered for his work long after the people who have lobbied for this ban, and those who have, shamefully, acquiesced, have been relegated to the dustbin of history.

Commentary & AnalysisEurope & RussiaIsraelMiddle EastPalestineUK
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