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Theresa May's haste to ban Raed Salah will be repented at leisure

May 4, 2014 at 4:18 pm

Antisemitism is a fact of life, and all too often, a fact of British life. We do not need the events of Toulouse to remind us of that. They could all too easily have happened here.

The Community Security Trust, a registered British charity, plays an invaluable role in monitoring both the number of antisemitic attacks in Britain each year and instances of antisemitic discourse. If anyone needed reminding, it provided the physical security for synagogues at Passover. Even though I do not always agree with the inferences the CST draws – and the Guardian has appeared several times in its report on antisemitic discourse – I uphold the CST’s right to make those calls and acknowledge its proven expertise in doing do.

The quid pro quo of the trust placed in the CST by the local police and the Home Office is that this organisation get its facts right. That when it calls out an antisemite whose presence in Britain is not conducive to the public good, this very grave charge – the gravest of all charges it can make – sticks.

In June last year, home secretary Theresa May banned Sheikh Raed Salah, a Palestinian activist and religious leader, on the grounds that he had allegedly made a series of grossly antisemitic statements in sermons and a poem, and that his presence in Britain was not conducive to the public good. He was then arrested and detained in London after it emerged he had entered Britain despite the exclusion order being issued against him.

The principal source for the decision to ban him, according to witnesses who testified in court for the Home Office, was a report compiled by the CST.

Almost a year on, all four charges against Salah, supporting his deportation, have been thrown out by the vice-president of the Upper Immigration Tribunal. In his ruling, Mr Justice Ockelton said May was misled and “under a misapprehension as to the facts”. Calling the case against Salah “very weak”, Ockleton said the matters raised by the home secretary were not a fair portrayal of Salah’s views or words as a whole; that those views caused no difficulty at the time or since, and that there was no evidence that the danger perceived by the home secretary was shared by any of the other countries Salah visited, least of all by Israel, whose citizen he is and who only took out an indictment against him on these grounds after May’s deportation order in June.

Although Salah is now free to return home after a year, the matter will not end here. The CST’s confidential advice to the home secretary was accompanied by a well-orchestrated and poisonous campaign against Salah in the media, who so swiftly and conclusively condemned him as a “hate preacher”.

Libel writs will now be pursued against those who fabricated and peddled the dodgy quotes from this increasingly dodgy dossier. A man who has now been declared by the highest immigration court to be innocent, was arrested and spent 10 months either in prison or on restrictive bail conditions amounting to house arrest, on the basis of these allegations, as he fought to clear his name.

There are more important issues than Salah’s treatment in Britain. The first is the way the home secretary came to her decision to deport Salah. The court papers show it was done with some speed. Timings of the emails sent and received from the home secretary’s private office do not make a good case for the calm, clear deliberation which we all imagine should precede a deportation order from Britain against a high-profile Palestinian.

The second is May’s apparent reliance on a single source of information. She did not consult Muslim or Palestinian groups about Salah’s speaking tour in Britain.

This point is made by Salah’s solicitor, Tayab Ali, who said: “I find it wholly inappropriate that the secretary of state should base such an important decision on a narrow single source, such as the Community Security Trust. There should be an investigation into how such a relationship was allowed to exist in the Home Office.”

The CST says it has not yet seen a copy of the judgment and could not make a general comment on the ruling or the reasons for the decision. But it rejects the accusation that it was responsible for misleading anyone with inaccurate information, saying: “Throughout this process we have done more than anybody else to ensure that the most accurate information possible was available for the government, and the immigration appeal tribunal, to use in making their decisions”

The third issue is about the role of monitoring antisemitism itself. As the CST makes clear in its reports, there is a world of difference between antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and criticism of the actions of the Israeli state. All three discourses have their own dynamic. There are grave dangers in conflating the three.

The ruling noted the testimony of two expert witnesses, Robert Lambert, a retired head of the Metropolitan Police’s Muslim Contact Unit, and David Miller, a sociology professor from the University of Strathclyde who said that while the CST has played an invaluable role in identifying threats to the Jewish community from the far right, it failed to distinguish between antisemitism and criticism of the acts of the Israeli state and therefore gave an unbalanced perspective. This is the heart of the matter.

The home secretary and the police should continue to consult organisations like the CST on all matters which pertain to antisemitism. But the CST should also examine its conscience. Was it wise to allow itself to stray from its natural terrain, the legitimate and necessary pursuit of antisemites, and be drawn into the snake pit of the Arab-Israeli conflict?

Source: Guardian