Salah - Bar-On - 12.4.12
Sheikh Raed Salah Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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On the morning of May 31, 2010, special police units were preparing for what was feared to become the worst spell of rioting in the Israeli Arab community in years, perhaps worse than the "October events" of 2000, when 12 Israeli citizens and a Palestinian were killed by police quelling violent protests following the outbreak of the second intifada.

Police squads in riot gear had already been deployed to critical locations on main roads near Arab towns. As the afternoon wore on, the tactical assessment changed and forces were stood down.

The reason for the riot alert was simple: In the early hours of the morning, naval commandos had boarded the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara which was trying to get to Gaza, and in the violent confrontation between some of the passengers and the commandos, rumor had it that Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern faction of the Islamic Movement in Israel, had been critically wounded by a gunshot to the head.

It took a few hours to ascertain that aside from minor bruises, the sheikh was alive and well, not among the nine Turkish activists killed, and then a few more hours to get out footage of the smiling cleric to reassure his followers, but after a tense day, another round of bloodshed was averted.

It is hard to find kind words for Mr. Salah. He is not in favor of a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict, but the disappearance of the Jewish state, to be replaced by an Islamic caliphate. Politically, you could place him on the most hard-line margins of Hamas or firmly within Islamic Jihad. He has served two prison sentences for transferring funds to Hamas, contact with an Iranian agent and attacking a policeman, but in many ways he has been treated with kid gloves by the security services. He has been free to address public appearances, travel abroad and for three consecutive terms to serve as mayor of Umm el-Fahm, which effectively meant he was being paid by the state he wants to undo.

Some would say that Salah has been allowed to operate freely, when not under arrest or indictment, because Israel is a democracy, protecting freedom of speech even for those who call for its demise. Others would say the security and legal authorities simply realize that shutting the sheikh up would lead to more trouble from his followers than it would be worth.

Personally, I want to believe both reasons are true. But whatever the reason, it is clear that when he is not suspected of having broken the law, Raed Salah is free in Israel to travel and express his views. Which makes the actions of the Community Security Trust rather baffling.

The trust is a British-Jewish organization in charge of providing security for Jewish buildings around the United Kingdom and monitoring anti-Semitic threats to British Jews. Much of what the trust does is admirable and its work is recognized both by the police forces that cooperate fully with it and the British government that partially funds it. But it has now emerged that the trust also sees itself as an international intelligence service, which is where it seems to have lost itself.

Last June, Sheikh Salah had arrived in London for what were supposed to be ten days of lectures and meetings. Three days into his visit, he was apprehended by police at an apartment where he was staying, taken into custody and informed that he was to be deported back to Israel. Apparently Home Secretary Theresa May, had signed an order excluding him from the United Kingdom on the grounds that his "presence would not be conducive to the public good."

Salah appealed the ruling, staying for the last nine months in Britain to enable him to fight the expulsion order. Last week, he was victorious when a tribunal ruled that the grounds for expelling him or denying him freedom of speech in Britain were too weak and that there was no reason to believe he was a danger to British society.

But the most interesting detail in the ruling is that the original decision to deport Salah was based on a report prepared for the British government by the Community Security Trust.

Since the tribunal's decision, the trust has been busy defending the veracity of its report and from what I have read, it seems it was accurate and there is evidence of Salah's less than friendly attitude toward Jews. What I don't understand is why they compiled the report to begin with - even if, as they say, they were asked to do so by the Home Office.

Would it not have made more sense for them to say, "We think Raed Salah's statements in the recent past have been anti-Semitic, but if the Israeli government allows him freedom of movement and freedom of speech, it would probably cause more harm and draw needless attention to his views to deport or prosecute him."

Since Salah has visited Britain (and other European countries) a number of times in the past, and there was no corresponding rise in anti-Semitic attacks, such an approach would surely have made more sense that turning him into a cause celebre. If he had not been detained, few would have even been aware of his presence, aside from a small bunch of already committed Israel-haters.

Even better, the trust could have written to the home secretary that "Raed Salah's views are hateful, insidious and racist. As a minority that has been persecuted over centuries and denied its basic rights, we believe that even Salah's freedom of expression should be protected and we are certain that once exposed, the British public will be capable of seeing such views for what they really are."