If Salah Lived in England

When was the last time that Arab leaders were invited to visit the prime minister?

While the "formative experiences" were brewing at Kfar Maimon, one of those banal events that are the symbol of all the "non-formative," obvious events was taking place far from the madding crowd: The head of the Islamic Movement (Northern Branch), Sheikh Ra'ad Salah, was released from prison. Not just released, but with his prison term reduced by a third, in accordance with an agreement between the prosecution and the defense.

Salah has become the symbol of the hostility between the Jewish state and the Arab minority that lives in it. He is the leader of an "Islamic Movement," a threatening pair of words in and of itself, and he was also convicted of transferring funds to Hamas and of incitement. All of these convictions, it must be remembered, were obtained in a plea bargain, relying on those secret documents with which the Shin Bet security service customarily impresses judges.

However, an interviewer from the BBC in Arabic who spoke with Salah immediately after his release found it hard to extract from him a meaningful condemnation of the suicide attacks. "I am against harming civilians of any kind and anywhere," was the rhetorical contribution Salah agreed to make, "but it is also necessary to relate to the reasons that motivate people to commit suicide." This is a formulation that is unacceptable and cannot serve as a justification for anything, but people are not indicted for this, never mind tried and sentenced. Though no one in London would propose indicting Mayor Ken Livingstone, who equated Hamas and the Likud, as in Salah's case, he would be tried for supporting terror and incitement against the State of Israel.

Right here lies another small difference between London and Jerusalem, which can no longer pride itself on being the exclusive target for terror attacks. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has realized that two or three or even 15 Pakistani immigrants cannot be allowed to ruin Britain's reputation and depict it as a persecutor of minorities. The 2 million Muslims who live in the United Kingdom immediately received a warm embrace from Blair. Prominent Muslim leaders, senior imams and heads of Muslim research institutions were invited to 10 Downing Street for a meeting with the prime minister to hear him say how much he admires them and that he will not allow their community to be harmed. These are the same leaders who came out in the English and international media and condemned the terror attacks outright. In clear language and without explanations and justifications.

Presumably, after two rounds of terror attacks in London, the Muslim population of London has become no less suspicious than the Arab population in Israel. Individuals of "Middle Eastern appearance" will certainly be checked much more carefully than people of white appearance at the entrance to the Underground. This is the price paid by minorities everywhere. A payment that is intended to distinguish between "good guys" and "bad guys" and that they are prepared to pay on condition that it is reasonable and the same for everyone. In this way the English are delineating the gap between the terrorists and the Pakistani, Egyptian and Irish citizens and everyone else who belongs to the community of the "terror elite."

This distinction does not exist in Israel, or barely exists. Quite a long time elapsed between the events of October 2000 and the half-hearted apology by the prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak. No one is speaking up in the defense of the Arab population when terrorists from among the Arabs in Israel are captured, and when was the last time that Arab leaders - and by this I do not mean those blabbering Knesset members - were invited to visit the prime minister? The lesson Blair has taught Britain about minorities looks like an irrational gesture in Israel.

There is no knowing whether Salah is guilty, as a plea bargain does not allow for the examination of the evidence. It is doubtful the prosecution is convinced of his guilt, especially in light of the peculiar condition for his release: a prohibition on visiting Jerusalem for four months. And what then? What is not in doubt in Jewish-Israeli eyes is the certainty of the guilt of the entire Arab population that engendered Salah. This is the lesson the naive Blair has not yet learned.