Israeli Justice Minister to Turkish Ambassador: Don't Legitimize Israeli Muslim Cleric Raed Salah

Ambassador hosted head of banned northern branch of the Islamic Movement for an Iftar meal breaking the Ramadan fast. Ambassador: Iftar invitation to Salah was not politically motivated

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked with Turkish Ambassador Kemal Okem in her office in Jerusalem on June 15, 2017.
Courtesy of the Justice Ministry

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked protested to the Turkish ambassador to Israel, Kemal Okem, for hosting Israeli Muslim cleric Raed Salah in his home.

Okem had invited Sheikh Raed Salah, the leader of the banned northern branch of the Islamic Movement, two weeks ago for the Iftar meal breaking the Ramadan fast that evening.

Shaked, who met with Okem in her office in Jerusalem on Thursday, asked the ambassador to avoid legitimizing Salah.

Okem requested the meeting with Shaked, said a person close to the justice minister. The atmosphere during the half-hour meeting in the Justice Ministry was positive, said the source. Shaked explained to the ambassador about her work with the Israeli Arab community, including opening a courthouse in the city of Taibeh and appointing the first female qadi to a Sharia court.

“I heard that you invited Raed Salah to an Iftar meal,” Shaked told Okem. “I believe in coexistence between Jews and Muslims in Israel, but Raed Salah does not believe in such coexistence and engages in incitement. The significance of giving him a stage is legitimizing the wrong people. We respect Turkey and try to be sensitive to matters that are sensitive for it. In the same measure, we ask that Turkey demonstrate sensitivity in matters that are sensitive to us.”

Okem told Shaked that his Iftar invitation to Salah was not politically motivated but rather was part of an invitation to prominent figures in the Israeli Arab community for a social event and a festive meal. Despite Okem’s statement, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials said they believe Salah’s invitation was not a coincidence but rather was extended as part of the cooperation between Turkish groups and the Islamic Movement’s northern branch.

Okem took up his post in Israel in December 2016 after a reconcilliation between the two countries, and five years without a Turkish ambassador in Israel.

Foreign Ministry officials found out about Salah’s participation in the event from the Twitter account of the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv, in which Salah appears in one of the photos.

Senior Foreign Ministry officials contacted the ambassador a few days later and expressed their discomfort with Salah’s invitation to the event.

The Israeli security cabinet outlawed the Islamic Movement’s northern branch in November 2015. Any organization or individual belonging to the northern branch or found assisting the organization in any way is committing a criminal offense and is liable for imprisonment.

Salah was released in January from prison after serving a nine-month sentence for incitement to violence and incitement to racism during a speech he delivered in 2007.