Italy to Deport Muslim Preacher for Praising Killing of Jews

Muslim leaders applaud the move against hate speech, though some wonder why there wasn’t a trial.

MILAN, Italy – A Muslim cleric is set to be deported from Italy because of alleged hate speech against Jews, the Italian authorities said this week.

Abd Al-Barr Al-Rawdhi, an immigrant from Morocco, works as a preacher in San Donà di Piave, a small town about 30 kilometers north of Venice.

On Sunday, the Middle East Media Research Institute, a watchdog against hate speech in the Arabic- and Farsi-language media, uploaded a video in which Rawdhi appears to be praising the killing of Jews, even though the word “Jew” is never mentioned, the authorities say.

“What can we possibly expect from people who lost all respect for Allah, saying to Moses: 'Show us Allah outright?'” the preacher said, referring to a passage in the Koran in which the Jews challenge Moses. “What can we possibly expect from people who said 'the hand of Allah is shackled?' May their own hands be shackled, and may they be cursed for what they said.”

The translation by the institute, also known as Memri, has been confirmed by Haaretz. According to Memri’s website, the video was taken from another site, though Memri does not say which one. Haaretz was not able to trace its original source.

The Italian right-wing newspaper Libero reported on the issue Monday, quoting from Memri’s translation. The following, day Interior Minister Angelino Alfano, a hardliner on immigration policies, announced that Rawdhi would be deported.

“We cannot accept that people deliver such obviously anti-Semitic speeches that incite to violence and religious hatred,” Alfano told La Stampa, a mainstream newspaper. Rawdhi’s expulsion should “serve as a warning for all those who think they can spread hatred in Italy,” he added.

Rawdhi is currently being held by the military police, so he is unavailable for comment. 

Anti-Semitism has been a concern for the authorities in recent weeks as anti-Semitic graffiti has proliferated in Rome and other cities.

The planned deportation has received mixed reactions in Italy’s 1.5-million-strong Muslim community. “Those who preach hatred should be expelled from [Italy’s] mosques,” Bouchaib Tanji, president of the Islamic federation of the Venice area, told La Stampa, praising Alfano’s decision.

Others claimed that Rawdhi should have been granted the right to a trial. Mohammed Guerfi, the imam of Verona, described the decision to deport Rawdhi without trial as "shameful" and a sign of "disrespect to the Italian constitution." 

According to Guerfi, Rawdhi's comments were directed at Israel, not the Jews. "What do the authorities expect from us – to keep quiet about the war in Gaza?" Guerfi said. 

Others had similar views. “Any form of anti-Semitism and hate speech should be condemned; moreover, it goes against Italian law,” Davide Piccardo, the leader of one of the largest Muslim organizations in northern Italy, told Haaretz. “What I don’t get, however, is why Rawdhi was expelled, and so quickly, instead of being put on trial. I mean, don’t people get to defend themselves when they’re accused of something?”

Such cases might be used to spread distrust of Italy’s Muslim community, Piccardo added.

More than 60 percent of Italians have a negative view of Muslims, a record for Western Europe, according to a recent Pew survey.

Piccardo also expressed concerns that the Italian authorities might have based their decision on a video translated by Memri that “appears to be edited and cut.” But Alfano has told reporters that the decision to deport Rawdhi was made after a “thorough investigation” by the anti-terror police.

The mosque in San Donà di Piave has had problems with the law before. A preacher from that mosque, Ahmad Chaddad, was arrested on terror and illegal-immigration charges in 2012. A native of Syria, Chaddad was accused of aiding illegal immigrants and recruiting volunteers for the fighting in Syria.

Memri