27 October 2011 — The Electronic Intifada
A UK immigration court ruled yesterday that popular Palestinian leader Sheikh Raed Salah could be deported from the country, after being banned by Home Secretary Theresa May in June.
The Electronic Intifada can now also exclusively reveal new details of an Israeli government role in the UK plot to exclude Salah.
Following yesterday’s decision, Salah could now take his appeal to a higher court, and meanwhile will remain in the UK on bail. Salah’s lawyer told The Electronic Intifada yesterday that his legal team were considering the judgment very carefully and could not comment further for the time being.
The judgment that Salah could be deported for ‘unacceptable behavior’ comes as The Electronic Intifada reveals new details of the Israeli role in Salah’s June-July detention by the UK government. Government emails obtained by The Electronic Intifada contain evidence that the Israeli embassy in London gave information to the British government later used in an attempt to deport him from the country.
‘Victim of unfairness and procedural irregularity’
In their ruling the First Tier Tribunal judges accepted that Salah ‘has behaved lawfully throughout this matter, and that he has been the victim of unfairness and procedural irregularity … [and] was detained unlawfully for a period of time.’
The judges wrote that their decision was a ‘balancing exercise’ between the public interest and the interests of Salah. The ruling addresses each of five main points the government used to ban Salah, reiterating the case on each side, but for the most part it does not rule on the central facts, agreeing with the government’s argument that the five points did not need to be proven.
But on one of the five points, the judges wrote that a poem by Salah ‘is not directed to the Jewish people as a whole but only at those among them who aim at Israeli territorial expansion and control at the expense of the Palestinians.’
The Electronic Intifada previously published private documents proving that this accusation of anti-Semitism was fabricated, as it rested on what seemed to be a malicious mistranslation of Salah’s original words. But the judges have neglected the point that it was not just a mistaken quote, but a deliberate Israeli attempt to smear Salah. They state that video evidence shown in court proved that Salah was ‘the victim of serious [Israeli] police harassment’ but that this was ‘not a matter which is relevant to the central issues in this appeal.’
Opaque criteria for ‘unacceptable behavior’
The judges concluded that Salah’s words came within the government’s anti-terrorist ‘Prevent’ policy, because he ‘engaged in the unacceptable behavior of fostering hatred.’
They did not specify on this point, saying they had reached the decision from the evidence ‘viewed in the round.’ They elaborated: ‘it is not necessary to satisfy the criteria of unacceptable behavior for words and actions to be racist as such … This might be achieved by words and actions which are not necessarily racist.’ They also explain that the list of ‘unacceptable behavior’ specified by the government (including racism) was indicative and not exhaustive.
In a striking turn of phrase, the judges wrote that ‘although it is not our task to rubber stamp a decision by the Secretary of State [Theresa May]’ it was nevertheless her decision to make rather than the court’s.
From the beginning, Salah claimed Israel had a hand in the exclusion, arrest, unlawful detention and attempt to deport him from the UK. ‘Israel carries the full responsibility for his detention in the United Kingdom,’ a press release said at the time.
Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian member of the Israeli Knesset (parliament), at the time said to the press: ‘The primary cause for the arrest is Israeli pressure and the pressure of Zionist elements inside Britain’ (‘Raed Salah arrested after UK appearance,’ Ynet, 29 June 2011).
Concerns that Israel using UK case against Salah
Salah refused to consent to voluntary deportation — the UK Border Agency (UKBA) tried to persuade him to drop his in-country appeal. Salah was concerned that, once he returns home, the Israeli authorities would use a successful deportation from Britain in their long-standing campaign against him.
In June, right-wing Israeli parliamentarian Alex Miller used Salah’s arrest to build support for his so-called Raed Salah bill, according to daily Israel Hayom. ‘If the British government refuses entry for this individual because of his extreme views and the fear that he might use public and academic venues to incite violence and racism, there is no reason why Israel should allow him and his kind to enjoy such activities either,’ he is reported to have said (‘MK Ben-Ari urges Britain not to release Sheikh Salah,’ 20 June). Miller is a member of the extreme right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party, and lives on an illegal Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.
Relying on dubious Israeli sources, elements of the British press accused Salah of anti-Semitism — an allegation now ruled false by the court which also formed the basis of the exclusion order. Three days after legally entering the UK on 25 June for a well-publicized speaking tour, Salah was abruptly arrested in his hotel room. This prevented him from attending a public meeting in Parliament the next day, organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
At the police station, UKBA officials served an exclusion order on Salah dated 23 June. The letter cited a 2009 Jerusalem Post editorial which attributed a fabricated anti-Semitic comment to Salah. The editorial said Salah wrote a poem including the comment ‘You Jews are criminal bombers of mosques’ but the original Arabic text of the poem was in fact addressed at the Israeli occupation forces. The words ‘You Jews’ were not in the poem and The Jerusalem Post appears to have added them.
In a July High Court hearing for bail, significant doubt was cast on this and other statements attributed to Salah in the Israeli and British press. The judge, Justice Nicholas Stadlen then freed Salah on restrictive bail. Conditions included a ban on public speaking. In September, the High Court ruled in a separate judicial review that the first few days of detention had been unlawful, and Salah was entitled to compensation.
Details of the plot against Salah emerged as the case went on. The Electronic Intifada uncovered evidence that the government had acted in collusion with pro-Israel lobbying groups in the UK.
But today, The Electronic Intifada can reveal new details of an Israeli government role in the plot.
Israeli government’s role
In a 22 June UKBA advice document used by Home Secretary Theresa May to justify her ban of Salah, case worker Jonathan Rosenorn-Lanng stated that although ‘this case is very finely balanced,’ Salah’s alleged views had the potential to foster ‘inter-community violence’ in the UK. Rosenorn-Lanng also said the British Embassy in Tel Aviv had been consulted: ‘The FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] in Israel has also confirmed that SALAH is considered to be an extremist.’ Presumably, this view was based on Israeli press reports, or on consultation with Israeli officials.
Only one day before Salah flew to London’s Heathrow Airport on 25 June, a UKBA official emailed Alan Stewart, an official with the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, telling him about the ban and detailing British-Israeli efforts to collaborate on the case.
UKBA official Rebecca Hadlow attached a copy of the exclusion, along with a border warning from the Risk and Liaison Overseas Network (RALON), part of the UKBA’s International Group. Hadlow said the RALON notice had been issued to airlines flying direct from Tel Aviv to the UK: ‘If they identify him, they will not carry him.’
The alert was disseminated to the Israeli state airline El Al in Tel Aviv. But it turned out that Salah traveled on a British Airways flight.
Even then, on 24 June, the British government had still not been able to serve the exclusion order on Salah: ‘we did not until this morning have an address for him (I am grateful for the assistance of the Israeli Embassy in London for this).’ Hadlow then gave Salah’s address and asked Stewart to arrange for the exclusion order to be couriered to him, while acknowledging that ‘he may not receive it before he travels.’
The same email was copied to Philip Boyle, an official at the British Embassy in Amman, who replied to Hadlow that he had ‘passed details of the exclusion notice to a contact in the Israeli Immigration Intelligence [sic – there is no known organization by that name] and asked to be notified if they encounter the subject leaving for the UK on an indirect route.’
The text of the RALON border warning makes it clear Salah did not know he was banned — ‘He has not yet been notified of his exclusion.’ The UKBA knew his passport number, therefore it is logical to assume they got this information from the Israeli government, perhaps via the Israeli embassy in London. Yet somehow, the UKBA got his full name wrong, mixing up two of his names.
On 5 July, Claire Lawrence, Head of the ‘Middle East Peace Process/Palestine/Israel’ desk at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wrote to Rosenorn-Lanng, saying: ‘Our Embassy in Tel Aviv have just let us know that a very high level delegation intend to call on our Ambassador early tomorrow, to discuss the Salah case amongst other issues.’ Who exactly was part of this delegation was not revealed, although it seems a likely reference to Israeli government ministers or security officials.
Salah and his legal team are due to meet and will decide whether or not to pursue his appeal against deportation further. It remains to be seen if any higher court would act as anything other than a ‘rubber stamp’ of the political decision to expel Salah from the UK, apparently with the cooperation of Israel.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist based in London who has lived in and reported from occupied Palestine. He edited the newly-released book Corporate Complicity in Israel’s Occupation. His website is http://www.winstanleys.org.