Israel Must Stop Sheikh Ra’ad Salah’s Dangerous Behavior

How can the U.K. act against Sheikh Ra’ad Salah, while Israel itself does nothing?


By Moshe Arens

(A version of this column appeared in Haaretz on July 12, 2011.)

Sheikh Ra’ad Salah was arrested in London for illegal entry into the United Kingdom. There he has been labeled by the British media as a “preacher of hate” and a “virulent anti-Semite.” The sheikh is well known in Israel and Israelis can vouch for the veracity of these appellations. However Salah’s attorney in London has stated quite correctly that the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement that Salah heads “is a legitimate organization which Israel has never moved to ban.”

Who can explain the blatant inconsistency between Salah’s scandalous and treacherous behavior and the subversive nature of the Islamic movement he leads and their continued unhindered activity in Israel?

A reminder of who it is we are dealing with can be found in the conclusions of the Orr Commission that investigated the events of October 2000. According to the final report, Salah was guilty of “transmission of messages that negated the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel and presenting the state as an enemy … he had a substantial contribution to provoking tempers and the violent and widespread outburst that took place in the Arab sector at the beginning of October 2000.”

He has subsequently been convicted of raising funds for Hamas and of having had contact with an Iranian intelligence agent. In 2009 he accused Jews of using children’s blood to bake bread, and in 2010 he joined Turkish terrorists on the Mavi Marmara ship.

Every year his movement conducts mass assemblies in Umm al-Fahm under the incendiary slogan “the al-Aqsa Mosque is in danger.” Over the years, a number of Israeli Arab members of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement have been convicted of terrorist activities.

His movement is actively propagandizing the Bedouin population in the Negev, inciting them against Israel and discouraging their youth from volunteering for service in the Israel Defense Forces. As long as the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement is allowed to carry out its activities unhindered, Israel’s Arab citizens are in effect being told that acting against the state is permitted, and that whoever wants to can feel free to do so.

There are many examples in recent history of democratic countries whose regimes have been subverted because they took a permissive attitude toward movements that were actively pursuing the destruction of the state, for the sake of “freedom of speech and civil rights.”

The attitude a democratic society should take in such cases was considered many years ago by the Israeli High Court of Justice. Three legendary justices, Shimon Agranat, Yoel Zusman and Haim Cohen, acting on an appeal regarding the El Ard movement, stated in their decision to deny the appeal that freedom of speech and organization was not absolute.

“The freedom to organize is one of the basic principles of a democratic society, and one of the fundamental rights of the citizen,” they wrote. “Under no circumstances should we deny this right and ban an organization for the only reason that one of its aims is the desire to change the existing legal status in the country … But no free society will lend a hand and give recognition to a movement that tries to undermine the society itself … more than once in the history of democratic regimes, there arose against them fascist and totalitarian movements which utilized all those rights of free speech, free press, and the right to organize, provided by the state, in order to conduct their destructive activities under their protection. Whoever saw this in the days of the Weimar republic will not forget this lesson.”

Almost 50 years have passed since this important decision. The El Ard movement was banned at the time, but in its stead there arose the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement under the leadership of Ra’ad Salah. The watchdogs over Israel’s democracy, the government, the Knesset, the High Court, seem to have fallen asleep while Ra’ad Salah continues with his nefarious activities inciting against the State of Israel – sowing seeds of dissent between Israel’s Arab and Jewish citizens, providing support to Israel’s enemies and attempting to undermine the very foundations of the state.

It is high time that our lawmakers put a stop to these dangerous activities. A democratic society must know how to defend itself.

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