The High Court on Tuesday heard appeals by attorneys representing Raed Salah, head of the Islamic Movement in northern Israel. Salah was convicted in November of inciting riots and violence, and was sentenced to eleven months in prison. Salah was allowed to remain free while his lawyers prepared the petition to the court appealing the sentence.
Salah was convicted for a speech he gave in 2007, in which he voiced, among other things, the medieval blood libel, depicting Israeli policies as the equivalent of “consuming Muslim blood.” Salah’s remarks were widely disseminated in Israeli media, and he was arrested and tried for racism and anti-Semitism.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Salah’s attorney, Avigdor Feldman, did not deny that his client was a racist and anti-Semite – but, according to Yediot Aharonot, he told the court that that was not enough to land a person in prison. “What does the court mean when it says that my client is guilty of ‘incitement to racism,’” the newspaper quoted Feldman as saying. “It is not a crime to be a racist.”
As far as the reference to the blood libel is concerned, said Feldman, Salah did not outright accuse Israelis or Jews of actual bloodletting; it was more of an “unclear analogy.”
Feldman compared his client’s comments with those made by Jews against Arabs. “This is a very distressing sentence,” he said. “When Jews make similar remarks about Arabs, they get sentenced to work release programs. We are judging Salah ten times more severely than we would a Jew. Show me one case in which a Jew was sentenced to eleven months in prison for such statements,” he added.
Yediot‘s coverage stated that the prosecution pointed to recent incidents in which Palestinian terrorists admitted that they had been egged on to attack Jews by propaganda broadcast in the media. “We are witnesses now more than ever to the power of incitement,” the state said. “It is important that the court make a clear statement on this matter, in light of current events. Punishments for these crimes need to be as harsh as possible.”