The Palestine Brief: How do pro-Israel outlets systematically smear Palestinian charities in the UK?

The Palestine Brief: How do pro-Israel outlets systematically smear Palestinian charities in the UK?
The Jewish Chronicle recently apologised to Palestinian charity Interpal for spewing false claims about them, but how deep does the smearing campaign in the UK run?
5 min read
03 September, 2019
Palestinian activists are usually wrongfully smeared [Getty]
Last week, UK based Palestinian charity Interpal received an apology and £50,000 in compensation from newspaper Jewish Chronicle for an attempt to smear the charity's trustees under grounds of anti-Semitism and terrorism.

The newspaper published an article in March which highlighted UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn's links with Palestinian charities in yet another attempt to smear him as an anti-Semite. Within the article Interpal was accused of being a terrorist organisation.

The chairman of Interpal Ibrahim Hewitt was noted to have been "widely described as an Islamic extremist who believes that adulterers should be stoned to death and has compared gay people with paedophiles" – a claim which he vehemently denies.

"Mr Hewitt, who has been referred to by Mr Corbyn as a "very good friend", is the chairman of Interpal, a Muslim charity that was deemed by the US a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Organisation in 2003", the article added. 

After a long battle, Jewish Chronicle issued an apology to both Interpal and Hewitt.

"We wish to make clear that Interpal and its Trustees have always strongly contested the US designation, and Interpal continues to operate fully lawfully under the aegis of the Charity Commission. We accept that neither Interpal, nor its Trustees, have ever been involved with or provided support for terrorist activity of any kind", they said in their apology.

"Our article also suggested that Ibrahim Hewitt, one of the Trustees and the Chairman of Interpal, has expressed extremist views concerning punishments for adulterers and gay people. In fact, the views attributed to Mr Hewitt arise out of a book he wrote some 25 years ago regarding the interpretation of the Koran. Mr Hewitt has asked us to make clear that he does not condone discrimination in any form, including against gay people or adulterers, and we are happy to do so."

Systematic anti-Palestinian racism

Since its designation, Interpal has suffered racist smears and have had their funds locked off. But they aren't the only Palestinian charity to be smeared in the UK and have pro-Israel media after them.

A number of smears against Palestinian charities and activists are orchestrated by a legal group called UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI).

With Interpal, UKLFI take advantage of the fact that the US designated them as a terrorist organisation in 2003 for a basis to cut off all of their funds – despite Interpal's full compliance with UK law.

In October last year, UKLFI managed to pressure credit card companies to stop receiving donations by credit card.

"This severely curtails the organisation's ability to fundraise directly through its website", UKLFI's statement said.

Other Palestinian humanitarian groups have been affected by UKLFI's smearing. Last June, the group filed a complaint to the UK Charity Commission against Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a charity that focuses on providing medical aid for Palestinians living under occupation and in refugee camps.

UKLFI also contribute to the silencing and intimidation of pro-Palestine students in UK universities.

"We assisted students to obtain the removal of posters promoting academic boycotts of Israel at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and Middlesex University and of an offensive banner referring to "Israeli ethnic cleansing" at the University of East Anglia", the group said in a statement on their website.

Silence or exile

Not only do Palestine activists and charities have to endure systematic smearing, Israel has interrogated, strip searched and even banned Palestinians from visiting their home country if they speak out against Israeli policies, or even for being associated with a Palestinian charity.

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Samira (name changed for protection), a British Palestinian tried to enter the occupied West Bank last month to volunteer with a Palestinian charity and faced intimidation by Israeli officers before she got deported. She suspects they may have even stolen her luggage because she hasn't yet received it.

"After checking in with passport control at 2pm, they took my passport and made me sit in the waiting room for 2 hours before my first interview. Two Israeli guards took me into a side room and interrogated me for over half an hour," she told The New Arab.

"They warned me beforehand and got me to sign a statement saying everything I told them was the truth, which it was. They asked me about my volunteering, my previous visit to the West Bank and Gaza, and were interested in my travels to the Middle East."

She said as time passed, the interrogation became more hostile.

"Then the questions started getting worse, 'what have you deleted from your phone?' I replied nothing. 'People who delete things have something to hide, I will ask only one more time, you signed a statement saying you wouldn't lie, I know you're lying, what have you deleted from your phone?' I was asked again."

Samira waited for a gruelling six hours before she was finally told that she was being denied entry, despite volunteering twice before and going through the same procedure to attain the same visa to volunteer.

"At 8pm a different man read my name and told me to follow him to a different waiting room. He asked me why I hated Israel, I calmly told him I am only here to volunteer. He didn't believe me, he started writing down on the system that I was associated with BDS (the non-violent Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement) and hated Israel. He took my photo and fingerprints and told me I was being denied entry because I didn't have the correct volunteer visa."

During her stay, she was even banned from going to the toilet alone. 

"Then I was left in waiting room, I asked for my luggage and he said they put it back on the plane. I started to walk to the bathroom like I had done freely all day and an Israeli guard put his leg out to stop me, I explained where I was going and he said someone needs to escort me, and did nothing. I had to ask twice and was left for half an hour just for an escort to take me to the bathroom."

Samira was left in the dark about which plane she would go back on and when she arrived in the UK, she found contrary to what she was told, her luggage was nowhere to be seen.

Diana Alghoul is a journalist at The New Arab.

Follow her on Twitter: @SuperKnafeh

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