Arab-Israeli imam faces deportation from Britain
LONDON - Arab-Israeli Islamist leader Sheikh Raed Saleh faced deportation from Britain on Wednesday after being arrested for entering the country despite a government ban.
Home Secretary Theresa May said arrangements had begun to remove Saleh, the leader of the northern wing of Israel's Islamic Movement, and an investigation had been launched into how he managed to enter the country.
But Saleh's lawyers said he had no idea he was subject to an exclusion order and vowed to "strongly challenge" attempts to deport him.
Saleh was arrested in London at about 11:00 pm (2200 GMT) on Tuesday after returning from a public event in the central English city of Leicester, one of several he was attending during a week-long visit, his lawyers said.
He had been due to speak at an event at the House of Commons organised by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) on Wednesday evening, alongside three opposition Labour lawmakers.
"I can confirm he was excluded and that he managed to enter the UK. He has now been detained and the UK Border Agency is now making arrangements to remove him," May said in a statement.
"A full investigation is now taking place into how he was able to enter."
The Home Office could not confirm when or why Saleh was placed on an exclusion list, although press reports said it happened a week ago.
One of Saleh's British lawyers, Tayab Ali, said his client had been arrested under a deportation order, which was issued "because the secretary of state considers the deportation to be conducive to the public good".
He said Saleh had had no idea that he was barred when he flew in to London Heathrow at the weekend.
"He travelled to the UK using his valid Israeli passport through perfectly normal means. He came to the United Kingdom to attend a number of lectures and give a couple of talks in a perfectly normal and lawful way," Ali said.
"We are instructed to strongly challenge the deportation order," he added, on the basis that the original exclusion order had no merit, and because the deportation interferes with Saleh's right to freedom of expression.
Sheikh Kamal Khatib, a spokesman for the Islamic Movement, blamed "the Zionist lobby in Britain" for pushing police into arresting him.
The detention was also denounced as political by another of Saleh's British lawyers, Farooq Bajwa, who has been instructed to pursue defamation proceedings against two British newspapers who accused his client of anti-Semitism.
Bajwa said: "He feels that this is a campaign by the Israeli government and people sympathetic to them to exclude him even though he's not a violent person."
Saleh has had multiple run-ins with the law in Israel, including most recently being arrested at the border with Jordan after allegedly striking an interrogator.
In 2010, he spent five months behind bars for spitting at an Israeli policeman, and he has been detained on a number of other occasions, including in connection with an alleged arson incident.
He was also held after taking part in a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that Israeli naval commandos stormed on May 31, 2010 in a botched operation that left nine Turkish activists dead.
The Islamic Movement is tolerated in Israel but is under constant surveillance due to its perceived links with Hamas, as well as with other Islamist groups worldwide.
PSC director Sarah Colborne defended inviting Saleh to their event Wednesday, admitting that he had faced "horrific allegations of anti-Semitism" in the past but had "completely refuted" them.
Israel's Arab community numbers 1.3 million, about 20 percent of the population. It is made of the Palestinians who remained after the 1948 establishment of Israel, and their descendants.