Antisemitism key to UK exclusion policy

Jacqui Smith:  “I will never allow the right to freedom of speech to become a licence to preach hatred”

Jacqui Smith: “I will never allow the right to freedom of speech to become a licence to preach hatred”

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said this week that the government is still considering evidence relating to the possible exclusion from Britain of Ibrahim Mousawi, the Hizbollah-linked journalist.

He has been invited to take part in a conference on Islam at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies on March 25.

If admitted from his home base of Beirut, it would be the fourth time that Mr Mousawi, formerly with the Shi’ite TV station Al-Manar, has entered Britain, having previously been invited by the Stop the War Coalition.

But in an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with the JC, Ms Smith, who was the guest of honour at Monday night’s Community Security Trust dinner in London, said that discussions were still taking place about Mr Mousawi. She said: “He hasn’t yet applied for a visa, and we are considering not just the representations that have been made but are actually actively seeking other evidence, about whether or not he should be someone we would consider excluding.

“Last autumn I strengthened the burden of proof that we now place on people when we are considering them for exclusion. Now, if someone has expressed extreme views, in support of terrorism, for example, it is not simply enough for them no longer to be expressing them. The burden of proof will now be on them to demonstrate that they have recanted.”

Ms Smith said that more than half of the people who had been excluded from Britain since 2005 were those who had expressed antisemitic views.

“I have been more explicit than others on the basis on which I make my decisions. More people have been excluded for antisemitism than for any other reason.”

She said that she intends to publish quarterly figures in which the Home Office will report regularly on who has been excluded.

On Monday night, she told the more than 1,000 guests at the CST dinner that last month she had banned a Palestinian cleric and Hamas member of the Palestinian Parliament, “who praises suicide attacks as ‘the most exalted form of jihad’”. The JC can reveal that the banned cleric was Yunis al Astal, an extremist politician who regularly preaches inflammatory sermons.

The Home Secretary said she would “never allow the right to freedom of speech to become a licence to preach hate. But by the same token, I will apply high thresholds to the protection of an individual’s freedom of speech and liberty of movement”.

She said that she took “very seriously” the situation of Jewish students on campus and had taken the opportunity to express this view to the chair of the Union of Jewish Students, Adam Pike, who had told the CST guests of the rising levels of intimidation on university campuses all over the country.

Ms Smith said: “This fight is not, in some ways, about throwing money at a problem. It is about throwing thought, and commitment and communication, and the willingness to engage in an honest dialogue about what we can and what we can’t do, in order to support the Jewish community’s right to live, to worship, to study freely in this country, to be proud of being Jewish and proud of being British.”

In his remarks at the CST dinner, the organisation’s founder and chairman, Gerald Ronson, expressed concerns about the level of support for the Jewish community in the UK.

He said: “Let me tell you straight, that the politicians and civil servants who stand up to be counted here tonight are increasingly isolated. Many of their colleagues are running for cover and surrendering to intimidation.

“This is not about any one party, or any one government department. The problem runs far deeper than that. Yes, when times are good, we have many friends. But when times are bad as they are now, that’s when your real friends stand up to be counted. That’s when you find out who is real and who is a fake.”

The dinner was attended by the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, cabinet ministers Hazel Blears and Ed Balls, and 26 other leading MPs, including Tessa Jowell.

    Last updated: 12:20pm, March 10 2009