Bloggers refuse to apologise over ‘evil Jew’ libel threat

A popular political website is refusing to back down in the face of a threat of libel action from an Islamist activist who denies having referred to an “evil Jew”.

Harry’s Place, the left-of-centre blog, has engaged top lawyers Mishcon de Reya to defend it against a claim from Mohammed Sawalha, the president of the British Muslim Initiative.

Earlier this month, the blog quoted from an interview Mr Sawalha had given to the Arabic-language news website, Al-Jazeera. He had been attending a counter-demonstration against the Israel 60th-anniversary parade in Trafalgar Square.

According to Harry’s Place, Mr Sawalha had said: “We, the Arab and Islamic community, gather here today to express our resentment at the celebrations by the Jewish community and the [evil Jew/Jewish evil] in Britain.”

But the BMI head claims he did not make the remark and that it is a mistranslation of the Arabic.

The original wording that was translated as “evil” was a typing error for “lobby”, according to a letter from his  lawyers, Dean & Dean. It had no meaning in Arabic, and when the error was noticed, Al-Jazeera corrected it.

Demanding an apology and the removal of the article, Dean & Dean said they had instructions to “take action as per the Defamation Protocol”.

But Mishcon de Reya insisted the translation was “reasonable” and that the words would be “quite unexceptional from a person associated with Hamas”.

Harry’s Place (at hurryupharry.org) also reported the Al-Jazeera correction.  A BBC Panorama programme two years ago claimed Mr Sawalha “is said to have masterminded much of Hamas’s political and military strategy for London”, to where he fled in 1990.

David T, a regular Harry’s Place blogger, said that its translation had been made by a graduate in Arabic and checked with more than one person.

“We are confident we have done nothing wrong and we refuse to be bullied by a man identified by the BBC as a fugitive Hamas commander,” he said.

    Last updated: 9:54am, July 17 2008