Crispin Blunt defends sharing platform with supporter of blood-libel cleric


Conservative MP Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, has defended his decision to chair an event alongside a campaigner who supported the blood libel cleric Raed Salah.

A fringe session at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham on Tuesday featured Mr Blunt speaking on a panel with Ismail Patel, chairman of the Leicester-based Friends of Al-Aqsa group.

Mr Patel was a leading supporter of Sheikh Salah when the Palestinian cleric successfully defeated Theresa May's attempt as Home Secretary to deport him from Britain in 2012.

But Mr Blunt told the JC today that he had been unaware of Mr Patel's former activities, because "a basic Google search didn't reveal it".

Mr Blunt added: "Chairing a meeting does not amount to endorsing the panellist's views, not least when they are set to present different viewpoints in a debate.

"Additionally I prefer an approach that engages with controversial speakers and provides an opportunity for accountability.

"There would have to be very serious reasons to disengage from dialogue, and guilt by association at one remove with a ridiculous and discredited thesis does not cut it."

Mr Patel also travelled on the Mavi Marmara boat which was part of a flotilla which attempted to reach Gaza in 2010. Activists on the ship clashed with the Israeli navy and nine Turkish citizens were killed.

In January the Co-operative Bank closed the Friends of Al-Aqsa's bank account.

This summer it was reported that Friends of Al-Aqsa had attempted to make a five-figure donation last year to Jeremy Corbyn's Labour leadership campaign, although the cheque was not cashed.

Tuesday's session, organised by Mr Patel's group, focused on whether British aid to the Palestinian territories was a "help or hindrance to justice".

Mark Gardner, Community Security Trust communications director, said: "This meeting is somewhat ironic and surprising, given Ismail Patel's support for the infamous Raed Salah."

Lord Palmer, Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel president, added: "I am disappointed that any political party thought this was a man whose views we want to hear. Did his co-panellists and the meeting chair disassociate themselves from his past support for Raed Salah?"

Mr Blunt is seen as a senior Commons figure thanks to his select committee role. He is a former chair of the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding and is regarded as a long-standing supporter of the Palestinian cause.

He was criticised in 1999 after telling the House of Commons he believed "a Holocaust of equal proportions has happened to the people of Palestine who have been evicted from their homes and suffered disruption to their lives".

Mr Blunt later wrote to the JC to apologise for offence caused by the remark.

In a statement released on Friday, the Board of Deputies urged Mr Blunt to apologise for sharing a platform with Mr Patel.

Board vice-president Marie van der Zyl said: “Crispin Blunt’s defence of his decision to chair an event alongside Ismail Patel is itself indefensible. We call on Mr Blunt to apologise.”

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