By Paul Charney, Chairman, Zionist Federation
Several events in the past few weeks have highlighted the contradictory nature of the UK government’s attitude towards support for Islamic terrorism. While all jihadis are equal, some are more equal than others.
First up was the recent conclusion of the trial of Abu Hamza, charged by the US court of a variety of terrorism-related charges. You’ll remember that Hamza was for quite some time a quintessentially British problem, a ludicrously over-the-top Muslim firebrand that our authorities didn’t know what to do with.
When he was finally charged (with inciting racial hatred and murder), he was sentenced to seven years. You don’t have to believe we should go back to the days when treason meant an automatic beheading to think that this was perhaps a little weak.
Fast forward, though, and he has just been found guilty of 11 different charges in New York after being extradited by the Americans. Tried in a city that knows better than most the high cost of his brand of fundamentalist- inspired violence, he now faces a life sentence.
David Cameron, keen to jump on the ‘tough on terrorism’ bandwagon, declared his approval, noting too that in future these extraditions might well be speeded up.
Not that our government has been particularly soft in this department in this recent months. No one could accuse us of taking a subtle approach to the tricky issue of Brits travelling abroad to fight in Syria, with multiple people charged with terrorism offences in connection to the civil war.
Only a few weeks ago, a 26-year-old student was charged with trying to smuggle money over for the rebels. Nawal Msaad, apparently at ease with both her Western and Muslim identities, has articulately expressed her opposition to religious violence as an affront to Islam – and yet, for allegedly seeking to help those fighting the brutal Assad regime, she faces a jail sentence.
I raise these two events not to question the correct response to the challenge of Islamist terrorism, but to highlight the stark contrast between them and the government’s approach to Palestinian violence.
As mentioned in a recent front page story in this paper, the Palestinian Authority currently provides automatic salaries for any Palestinian convicted of terrorism charges against Israel, a disgusting piece of legal alchemy that instantly converts murderers into civil servants. The higher the sentence, the bigger the payout, with the most serious criminals getting an obscene £2,000 a month – more than the majority of people in this country, and an absolute fortune compared with the wages of an ordinary Palestinian.
While the millions of pounds that are spent every month in this fashion are both clearly material support for terrorists and incitement to murder, this appears to be of little concern to the donor governments that provide the PA with 40 per cent of its annual budget. For example, our own Department for International Development (DfID) has already pledged £33 million for the 2013/14 annual period alone, while we also chip in 15 percent of the EU’s £133m aid as well.
When challenged by our activists, who have been writing to their MPs, the identikit response has been to claim that our taxpayer money only goes to a pre-approved list of Palestinians civil servants – presumably those behind desks, rather than bars. Setting aside the question of whether this is true (and excuse me if I am a little sceptical) – so what?
So what if there is some fiscal firewall between our money and the money that pays these killers? We are still bankrolling a government that would rather reward murder than build peace.
It is clear DfID regards this situation as an embarrassing wrinkle to be swept under the rug, rather than a moral catastrophe that surely demolishes the reasoning behind us supporting the ‘moderate’ government of Mahmoud Abbas in the first place. Without further pressure, nothing will change.
One last comparison. In the UK, we recently marked the one-year anniversary of the dreadful murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, killed by men poisoned by the same vicious, supremacist, nihilistic ideology that has done so much harm in the Middle East. If it turned out our government was funding a foreign entity that rewarded anyone who killed a British citizen, you can bet the scandal wouldn’t end until that money was cut off.
We owe it to the victims of Palestinian terrorism to make sure the same is true in this case, too.