A prominent Arab Israeli Islamic cleric was convicted Sunday of incitement to terrorism over a 2017 speech in which he praised a deadly attack at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City.
The Haifa Magistrate’s Court also convicted Sheikh Raed Salah for supporting an outlawed organization. Salah was leader of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, which Israel banned in 2015 over alleged links to terror groups and for inciting deadly violence.
Salah was arrested and charged two years ago for praising three Arab Israelis who shot dead two police officers in a July 2017 attack at the Temple Mount compound. The attack, and Israel’s ensuing decision to beef up security at the holy site, significantly ramped up tensions between Israel and the Arab world.
Police officers Haiel Sitawe and Kamil Shnaan, both hailing from Druze villages in northern Israel, were killed in the attack.
The cleric was surrounded by supporters as he arrived at court on Sunday, including by lawmakers from the Joint List of four mostly-Arab parties. Following the ruling, Salah’s backers chanted “We’ll sacrifice our lives for Al-Aqsa,” referring to the holy site, according to the Ynet news site.
Joint List MK Youssef Jabareen called the ruling “political persecution that has no ‘security’ considerations.”
Jabareen linked the conviction to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent campaigning against a theoretical minority government led by the centrist Blue and White party and propped up by the Joint List.
“The conviction of Salah is another step in the political persecution of the Arab public and its leadership and the dangerous radicalization of ‘securitization’ in relation to them,” he added.
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The ruling was praised by a number of prominent right-wing lawmakers, with Jewish Home chief Rafi Peretz also linking it to the proposed minority government.
“For all those who imagined a minority government that leans on the Joint List, I suggest they take a good look at who arrived to the court this morning and supported this same inciting discourse,” Peretz, whose party backs Netanyahu, wrote on Twitter.
Welcoming the ruling, Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman again called the Joint List a “fifth column” in Israel.
“I hope the punishment to be imposed on him will be appropriate and that whoever saw the pilgrimage today of Joint List members to the court and their show of support for a terrorist will understand this is a fifth column,” he tweeted.
Salah has previously been convicted on a number of occasions for terror charges and in 2017 was released from prison after serving a nine-month sentence for incitement to violence and racism.