Sheikh Raed Salah .
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkish Ambassador Kemal Okem hosted Raed Salah, an Islamist leader who has spent time in Israeli jails for incitement and violence, at a fast-breaking Iftar dinner on Thursday night, angering officials in Jerusalem.
A picture of Salah at the dinner appeared on the Turkish Embassy’s Twitter feed under the caption: “Amb Okem hosted an iftar dinner with the participation of Arab and Muslim community leaders. #Ramadan Kareem!”
One senior Israeli official characterized the participation of Salah as “astonishing.”
Salah is the leader of the outlawed Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement. He was released from prison in January after serving a nine-month sentence for incitement to violence resulting from an inflammatory sermon he delivered in Jerusalem in 2007. That was not the first time he served jail time for similar offenses.
Israel outlawed Salah’s group in November 2015, with a government statement explaining that the group has for years “been waging a campaign of deceitful incitement under the banner of ‘al-Aksa is in danger,’ which blames Israel by falsely accusing it of intending to harm the mosque and violating the status quo there.”
And in the spring of 2016, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet that Salah was behind efforts to “heat up the Temple Mount area before Passover.”
“This man is a one-man explosive,” Netanyahu said.
Raed Salah urgent call to save al-Aksa
Calling for the security forces and the judiciary to “remove him,” the prime minister said Salah should have been behind bars long ago.
The Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement, which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been at the forefront of espousing the “defense” of al-Aksa Mosque.
Salah’s participation at the dinner comes a month after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan infuriated Jerusalem by calling on Turks and Muslims to visit the mosque, saying that “each day Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us.”
Okem told The Jerusalem Post
that the Iftar dinner was a private affair, “not a political event,” and that it “was not intended to give any kind of message. It is just an Iftar dinner that marks unity.”
Okem said that he did not send out individual invitations, and that Salah came as part of a general invitation he sent to various Muslim communities in the country.
“It’s an Iftar dinner, like the Shabbat dinners you have, just a private, casual dinner with all different kinds of people, who come, eat their dinner and go – to mark Ramadan,” he said. “That was the whole message, Ramadan Kareem. Peace and well-being for the people, that was the message.”
He said that among others at the dinner were MKs, the head of the Shari’a courts in Israel, and community leaders from different localities.
Former education minister Gideon Sa’ar responded on Twitter to the story, saying that Israelis should no longer be surprised by such behavior on the part of the Turks.
“Recommendation: Stop being shocked, ideally before the gas deal [with Turkey] blows up in our faces,” Sa’ar wrote.
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