by Sam Westrop, JNS
On Aug. 23, The Jewish Chronicle (JC), Britain’s largest Jewish newspaper and one of the oldest Jewish papers in the world, published an apology and handed 50,000 pounds (more than $60,000) to Interpal, a British Muslim charity linked closely to Hamas, the murderous Palestinian terrorist organization in Gaza.
The apology and the payout come in the wake of a March 2019 article in the JC (since taken down), in which journalist Orlando Radice reported that Interpal was itself “deemed by the US a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Organization in 2003.” Radice also claimed that the chairman of Interpal, Ibrahim Hewitt, “has been widely described as an Islamic extremist who believes that adulterers should be stoned to death and has compared gay people with pedophiles.”
The JC is not the first publication to end up paying money to Interpal to avoid a lawsuit. In June 2019, the Daily Mail and Mail Online gave the charity more than $145,000.
In this specific case, what did the JC get wrong? What exactly is Interpal? And why has the newspaper now handed over $60,000 to a charity considered by the U.S. government to be a terrorist organization?
Founded in 1994, Interpal has long claimed to be nothing but a charitable entity devoted to helping Palestinians. But the 2003 designation of Interpal by the Bush administration did not come as a surprise to some. Interpal leaders have long worked closely and openly with Hamas. In 2001, counter-terrorism expert Matthew Levitt has revealed, documents seized in Ramallah showed that Interpal gave more than $30,000 to a prominent Hamas charity founded by Jamal Mohammad Tawil, a Hamas commander who masterminded several suicide-bomb attacks.
In the years following the U.S. designation, terrorism investigations, government inquiries and television documentaries continued to catalog Interpal’s link to the Palestinian terror group. In 2006, a BBC documentary concluded that funds provided by Interpal “helped build up Hamas into what it is today.”
According to the U.S. government, Interpal founder and longtime official Essam Mustafa (also known as Essam Yusuf) even “served on the Hamas executive committee under Hamas leader Khaled Misha’al.”
Other Western governments and charitable regulators noted Interpal’s Hamas connections. Interpal staff openly expressed their support for Hamas and took part in pro-Hamas rallies. Interpal funded a “festival of hate” in Gaza that featured performances—broadcast on Hamas television—in which Palestinian children pretended to stab Jews.
Over many years, Interpal leaders would travel to Gaza in charitable convoys, where they would be welcomed by senior Hamas leaders and take part in Hamas celebrations. At one such event, Interpal head Essam Mustafa took part in a Hamas song that “praise[d] Hamas’ military wing, Al Qassam Brigades, and martyrdom.”
Mustafa and Hewitt’s many trips to Gaza included visits to the grave of Hamas’s founder, and to the homes of Hamas leaders and “martyrs,” including, as I noted in 2014: “Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, a senior Hamas leader who once promised he would ‘kill Jews everywhere’; and Sheikh Said Seyam, who commanded Hamas’s Executive Force, a militia that tortured and murdered Palestinian supporters of Fatah during Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2006.”
Given this appalling history of links to violent anti-Semitism, why, then, did the JC hand over tens of thousands of dollars to this terror-funding charity?
Certainly, the JC’s report that Interpal was designated by the U.S. government is incontrovertible. As for its other claim—that Interpal chairman Ibrahim Hewitt has called for the killing of adulterers—this is based on a book written by Hewitt in 1993. I have long kept a copy, and, as you can see for yourself, Hewitt does indeed call for the killing of adulterers. Hewitt also advocates murdering homosexuals, although quickly adds that this would only be acceptable in an Islamic state.
In its published apology, for which the wording was most likely approved by Interpal, the JC does not retract its claims that the U.S. government designated Interpal or that Hewitt called for the killing of adulterers. Instead, the JC repeats them, but notes that “Interpal and its Trustees have always strongly contested the US designation,” and that “the views attributed to Mr. Hewitt arise out of a book he wrote some 25 years ago regarding the interpretation of the Koran.” (Hewitt did indeed write his book two decades ago, although it has been republished multiple times since then with most of the offending material remaining.)
So why did the JC reach a settlement with Interpal if both the newspaper’s allegations appear factually accurate? The answer lies in the unpleasantness of British libel law, which, to the delight of litigious extremists everywhere, bestows enormous benefits on the plaintiffs.
The JC would perhaps have been able to defend an action on the first claim: reporting a foreign government’s statement is largely protected by “statutory qualified privilege.” But a lesser-used aspect of Britain’s 1996 Defamation Act also requires publishers to ensure the information is not just “in the public interest” but “for the public benefit” as well. In this instance, this means that a court might conclude the JC should have ensured more recent context was provided, such as the fact that U.K. government continues to recognize Interpal as a public charity.
As for the second claim, the JC would be required to demonstrate that its journalists had acted responsibly in establishing that the facts about Hewitt’s comments on adulterers and homosexuals had been fairly reflected. Because the JC did not contact Hewitt for comment—and given that the newspaper refers to Hewitt’s writings, which were written 25 years ago, as his current views—any legal action lodged by Interpal could very possibly be successful.
Although odd to American ears, public interest privilege does not, in this case, protect the Jewish newspaper from a defamation claim even though its reporting appears to be fundamentally true. That Hewitt has never retracted his comments about adulterers and homosexuals, that his book has been republished since without significant revisions, and that other reputable publications have reported Hewitt’s extremism could all be ultimately immaterial.
Rather than risk a financially devastating lawsuit, the JC buckled. And so, one of Europe’s most important Jewish institutions handed tens of thousands of dollars to a charity that backs not just anti-Jewish hatred, but also supports the very terror group that turns such hatred into deadly acts of terrible violence.
Interpal’s allegation that the JC had misreported its designation as a terrorist organization was the weaker of the terror charity’s two claims. But by conceding that it had failed to offer context to Hewitt’s bigoted comments, it seems likely the JC was subsequently strong-armed by Interpal to accept in its apology that the newspaper had also somehow misrepresented the facts surrounding Interpal’s 2003 designation. Interestingly, Interpal appeared to employ a similar tactic in its successful threats against the Daily Mail earlier this year.
Along with the apology and the payout, the JC also gave column inches to the terror-linked charity to publish an opinion piece advertising its work. In a Jewish newspaper, the notoriously anti-Semitic Hewitt penned the article, writing that Interpal helps people “irrespective of age, gender, political affiliation or any other defining factor.” Defending the “nobility of [our] efforts,” Hewitt claimed that he and his colleagues are “strictly apolitical and humanitarian in our approach.”
We know this is not true. The JC knows this is not true. And Interpal knows that we all know it is not true. But now one of the most important Hamas institutions in Europe can go to the next newspaper that dares to think about reporting the group’s Hamas ties and warn that even British Jewry has recognized and funded the terror charity’s preposterous claims of innocence.
Sam Westrop is the director of Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.