Who was there and said nothing? An Islamist’s 2012 remarks are now ammunition in yet another Labour Party anti-Semitism claim.

17 July 2019 By Paul Martin
Helbawi contacted the MB-affiliated channel Mekameleen via Skype from London and announced details of his initiative – Photo compiled by Egypt Today/Mohamed Zain

The British newspaper The Times was handed a video of an event held in 2012 at the University of London, chaired by Milne, entitled:  “Where now for Egypt and the Middle East?”.  During the panel discussion, alongside George Galloway, then an MP, Helbawy made what the newspaper headline called an “anti-Jewish rant” by claiming Israelis, including its then president, Nobel peace prize winner Shimon Peres, were not committed Jews.

Helbawy said he found the row surprising, as he had not said all Jews were bad or evil – only those who supported the existence and practices of a Jewish state.

He did not see why his fellow-panelists should have rejected his comments.

“The speakers had other issues to discuss.  They had to make their own points.  They did not have much time to object to what I had said,” he told me. “They were not there to object against each other.”

Sipping coffee in a Turkish cafe in north-west London, Helbawy told me:

 “We have no problem with Jews at all, and, as I said at the time, I have many Jewish friends, who come and stay with me.  All of them are anti-Zionist.

“I am not against the Jews and never were – we are all created by Allah, Jews, Christians and Muslims. But I am against the problems they create.  They should stick to Moses’s shari’a.   

“I never said ‘all Israelis’.  I never said that.  The whole Zionist project is to colonise a place in the Middle East and to make a country for them to rule.”

He asked: “ Why [should Zionists have] a country in Palestine, and why not in America or Europe?  Not to create global issues.”

He pointed out that the first Zionist Congress in which a Jewish state was advocated had taken place in the 19th century in Basel, Switzerland, which is “in Europe – so Europe should make provision for Jews to live there”.

He added: “The Jews can live in Palestine as minorities – why do they want to be a majority? They live in many countries as a minority – including America.”

His argument should have come as no surprise to the panellists, he argued, as everyone knew he had been a strong supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood for four decades by the time of the debate (he joined it when aged 12).

He had been a long-standing close friend of one of the panellists, Mr Galloway, whose anti-Israel stance was, he said, appreciated by the Brotherhood.

As for the other panelists, they would have known that his remarks in the discussion were in line with Muslim Brotherhood policy that had been stated time and again by “most Islamists, and millions of liberals and secularists”,  he noted.

 Though he left the official structure of the Brotherhood in 2012 he continued to support the original policies and ideals of the movement, which he said had been corrupted by the new Brotherhood leadership in Egypt.

Helbawy had been on the Brotherhood’s Supreme Guidance committee and had been its chief spokesman in Europe, while living in London and running what he described as “two research units on anti-terrorism and on what Islam can offer the West”.

He had co-founded the Muslim Council of Britain and had served as secretary-general of the Islamic Unity Forum in Europe.

Helbawy returned to Egypt in April 2011 in the wake of the revolution in Egypt against President Hosni Mubarak, but, by the time the Muslim Brotherhood swept to power in June 2012, he had become disillusioned by the political machinations of the Islamists in their ill-fated year in control of Egypt.  

He feels the Brotherhood, toppled by the armed forces, had been the author of its own downfall and “some of them, unfortunately, had ill-advisedly turned to acts of violence”.

He still had hope that the Middle East would become governed by the Islamic shari’a, but only after there had been education of the masses as to what “true Islam” was about, and a bottom-up demand for it emerged, rather than attempts to enforce Islamic rule from above.

Helbawy, who is now over 80, said he had returned to London in 2017 to make use of the good medical treatment provided by the NHS.  He suffers from heart and liver problems.

**At our meeting in the Turkish cafe I read out the words attributed to him and he confirmed they were accurate.  He had said in front of Milne, Murray and Galloway in 2012:

 “I have Jewish friends who are really Jewish. They stay with me, they eat with me, they sleep with us at home. Unfortunately the ones we have in Israel, the Zionists, are not Jews.

“I am happy with what usually my dear brother George Galloway says, ‘atheist Jews’. Even I say they are Zionists. They have nothing, nothing at all related to Jewish religion.

“Moses did not order people to kill each other and the Christ did not ask people to kill each other or colonise each other or destroy each other or stop, for example, Iran doing good research in atomic energy.”

Jennifer Gerber, director of Labour Friends of Israel, said: “It is beyond astonishing that Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray apparently sat by while these vile antisemitic views were espoused. This is further evidence of the warped attitudes and dangerous world view which rests at the heart of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party.”

A source close to Milne and Murray said that they “wholly reject the abhorrent views expressed”.

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