dhaka, bangladesh | Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury sat at the café of the five-star Ruposhi Bangla Hotel in downtown Dhaka — capital of the third-largest Muslim nation on Earth — stridently proclaiming his love for Israel and the Jewish people.
“I am a Zionist and a friend of Israel,” he said in a voice loud enough to be heard by hotel guests and local businessmen sipping their afternoon tea at nearby tables.
But nobody paid any attention. That in itself, said Choudhury, represented enormous progress in the impoverished People’s Republic of Bangladesh.
“Before 2003, you could not utter the word Israel in this country,” the devout Muslim said during a lengthy interview. “Now we celebrate Rosh Hashanah, and all the Jewish community in Dhaka participates. Even in some Bangladeshi media, they now allow positive articles on Israel. And I am more vocal than ever before.”
Choudhury, 46, is publisher of the English-language Weekly Blitz — one of hundreds of newspapers in this overcrowded, predominantly Muslim nation of 160 million. He’s also a fraud, according to some Jews in the United States and Israel who once supported him.
On Nov. 29, 2003, half a year after he began publishing his anti-jihadist tabloid, the media mogul and father of two was arrested at Dhaka’s Shahjalal International Airport as he was about to board a flight to Bangkok with connections to Tel Aviv.
“I was tortured with electric shocks. They put nails in my ear. They broke my kneecap with a hockey stick. I was interrogated for 15 days and not allowed to bathe,” he said. “They told me, ‘Confess you’re a Zionist spy. Otherwise, why do you support Judaism?’ I said that I’m a good Muslim, and a good Muslim must trust the Jews and Christians. And I’m proud of that.”
On Jan. 24, 2004, barely two months after his initial arrest, Choudhury was charged with sedition, treason and blasphemy. Eventually the sedition charge was dropped, and he was freed on bail in April 2005. His office was later firebombed, he was beaten by mobs and at one point briefly kidnapped by members of Bangladesh’s feared Rapid Action Battalion.
Richard Belkin, a Chicago doctor and Jewish activist, heard about Choudhury’s plight and petitioned Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) to intervene on the journalist’s behalf. In February 2007, a resolution demanding that Bangladesh drop all remaining charges against Choudhury passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 409 to 1. The unlikely pro-Israel crusader quickly became the darling of the literary world.
Yet soon after his release on bail, allegations began surfacing that Choudhury was a ruthless con artist with a criminal past. Belkin has not spoken to Choudhury in several years.
In March 2011, Aryeh Yosef Gallin, founder and president of the Root and Branch Association — a nonprofit group that promotes cooperation between Israel and other nations — expelled Choudhury from its Islam-Israel Fellowship after reports surfaced that the Bangladeshi had bilked “emotionally vulnerable single Jewish ladies” out of tens of thousands of dollars.
Brenda West, who became involved in counter-jihad work after 9/11, said that “he had swindled … everyone in the Zionist and counter-jihad movement who believed in him.”
Despite Choudhury’s insistence that his detractors’ accusations are all false, it does not appear that his legal troubles will disappear soon. He is still facing blasphemy and treason claims.
“The court continues to postpone my trial, so I have to go to court every month; then they give me a new date,” he said. “They don’t have any evidence, so they can’t continue the trial. But they won’t drop the charges either because the government fears that would annoy the Islamists and anti-Semites in this country.”