Freedom of Expression on Palestine Suppressed
Last month London Borough Tower Hamlets refused to host the closing rally of the Big Ride for Palestine in one of their parks. The Big Ride has raised nearly £150,000 for sports equipment for children in Gaza since 2015. Why ban it? Because it might be construed as antisemitic.
This ridiculous ruling by council officials is a clear threat to free speech and freedom of expression. The judgement of the officials was based upon the wording of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. The LRC and many others have warned in advance that the IHRA definition, if adopted, would be used to kill freedom of speech. Under the IHRA definition any criticism of the policies of the state of Israel may be regarded as anti-semitic.
What is particularly poisonous about this decision is that it was made in secret and the reasons for it were not communicated to the charity. It took a freedom of information request by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign to prise the ‘logic’ of the ban from the officials.
Were the elected councillors of Tower Hamlets consulted? Did they know or were they kept in the dark? How many other such secretive decisions have been taken in the past and may be taken in the future by unelected officials based on the crazy logic of the IHRA? This is a controversial interpretation of the IHRA definition which cannot be challenged in any court of law.
For the record the Big Ride for Palestine is a registered charity is focused on helping the 300,000 children in Gaza showing signs of severe psychological distress. A rep commented: “It’s a dreadful thing when an over-scrupulous interpretation of the IHRA definition of antisemitism is used behind closed doors to prevent awareness raising of the situation in Palestine and the need for humanitarian support.”
Here is an angry letter of protest sent to the Guardian These people are right to be angry. The authorities should not be allowed to get away with strokes like this:
Tower Hamlets council in London last month prevented a bike ride raising awareness of the plight of the Palestinian people from using space in one of its parks. We now know that the council feared that this advocacy for Palestine would violate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. This use of the IHRA definition demonstrates the real threat to freedom of expression that it represents, ignoring its protection in our national rights legislation.
Palestinian groups, eminent lawyers, academic experts on antisemitism, prominent British Jews and bodies such as the Institute for Race Relations previously raised these concerns publicly. The rights of all British citizens to accurately describe, inform and convey the reality of ongoing Palestinian dispossession, and to call for action to resist these illegalities, belongs in the public space. All public bodies have an obligation to protect and defend these rights, to maintain democracy.
Tower Hamlets council’s decision dramatically demonstrates that freedom of expression on Palestine in this country is now being suppressed. This is exactly what we and many others have repeatedly warned of. This dangerous silencing now under way must stop.
Prof Kamel Hawwash Chair, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Ben Jamal Director, Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Salma Karmi Ayyoub Barrister and member of British Palestinian Policy Council, Geoffrey Bindman QC, solicitor and visiting professor of law at University College London, Zaher Birawi Chairman, Europal Forum, Prof Izzat Darwazeh University College London,Lindsey German Convener, Stop the War Coalition, Nadia Hijab Author and human rights advocate, Kate Hudson General secretary, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Dr Ghada Karmi Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter, Mike Leigh Film writer and director, Leah Levane Co-chair, Jewish Voice for Labour, Jenny Manson Co-chair, Jewish Voice for Labour, Kika Markham Actor, Dr Dina Matar Soas University of London, Prof Karma Nabulsi University of Oxford, Prof Jonathan Rosenhead London School of Economics, Adnan Sabah Lawyer, Clare Short Former Labour MP, Dr Nimer Sultany Senior lecturer in public law, Soas University of London, Norman Warner Crossbencher, House of Lords, Mark Serwotka General secretary, Public and Commercial Services Union