You know, and no doubt share my disgust, at the brutal terrorist attacks we have witnessed against Israel in recent days. Sadly, experience suggests that whenever Israel is under attack, Islamists and other racists seek to use Israel’s legitimate defensive measures as an excuse to incite hatred against British Jews and increase fear within the Jewish community. In the past, this has included vandalizing Jewish businesses, desecrating memorials and religious sites, physically and verbally abusing Jews in the streets, driving caravans through ghettos and hurling anti-Semitic abuse, and spreading anti-Semitism online. There is a clear danger that this pattern will be repeated during the current conflict….
As you know, Hamas is a terrorist organization banned in the entire United Kingdom. It is therefore a criminal offense for anyone in the UK to:
- affiliated with Hamas
- A call to support Hamas
- Expressing support for Hamas, regardless of whether the expression will encourage support for it
- Arranging a meeting to support Hamas
- Wearing clothing or carrying items in public that raise reasonable suspicion that the individual is a member or supporter of Hamas or
- Posting an image of an article such as a flag or logo in the same circumstances…
Of course, it is not only the symbols and explicit pro-Hamas chants that are causing concern. I would encourage the police to consider whether chants such as “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” should be understood as an expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world, and whether their use in certain contexts might amount to an aggravated racist crime. Under Article 5 it relates to public order.
I would encourage the police to give similar consideration to the presence of symbols such as the swastika at anti-Israel demonstrations. Context is crucial. Behaviors that are legitimate in some circumstances, for example waving the Palestinian flag, may not be as legitimate as when they are intended to glorify terrorist acts. It is also not acceptable to drive through Jewish neighborhoods, target Jewish members of the public, and chant vigorously or wave pro-Palestinian symbols. When harassment is identified, I would encourage police to take prompt and appropriate enforcement action.
I encourage all senior officers to ensure that any protests that could exacerbate community tensions via offensive placards, chants or behavior that could be interpreted as incitement or harassment, must have a strong police presence to ensure that perpetrators are dealt with appropriately, and that Local communities feel protected….
You have also been very clear that online abuse is just as serious as offline abuse….
I therefore expect the police to use the full force of the law against displays of support for Hamas and other banned terrorist groups or attempts to harass and intimidate British Jews.
Ensuring there are heavy criminal consequences for any perpetrators of crimes is the best way to deter future crimes and ensure the trust and safety of our Jewish communities.
I share the views of FIRE’s Sarah McLaughlin, who wrote in “Do not let freedom of expression become a casualty of the war between Israel and Hamas(Daily Beast):
It is not powerful to silence unpopular political opinions. It’s weakness.
The right to fly the Israeli flag depends on the same protections afforded to those who wish to fly the Palestinian flag. One cannot exist without the other.
There are plenty of organizations that would be happy to silence pro-Israel rhetoric, harsh criticism of Palestinians, and support Israeli retaliation against Palestinians; Allowing the law to be used to suppress pro-Palestinian speech would give them a strong precedent. Just because you or I distinguish between Hamas attacks and Israeli retaliatory attacks on moral grounds (as I believe we should) does not mean that we can rely on government agencies, public universities, or courts to draw such a sharp distinction.