While the Israeli flag flies over Westminster, supporters of Palestine are threatened that waving a Palestinian flag may get them arrested.
Suella Braverman’s latest attack on protest rights has come in the form of a letter to all UK Chief Constables, sent after Rishi Sunak declared those in the UK supporting Hamas would be ‘held to account’.
The Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also reiterated this, calling on pro-Palestine supporters to stay at home, stating that, ‘there is no need, there’s no necessity for people to come out. It causes distress. This is a difficult, delicate situation.’ He made no similar call to supporters of Israel who had also been out demonstrating.
Clearly, the Government is not only – yet again – trying to control protest, but is now also trying to delegitimise support for Palestine and expressions of distress and anger, at what is taking place in Gaza.
In her letter, Suella Braverman effectively instructs police – and in doing so makes her own political views very clear – on likely criminal offences which could arise from protests and demonstrations. Set in the context of a largely one-sided narrative of support for Israel and condemnation of not only Hamas but all Palestinians, it is clear that any legitimate expressions of outrage at the situation in Gaza are likely to be criminalised.
These include – outrageously – the chant, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’, a long-standing protest chant expressing Palestinian desire for a homeland; she claims that this could be understood as an expression of a ‘violent desire to see Israel erased from the world’, and that it’s use in certain contexts could amount to a Racially Aggravated public order offence. Further, she maintains even the waving of a Palestinian flag may not be ‘legitimate’ such as ‘when intended to glorify acts of terrorism’.
She further instructs the police to ensure they project a ‘strong presence’ at any protests which could exacerbate community tensions by way of ‘offensive’ placards, which could be construed as ‘incitement or harassment’.
The Home Secretary gives no clarification as to the contexts within which any of these actions could or would amount to criminal offences, nor as to what defines ‘offensive’, nor what ‘glorifying terrorism’ actually means.
She also cites actions such as driving through Jewish neighbourhoods, or singling out Jewish members of the public, to chant or wave pro-Palestinian symbols at, as likely to amount to criminal offences. While there may well be some circumstances in which such actions could be seen as antisemitic, which must always be challenged and opposed, by deliberately placing acts such as these within the same context as legitimate protest, it only serves to undermine efforts to criminalise antisemitism.
Suella Braverman’s intentions could not be clearer: pro-Palestine protest must be heavily monitored, all Chief Officers should ensure that their police forces are ‘alert and ready’ to respond to any so-called ‘potential offences’, and there should be a ‘strong police presence’. She comments that experience has indicated to her, ‘Islamists and other racists’ seek to use ‘legitimate Israeli defensive measures as a pretext to stir up hatred towards British Jews’. This is the context in which protest will be criminalised.
The above acts will undoubtedly apply to social media too.
Anyone taking part in a protest/demonstration or commenting on social media should seek legal advice if worried that their legitimate right to protest may result in arrest.