'An East London council banned a charity bike ride raising money for Palestinian children from using its public parks, internal emails revealed last week.
The council also secretly sent a list of proposed speakers to the Metropolitan Police asking if they were “extremist,” The Electronic Intifada can reveal.
The emails indicate that Tower Hamlets secretly based their decision on the “furore within the Labour Party over anti-Semitism” and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s discredited definition of anti-Semitism.
Council officers deemed organizers’ opposition to “the crimes of the Israeli state” as anti-Semitic under the IHRA working definition.
Yet neither anti-Semitism nor the controversial definition was mentioned in the council’s written refusal in April to organizers of The Big Ride for Palestine.
The ride went ahead last month using a church for its rally and speeches.
Council officers’ emails obtained thanks to a freedom of information request by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) reveal that the council denied the application because they privately claimed the group “could breach the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism.”
Like many other UK councils, Tower Hamlets has endorsed the bogus “working definition,” which has been pushed for years by Israel and its lobby.
You can read the emails in full below, with redactions applied by the council.
Senior council manager Oduwa Idehen claimed in one email that, “there is a real risk that the event could breach the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism which the council has adopted.”
As examples that could “fall foul” of IHRA, Idehen cited a page on The Big Ride for Palestine’s website, which expresses opposition to “the crimes of the Israeli state” and that spoke of “the parallels between apartheid South Africa and the state of Israel.”
Idehen also cited the website’s explanation of their goals as potentially anti-Semitic under the definition: “With every mile you ride, you are protesting against 67 years of Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.”
Idehen ignored a sentence on the same page stating the group’s unequivocal opposition to anti-Semitism.
Oduwa Idehen’s name is redacted in most of the release, but in one copy of the various email chains, the council has failed to redact the name, revealing them as a senior manager with the “Corporate Strategy and Policy Team.”
Despite being determined to find a pretext to ban the group, the council was keen to avoid the truth about their decision being revealed.
On 11 April Stephen Murray, the council’s senior events manager, advised not telling the Big Ride the truth when notifying them: “I personally would avoid the anti-Semitism aspect ref their web site as this could open a can of worms and come back to bite us.”
Snitching to police
The next day, the council wrote to organizers declining their request to hold the rally in any of their parks.
But they gave spurious reasons that did not mention the IHRA definition or anti-Semitism. The email claimed instead that “rallies with political connotations” were too “problematic” for the council.
But local Labour mayor John Biggs in 2015 used the council’s Altab Ali Park for part of his election campaign in 2015, local media revealed last week. Organizers of the Big Ride had initially applied to use the same park but were refused.
It seems clear the council had simply been looking for a pretext to refuse use of any of its parks.
Four days before the formal refusal, one officer had written to the Metropolitan Police’s Kelly Barnes asking her to find such a pretext.
“At the moment, this event is sat with senior management as we may decline it,” wrote one council events officer, “particularly if it is deemed as inflammatory or at odds with the council’s No Place for Hate Campaign which aims to eliminate all forms of hate including anti-Semitism. Could you please advise if any of the speakers proposed may be deemed to hold extremist views.”
The list of those invited to speak included comedians Alexei Sayle and Mark Thomas, David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialist Group, “a representative of the London Muslim Centre,” Glyn Secker of Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Shamiul Islam of Friends of al-Aqsa, and Kamel Hawwash, the PSC’s chairperson.
The police officer replied asking for “more details like dates of birth etc so checks can be conducted.”
These appear not to have been sent, as she later followed up asking for the details again, also advising the council to “speak with Simon Smith your Prevent Co-ordinator, he may be able to help.”
Prevent is part of the UK’s “anti-terrorism” strategy, widely criticized as Islamophobic. It has been used in the past to snoop on Palestine solidarity campaigners.
Local PSC activist Sybil Cock told The Electronic Intifada that the released emails were the first they’d heard of any police involvement.'
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