Middle East

Organisers of Al-Quds march urge London mayor to support ‘free expression’

Organisers of next month's Al-Quds Day march in London have called on city mayor Sadiq Khan to "support the right of free expression" and to ensure the event is safe from racist attacks.

In a letter sent on Thursday to the mayor's office, seen by Middle East Eye, organisers urged Khan to show a commitment to the "safety and security" of the protest and to protect it from "racist hatred and violence".

"The police have praised the peaceful nature of this event and have had to increase their presence only in response to violent threats against it," organisers, who include the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), wrote in the letter.

The Al-Quds Day march takes place annually on the final Friday of Ramadan to campaign for the rights of Palestinians.

Khan has previously criticised the display of Hezbollah flags and slogans on the march and told Jewish News last month that he had written to then-home secretary Amber Rudd to call for the Lebanese movement to be added to a list of proscribed terrorist organisations.

“Ive written to the Home Secretary asking her to ban the march using the powers that she has. Unfortunately, shes not agreed to do so. Ill carry on lobbying the government,” he said.

Currently only Hezbollah's military wing is banned in the UK. On Wednesday, the US and Gulf states broadened sanctions against the Iran-backed organisation, and said in a statement that there was a "false distinction" between its political and military wings.

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Pro-Israel groups in the UK have called for the Al-Quds Day march to be banned, while the Community Support Trust (CST), which monitors anti-Semitism in the UK, has called it an "annual outpouring of hatred".

But the organisers' letter highlighted how last year's march was targeted by counter-demonstrations by pro-Israel and far-right groups, and cited video footage broadcast by Ruptly, a video news agency owned by the Russia Today network, in which protesters shouted racist and slamophobic abuse at women and children attending the march.

Opponents of the march are again campaigning for the event to be stopped this year.

Calls by organisers for extra protection also come after Darren Osborne, the man who drove a van into worshippers as they left evening prayers outside Finsbury Park Mosque in north London last June, said he had initially intended to target the Al-Quds Day march that took place earlier on the day of the attack.

Organisers note that the protection provided by the police "saved many lives" after a judge highlighted how Osborne had intended to "drive into and murder innocent people, lawfully assembling and protesting in London."

The letter's other signatories include Israeli academic Ilan Pappé and Jenny Tonge, an independent member of the House of Lords who resigned from the Liberal Democrats in 2016 after being suspended over allegations of anti-Semitism.

It said Khan had "actively supported" calls for the march to be banned. "We ask you instead to show your support for the lawful, peaceful and inclusive activism of Al-Quds Day by publicly:

  • committing to its security and safety
  • eschewing all hate campaigns targeting it
  • pursuing to the full extent of the law, those who seek to incite violence against it;
  • supporting the right to protest, free expression and the right to be protected from racist hatred and violence."

Guidelines issued by the IHRC for participants in last year's Al-Quds Day march encouraged them to bring flags showing "solidarity with the Palestinian cause" but said that flags of proscribed organisations were not allowed.

"For example, you can bring a Hezbollah flag to show support for the political wing of Hezbollah. This is because the political wing of Hezbollah is not a proscribed organisation. Any flags belonging to a proscribed organisation will not be allowed. If we see flags belonging to a proscribed organisation, our stewards will ask for them to be taken down," the guidance said.

Middle East Eye contacted the London mayor's office for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.

In a response to an email from Massoud Shadjareh, the chair of the IHRC, earlier this month, the mayor's office said there was "cross-party support within the House of Commons for proscribing the entirety of Hezbollah, and the mayor continues to urge the Home Secretary to take the necessary action and implement this change".

"The mayor shares the concerns of Londons Jewish community and others about the support shown for Hezbollah at this gathering. Anti-Semitism or hate crime of any kind has no place in our city, where we dont just tolerate diversity, we respect and celebrate it," the response said.

"We remain in contact with the Metropolitan Police on this matter, and they are in contact with the organisers of the march, as well as the communities opposed to it. A proportionate policing response will be in place at the march to ensure public order is maintained and to act if any laws are broken."

This year's Al-Quds march is set to take start outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in central London.

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