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The Right to Protest

The Hamas attack on Israel has dangerous implications for western countries as well as the region itself, says Politeia’s Founder and Research Director, Sheila Lawlor. As European neighbours ban pro-Palestine rallies, is the UK’s right to protest, whatever the circumstances, justified?                                      

The attack by Hamas on Israeli territory and the taking of 150 hostages has consequences as grave for the whole surrounding area and western countries as for the region itself.

       Since Hamas breached the Israeli defence system on such a scale the stability of the entire Middle East is even more fragile. Across the region terrorist organisations are on the march: Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shia Muslim movement to the north across the border may open another front, Islamic Jihad are already on the spot and other such groups are standing by. As Israel unites politically in a war cabinet, the army, swollen with reservists, prepares for action at Israel’s frontier with Gaza in the north. Across the border in Gaza, thousands of Palestinians have been warned by Israeli leaflet drops to leave their homes and move south to safety. Power and utility supplies to Gaza have been cut. They will only be restored on release of the hostages.
      The ball is in Hamas’s court: will it respect the obligation in international law and release the hostages? Will it put the daily lives of those it rules first?  Or will it provoke the Israeli decision to advance into Gaza to find and free the hostages, whatever the cost to its people?
      Hamas is the elected power for Gaza, put there by Gaza’s Palestinian voters in 2007 and still holding power: it is funded and to some extent armed by Iran which aims to wipe out the State of Israel. Iran is now sabre rattling, Russia watching opportunistically.
      The impact on the UK could not be more serious. Not only did the Hamas attack prompt a London contingent of cheerleaders to celebrate the attack by hooting horns, shouting and flag waving in the streets last weekend as soon as the reports came through. But the continuing anti-Israeli, pro-Palestine demonstrations veer towards the ugly. Today in Britain, the home of multiculturalism, there is a nasty ambiguity:  the rapid increase in the number of anti-semitic offences reported by the Met, the lone Israeli supporter who stood up to the mob chanting outside Labour’s party conference this week the BBC’s coverage refusing to describe Hamas as ‘terrorist’. And, despite warnings by the police against showing support for any proscribed organisation such as Hamas (which as far as the law goes means no Hamas flags or slogans), there seems to be in the official mind an insistence on equivalence where there should be none.
      By contrast,  Germany has banned planned pro- Palestinian demonstrations in Berlin on account of the risk of antisemitic statements and glorification of violence. France has banned pro-Palestine rallies, and defying it will lead to arrests.  President Macron has made clear that Israel has the right to protect itself. From the US, the Biden regime is unequivocal. But in the UK the Met will have 1000 officers on duty at the pro-Palestine rally this weekend in London. The Assistant Commissioner says that its role as ‘an independent and impartial service’ is ‘to balance the right to lawful protest with potential disruption to Londoners.’ Yet some Jewish schools in north London closed today to protect their pupils, a situation that adequate policing would have made unnecessary. One of them pointed to ‘horrible demonstrations … openly celebrating antisemitism and celebrating Jewish deaths.

      As people weigh the balance between whose rights we are protecting, they should consider the words of the US Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, who explained that ‘this is no time for neutrality, or for false equivalence, or for excuses for the inexcusable.’


Dr Sheila Lawlor

Dr Sheila Lawlor is Politeia’s Founder and Director of Research. Her background is as an academic historian of 20th century British political history, having started her working life as research fellow at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge and Churchill College, Cambridge. Her academic publications include Churchill and the Politics of War 1940-41 and for Politeia she has written on social, economic and constitutional policy.

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