Anti-Palestinian racism central to new counter-extremism proposals

Anti-Palestinian racism central to new counter-extremism proposals

Fortnightly Bulletin

Written by: IRR News Team

24 Oct – 7 November 2023

This week, after the home secretary claimed that those demonstrating in support of a ceasefire in Gaza were participating in ‘hate marches’, and the prime minister declared that during a forthcoming national rally in Armistice weekend, any ‘desecration’ of the Cenotaph would be an ‘affront to British values’, the Black Protest Legal Support (BPLS) group launched a petition to defend the right to protest. As Sunak’s call for heavy policing of the national demonstration (which is expected to draw a million people to London) has been followed by pressure on the Metropolitan police for a postponement, the BPLS petition could not be timelier. As the ‘total siege’ of Gaza continues, those of us in the UK attempting to speak truth to power are being silenced and sidelined as part of a new communications war, where, in Braverman’s three card trick, pro-Palestinian voices are presented as guilty by association with the actions of Hamas.

At the heart of the most thoroughgoing attack on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly is an attempt to censor all those – whether it be international anti-racists, humanitarian agencies, or even the Secretary-General of the United Nations – who speak out on the ongoing carnage in Gaza. There is now an attempt by the British government not just to neutralise, but potentially criminalise all those speaking out against the apocalyptical conditions in Gaza and the collective punishment and demonisation of the Palestinian people. And this involves not just the demonisation of Palestinians living in Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, the camps of Jordan and Lebanon, but, crucially too, those in exile in the UK – now for generations.

In order to assist advocates for human rights in challenging this anti-Palestinian racism in all its manifestations, this week on IRR News we again produce a special calendar on ‘Anti-Palestinianism, Suspect Communities and the Racist Backlash’. We also provide additional information tools on: claims of war crimes carried out by all parties to the conflict, some lodged at the International Criminal Court (see here); evidence that the Israeli military strategy is informed by genocidal intent (see here); and a roundup of some of the voices calling for an immediate ceasefire. The latter resource rather dampens Braverman’s claim that those calling for a ceasefire by all parties are encouraging hate, given that the call for a ceasefire is supported by the Irish Taoiseach, the acting Spanish prime minister, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the UNICEF Inter Agency Standing Committee, which brings together emergency relief coordinators as well as organisations like the International Organisation for Migration, Save the Children, the World Food Programme, the World Health Organisation, the UN Development Programme, the UN Population Fund, not to mention other human rights rapporteurs and commissioners.

Another feature that the calendar on anti-Palestinian racism draws attention to is the fact that a new policy seems to be in draft here to expand the definition of extremism, which has been a pet project of Michael Gove (currently Secretary of State for Levelling up, Housing and Communities and author of Celsius 7/7) since at least 2006. According to Arun Kundnani, who spoke to IRR News, media leaks suggest that the changes to the definition of extremism involve a ‘guilt by association’ – or rather by non-active dissociation. Punitive measures could possibly be brought against individuals and associations labelled ‘not sufficiently critical’ of a banned organisation (Hamas was proscribed in the UK in 2001). In future such non-denouncers could be prevented from booking spaces in universities or colleges, have difficulties accessing bank accounts, or find themselves reported to Prevent, allowing for increased surveillance and possible implications for their employment, particularly in education. A new report from Amnesty International warns of already current Prevent-linked restrictions and monitoring of Palestinian activism at universities and by other public bodies. The Metropolitan police, citing events in Israel and Palestine, have stepped up intelligence-gathering and visible patrols at schools and are ‘seeking to engage with school staff’ about ‘community tensions’ in order to improve ‘intelligence and information-gathering’.

In all of this, the pushback against the erosion of our democratic rights and the silencing and sidelining of critical voices is key. Our collation of cases demonstrates that individuals and organisations are anything but browbeaten. Opposition to a new state-imposed authoritarian political culture comes not just from the BPLS. It comes from the Academic Freedom Committee of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, which has defended Palestinian Israeli scholar Prof Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, chair in Global Law at Queen Mary, University of London, now subjected to hate mail and threats of violence after signing a petition calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and being denounced by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem where she also holds posts. There are also the sharp interventions made by the Arab Centre for Social Media Advancement, which has documented 283 cases of social media censorship and ‘shadow banning’ of Palestinian voices in recent weeks, including Meta locking @eye.on.palestine, one of the leading Instagram accounts sharing the plight of Palestinians under Israeli bombardment. And colleagues at the International State Crime Initiative – which gathers together some of the world’s leading scholars and experts on genocide – have exposed a deplatforming notice issued by Eventbrite in connection with an event led by Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the Palestinian-led BDS movement for Palestinian rights, and co-recipient of the 2019 Gandhi Peace Award.

The IRR repeats the statement in the last newsletter that we mourn the killing of all innocent victims in Israel and Palestine, while also concurring with the statement of the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that it is crucial to recognise the historical antecedents to present events.

The number of innocent victims – this time in terms of the racist backlash in the UK and Europe – continues to mount. The selection of cases documented in the final section of our calendar on racial violence reiterates the point we made two weeks ago about the need to oppose all racist violence, particularly now the rise in antisemitic and Islamophobic acts that have resulted from the war. Cases documented include a petrol can, with the letters IDF (Israeli Defence Force) being thrown at the gates of the Central Oxford Mosque, the discovery of antisemitic graffiti, including a Nazi swastika, on the toilets of a school in north London, the attempted stabbing of an Orthodox Jew in Stamford Hill, north London, and a racially aggravated offence against a bus driver, also in Stamford Hill, who was called a ‘terrorist’ and ‘Hamas’. But it also goes without saying that when we see the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK and staff at the Palestinian Mission raise official complaints against the police and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office for failure to step up diplomatic protection in the face of repeated death threats and vandalism, there is a double standard at play, undergirded by anti-Palestinian racism.

And, as we know, it is a double standard that is deployed against other racialised communities, who also face a situation where those with power to enforce the law on hate crimes and racially aggravated offences are also perpetrators of racist acts. This lack of faith in many racialised communities, and the reasons for it, are documented week after week in our calendars of racism and resistance. This week we draw attention to the news that a crowdfunder has been launched by white London police officers for two Met officers sacked for gross professional misconduct during the stop and search of the Black British athlete Bianca Williams and her partner Ricardo dos Santos, when they falsely claimed, drawing on long-held racist tropes about Black people and drugs, that they had smelt cannabis.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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