UK council refuses to host Palestinian event over antisemitism fears

Aug 05,2019

Tower Hamlets officials did not divulge real reason for turning down Big Ride for Palestine.

London Borough of Tower Hamlets refused to host closing rally of annual bike ride raising money for Palestinian children in besieged Gaza over claims it would breach IHRA’s anti-Semitism criteria, the Guardian reported on Saturday.

The council told the Big Ride for Palestine, which was established on the first anniversary of Israel’s 2014 offensive on Gaza and which has raised nearly £150,000 for sports equipment for children in the enclave, that the event could not go ahead in the borough “without problems”.

However, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign won a Freedom of Information battle in an effort to discover the reasons behind the council’s refusal to host the event. Internal emails revealed that council staff agreed not to make public “anti-Semitism concerns”.

While the council officials, according to the Guardian, told the organisers that there was a risk speakers might express views which contradicted the council’s policies on community cohesion and equality, behind the scenes the council attributed the reasons to “real risk” of violating IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism.

The council’s concerns were linked to the Big Ride’s website describing Israel’s illegal occupation and siege of the Gaza Strip as “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing”.

When considering how to explain the decision, the Guardian said, one council official said it would be wise to “avoid the anti-Semitism aspect… as this could open a can of worms and come back to bite us”.

The Guardian reported a council spokesman saying: “The council gave the application careful consideration and decided not to host the event, because we do not host rallies with political connotations, albeit without direct links to political parties.”

However, a spokesperson for the charity said its work was focused on helping the 300,000 children in Gaza showing signs of severe psychological distress.

The spokesperson added: “It’s a dreadful thing when an over-scrupulous interpretation of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is used behind closed doors to prevent awareness raising of the situation in Palestine and the need for humanitarian support.”

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The Guardian