David Rose

If the law has any meaning, the police must ban this year’s Quds Day protest

The anti-Israel protest due in London next week is sponsored by Iran’s brutal regime and is designed to intimidate


Protestors burn Israeli flags at the 2021 Quds Day protest in Tehran (AFP)

March 29, 2024 12:34

In democracies such as ours, the right to protest peacefully is not a trivial thing. The police were given the power to ban demonstrations by the Public Order Act back in 1986, but have used it very sparingly, usually to prohibit marches by the extreme right. Parliament has rightly set the bar high. In London, before a Metropolitan Police commissioner can ask a home secretary to agree to a ban under the Act’s section 13, he or she must be satisfied that imposing lesser conditions such as restricting the route of a protest would not be enough to prevent serious public disorder or disruption, or that the intention of its organisers is “the intimidation of others”.

It will not have escaped JC readers’ notice that since the terrorist attacks of October 7, none of the almost weekly anti-Israel protests have been banned. The infamous slogan, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, which many Jews interpret as a call to wipe Israel from the map, has been chanted time and again and projected on to Big Ben. At some marches, protesters have voiced support for terrorists and violent jihad. I share the view held by many that the marches should have been more rigorously policed, and that some incidents, notably the arrest of counter-protesters carrying placards imprinted with the simple truth that Hamas is a terror group, have been grotesque.

But banned altogether? I don’t think this would have been justified. We saw what can happen when the police ban public protests during the third Covid lockdown in 2021, when hundreds of people, most wearing anti-viral masks, gathered on Clapham Common to remember Sarah Everard, who was murdered by a London cop. Yes, they were breaking lockdown rules. But the scenes that ensued as the police moved in to break up a solemn, candlelit vigil were a violent and disproportionate abuse of state power, that only deepened the sense of crisis engulfing the Met in the wake of Everard’s murder.

Meanwhile, looming in front of us is a new challenge: the annual Quds Day protest, which is due to take place in London on 5 April.

Superficially, previous Quds Day events looked much like other anti-Israel protests. They featured some of the same chants, and the waving of Palestinian flags. But there are crucial differences between them, stemming from the fact that Quds Day, held every year on the last Friday of Ramadan, was instigated as an international hate-fest by the late Ayatollah Khomeini shortly after the Iranian revolution swept him to power in 1979. It was dedicated from its outset to a single objective: the annihilation of what Khomeini called “the usurper, Israel”. Every year, the biggest Quds Day protest is a regime-led event in Tehran, with burnings of the Israeli flag and chants of “death to Israel”.

As my colleague Jane Prinsley reports in this week’s JC, the rhetoric of the organisations backing this year’s event in London – that is to say, an array of pro-Iranian groups – goes some way beyond “the river to the sea”. Last year, Quds Day marchers carried posters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps terrorist mastermind Qasem Soleimani, who was killed by a US drone strike in 2020, along with placards demanding “resistance by any means necessary.” One poster read: “the more u support the Nazi Israel, the quicker ur end will be [sic]” – a naked death threat.

One of the march’s organisers is the Islamic Human Rights Commission, whose co-founder, Saied Ameli, served on the current Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s supreme council. Its current director, Massoud Shadjareh, wrote in 2008 that “we are all Hezbollah” and that he “aspired to become” like Soleimani. Other groups listed as “supporters” of the event have welcomed the October 7 atrocities, such as the Ahlulbayt Islamic Mission, which put out a video in which the preacher Shaffer Ladak said he would not condemn the massacre, comparing it to “Jewish people breaking out of a concentration camp”. Jane’s article contains further examples.

We may abhor the anti-Zionist discourse of groups such as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign at the “normal” anti-Israel marches. But most of the time, their members are careful not to express open support for terrorism, perpetrated by the proxies of the Iranian state and the IRGC. Such restraint wasn’t on show at previous Quds Day parades, and it won’t be this time, even though it is clear that flying the flags of those terrorist proxies, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Houthis, or expressing support them constitutes a criminal offence.

According to Jewish Tory MP Andrew Percy, the groups behind Quds Day “don't just hate Jews and Israel, they hate everything we stand for in the democratic West… Surely this particular march should be the point where the police say to the Jewish community of our capital city, ‘you have put up with too much these past few months, too much hate, too much hiding of your Jewish character, we hear you, we have your backs and we will not allow this hate march to go ahead.’”

Lord Walney, the government’s independent adviser on political violence and extremism, told the JC that the Quds Day event posed a much greater risk of disorder and the voicing of antisemitic hatred than other anti-Israel protests. In his view, the police should assess “not just the greater risk of trouble on the day, but also the cumulative impact on the wellbeing of Jewish communities of these repeated demonstrations. Revised public order laws suggest that cumulative impact can be factored into decisions on permitting marches. We will not know if the framework is strong enough until the police put it to the test.”

I agree with Percy. If the law has any meaning, there has to be line that should not be crossed: a point where the balance between the freedom to protest and the freedom not to be intimidated shifts in favour of a ban. A protest instigated by a hostile foreign state to call for the destruction of a UK ally with which thousands of Britons have close ties lies on its far side. If the Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley doesn’t ask Home Secretary James Cleverly to agree to a ban, he will have got it wrong.

March 29, 2024 12:34

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