Hastings Council criticised for refusing to condemn ‘river to sea’ chants

The council adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism in October last year


Hastings Council has refused to condemn a pro-Palestine protest at which demonstrators called for the destruction of Israel. 

During a rally in May this year, protesters in Hastings town centre shouted, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, a chant that many view as a call for the dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state.   

Hastings Council, which is led by the Labour Party, adopted the IHRA definition of antisemitism in October last year.

The definition lists denying the Jewish right to self-determination as an example of antisemitic behaviour. 

Distressed by the chants, Hastings resident Dany Louise, a former Labour councillor herself, submitted a series of questions to the local authority to be answered at its full council meeting on Wednesday. 

The Jewish resident asked councillors to “condemn the naked antisemitic racism in the streets of Hastings during this rally”.

Ms Louise also requested that politicians reaffirm the local authority’s policy that “every individual feels safe, protected and comfortable”. 

However, the former councillor was informed that her questions would not be answered because they do not fall within the local authority’s responsibility.  

In an email to Ms Louise, the council’s chief legal officer said: “I have… decided to reject your question as it is not about a matter for which the Council has a responsibility, power, duty or function. 

“While the Council is fully committed to combating racism and prejudice in relation to its statutory functions, duties and responsibilities, it cannot intervene or prevent political rallies or other demonstrations taking place in Hastings nor is it a matter for the Council to make judgments on the exercise of these personal rights and freedoms upheld by the Human Rights Act. 

“As regards feeling safe, protected and comfortable this is a matter for the police to ensure the safety and protection of individuals during a political rally or demonstration.”

Ms Louise told the JC: “I was absolutely shocked by the chief legal officer's rejection of my written questions. 

“In truth, I doubted that the council leader would take them seriously, but it did not occur to me that they would be rejected entirely, for spurious reasons unrelated to the content of the questions. 

“I find it altogether unsatisfactory - it is an anti-democratic and morally bankrupt action from the Council.”

Ms Louise added: “I've been dealing with this Labour group for about four years now. It has been heart-breaking and phenomenally frustrating attempting to encourage this group to engage or deal with the antisemitism in their ranks. They have simply refused to acknowledge the issue, let alone discuss it in any sensible adult manner.”

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