A London councillor has threatened to publish the names of every UK councillor who refused to sign an open letter calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Cllr James Giles, an independent councillor in the London Borough of Kingston, urged all 19,102 councillors in the UK last week to sign the letter.
In the email seen by the JC that accompanied the letter, Cllr Giles wrote that a list would be published of all the people who supported the ceasefire. However, he stressed local representatives who “feared retribution from their parties” could be anonymous.
The email then added: “We will also be publishing the names of those who have been invited to sign but choose not to, in the interest of accountability.”
The open letter, which was placed below the email and signed by 300 local representatives, states that antisemitism has been “weaponised” to silence those who opposed Israel’s actions in its ongoing war with Hamas.
The letter adds: “The collective punishment of civilians is never acceptable, whether perpetrated by Hamas or the Israeli military and enabled legal settlers."
I have today received an email from Cllr James Giles & Cllr Jamal Chohan requesting I sign an open letter to the PM, Leader of the Opposition & MP's to demand a ceasefire in Gaza. If I don't, they are publishing my name. I shall save them the bother. I won't be signing.— Cllr Gary Hynds (@GaryHynds) November 19, 2023
Cllr Giles says the email was “drafted together” with Kingston Conservative Councillor, Jamal Chohan. However, Cllr Chohan denied any involvement in the email but argeed that he had “endorsed the letter along with hundreds of other councilllors”.
Cllr Giles, who serves on the Local Government Association (LGA), has now stepped down from his roles on the City Regions and Community Wellbeing Board, which helps to shape local policy.
Cllr Shaun Davies, chair of the LGA, said in a statement to LGA members: “You will have no doubt by now received an email and letter signed by both Cllr James Giles and Cllr Jamal Chohan from the Royal Borough of Kingston entitled ‘Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza’.
“I can today confirm that pending investigation, Cllr Giles has stood down from all formal positions within the Local Government Association and all upcoming speaking opportunities at our events, with immediate effect.
“The LGA does not endorse how this recent communication from Cllr Giles and Cllr Chohan was sent, nor the hurt, worry and distress that this has caused. I can also confirm that the LGA did not share any councillor email contact information.”
The email has been branded “abhorrent” and a form of “bullying” by local representatives from across the country.
Sean Woodward, leader of Fareham Borough Council, told the JC: “I don’t like being threatened. If people want to incite hatred, I suggest they go and do it somewhere else. I won’t be signing this letter.”
Occasionally I get bullying emails from men I represent. Today I am being asked to sign a letter or my name will be published for "accountability". This is for someone I don't represent and don't know. It's always men with big opinions and small brains. I won't be signing.— Barbara Cannon (@BarbaraACannon) November 19, 2023
Barbara Cannon, a Labour Councillor on Cumberland Council, described the email as a form of “bullying”.
She added: “Today I am being asked to sign a letter or my name will be published for ‘accountability’.
“This is for someone I don’t represent and don’t know. It’s always men with big opinions and small brains. I won’t be signing.”
Jonathan Williams, a Lib Dem councillor in Winchester, said: “I felt personally threatened by the email."
Cllr Giles previously worked for George Galloway during his campaign for the Batley and Spen by-election in 2021. He is now a councillor for the Kingston Independent Residents Party.
I felt personally threatened by the email from Cllr James Giles. In no way would I conduct myself through threatening those that do not agree with a pre-written word for word statement— Jonathan Williams 🔶 (@JonathanLibDem) November 19, 2023
This Councillor should resign and publicly apologise for the worry and harm he has caused https://t.co/nSN1Tlb3dx
Approached directly by the JC, Cllr Giles said: “I condemn Hamas’ actions on October 7 and unequivocally condemn them as terrorists.
“Whilst I fully respect Israel’s right to defend themselves, they must follow the rules of international law. The letter is not in any way defending Hamas actions.”
Cllr Giles also said he refuted any accusations of bullying or threats.
Asked about the letter, Cllr Chohan told the JC: “The email circulated by Cllr Giles is distinct from the letter that I co-drafted. My position is that Jewish culture and values are deeply intertwined with my own, and any prejudice against Jewish brothers and sisters anywhere in the World must never be tolerated.
“Accordingly, I condemn Hamas in the strongest terms and call for the dismantling of this terrorist organisation. I am an advocate for a ceasefire to allow for the hostages to return home and to protect the 1.6 million innocent Palestinian civilians who have been displaced without basic amenities.
“Regarding the publishing of names, we must be clear that I did not author this email and I do not support that approach.
“Councillor Giles has clarified his position and that only signatories that have provided their express written consent in support of the letter will feature on the list.”