Jews are leaving east London amid a “culture of fear and intimidation” as the council refuses to back down over Palestinian flags.
UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) wrote to the council and the Met earlier in January over multiple “criminal offences.” Since then, UKLFI has told the JC they have “been inundated with messages from local residents.”
Many residents have already raised concerns with Tower Hamlets council but said that their complaints “have been either brushed aside by the council or just ignored”, according to UKLFI. Other residents said they are “too scared to complain to the council as they worry they will become a target for attacks.”
UKLFI told the JC that one family found the environment for Jews so hostile, "they have decided to move out of the borough completely.”
Jewish residents of Tower Hamlets – including one who has family being held hostage by Hamas – told the JC of their deep sense of insecurity at living surrounded by hundreds of “intimidatory” Palestinian flags hanging on lampposts and daubed on walls across the borough.
Lawyers claim the council is guilty of “multiple criminal offences” for failing to remove the flags, stickers and posters.
On several streets in Tower Hamlets, which has one of largest proportions of Muslims of any local authority in the UK, nearly every lamppost bears a Palestinian flag.
Oli, 33, a Jewish resident who did not want to be fully identified and has family being held hostage in Gaza, told the JC he had repeatedly asked the council to make the borough “a safe space for all residents” by removing the flags and making sure they are not immediately put back up again.
David Brandes of the Congregation of Jacob Synagogue in Stepney said his congregation thought it was “inappropriate to have any sort of flags on the streets of east London. It is intimidatory.” He added that the council had “not done anything to help”.
The Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, has previously been barred from public office for five years for electoral fraud, but having served his ban was voted back into the post in elections in May 2022.
UKLFI asked the Met to intervene over the flags, which they claim breach planning laws.
Jonathan Turner, Chief Executive of UKLFI, said that permission must be granted by the owner of the property – in this case, the local council – for the flags to be flown.
“Where permission is required, flying a flag without it is a criminal offence,” he said, adding that if visual amenity is impaired by the flags, they are also illegal.
Residents said that Transport for London (TfL), which is responsible for bus routes, had removed some flags that had been obstructing drivers’ views but added that the council had been slower to act. Many have been placed next to schools.
Local resident Helen, 66, said that the flags were deliberately put in places where the TfL does not have jurisdiction, as the council was then less likely to remove them. Another local, Sharon, said: “It is disturbing because I feel like the landscape of London is changing and nobody is challenging them.”
Tony Uddin, pastor of Tower Hamlets Community Church, said that the flags were clustered in areas where Jewish people were known to work. When he shared his concerns on social media, flags appeared outside his church.
A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets said the situation was under “daily review” but said “we must ensure that we do not add to community tensions”. It added that it had taken some flags down “following consultation with TfL”.
The Met said: “Flying the Palestinian flag does not, alone, constitute a criminal offence”, adding that there are some situations where they “could be seen as intimidation”.