Camden Councillors defend use of Prevent officers and IHRA to police free speech on Palestine

London RCG comrades and supporters protest outside Camden Council, 21 January 2019

On 21 January 2019, members and supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Group held a demonstration and presented a formal petition to a full meeting of Camden council. We demanded:

  • the release of information surrounding the council’s outrageous decision to send Prevent counter-extremism officers to an RCG public meeting in September;
  • a new vote at Camden Council to repeal the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which was endorsed by the council in 2017, now that it is clear that the definition is being used to curb free speech.

In an unusual display of cross-party unity, Camden’s Tory, Liberal and Labour councillors lined up to defend IHRA and the cover-up over the use of Prevent officers to monitor political meetings.

Each councillor stated that such secretive methods are necessary to protect the public from those they define as extremists, racists and terrorists – echoing the rabid right-wing press, as Daily Express (21 January 2019) coverage of the meeting labelled the RCG ‘hateful hard-left campaigners’. This only confirms the council’s reactionary role, alongside the media, in defending apartheid Israel from criticism by spreading the message that anti-Zionists are anti-Semites. Camden has written pro-Israel politics into local democracy and effectively banned councillors and staff from holding anti-Zionist views. For Labour Cllr Abdul Hai to state at this meeting that ‘It is vital that people are able to think and speak freely’ is shameless hypocrisy.

Hai claimed that in sending its Prevent officers to our meeting, the Council had not used IHRA to curb free speech, and that it would have ‘taken the same action… with reference to our framework for responding to speakers promoting messages of hate and intolerance’. This self-congratulation about Camden’s readiness to use whatever reactionary and secretive policies it can to attack Palestine campaigners exposes the lie that it is a democratic institution which respects the right to free speech.

Israel’s decades-long repression and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people must be condemned without reserve, and the British state’s unwavering historic support for Zionist barbarity must be exposed. The roll-out of IHRA across Britain’s councils, especially those run by Labour, is the latest chapter in this history. Councils such as Camden have sided with the terrorist state of Israel in the name of combating anti-Semitism. They must be opposed and exposed relentlessly by those who support self-determination for the Palestinian people.

Zionism is racism! Free Palestine!

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FULL TEXT OF THE PETITION TO THE COUNCIL:

 

At the end of September there was a concerted attempt to ban a public meeting entitled ‘Labour, Corbyn and anti-Semitism: why is solidarity with Palestine under attack?

The attempted ban occurred when ex-Labour councillor and Director of Public Affairs of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Phillip Rosenberg, contacted the venue, the Chadswell Heathy Living Centre in Kings Cross, claiming that the meeting would be anti-Semitic.

In the end the meeting did go ahead on 21 September, after a successful campaign. However, Camden Council sent two Prevent Officers to observe and presumably report back on the meeting.

The fact that Camden sent anti-extremism officers to a meeting about Palestine solidarity is outrageous. It shows that the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is being used to redefine acceptable discourse on Israel, something that proponents of IHRA said would never happen.

A Freedom of Information request has been submitted to Camden Council, asking how the decision to send Prevent officers was made and what their report of the meeting contained. This has been refused, despite an appeal to the borough solicitor, on the basis that it would “provide insights into who is consulted in these matters, which is likely to lead to lobbying and undue and inappropriate pressure being placed on these people".

On the contrary it is entirely appropriate for a decision that labels Palestine activists as potential extremists to be subject to public scrutiny.

We the undersigned demand:

  • that the details surrounding the Prevent officers’ visit to the meeting be published in the public interest
  • that there is a new vote at Camden Council to repeal IHRA, which was endorsed by the council in 2017, now that it is clear that the definition is being purposefully used in a way that curbs free speech

 

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