Council won’t host rally for Palestine bike ride over antisemitism concerns

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Council won’t host rally for Palestine bike ride over antisemitism concerns

London borough of Tower Hamlets turned down chance to mark the end of the The Big Ride for Palestine, with emails revealing concerns it may breach the IHRA

Protesters attend a rally called by the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) in May 2018

 Photo credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Protesters attend a rally called by the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) in May 2018 Photo credit: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A London borough declined to host the closing rally of an annual bike ride raising money for psychologically traumatised Gaza children because it was worried about breaching a widely-adopted definition of antisemitism.

Organisers of The Big Ride for Palestine, which has raised £130,000 since 2015, were told by officials at Tower Hamlets that they could not host the event in the borough because of the race’s “political connotations”.

However, internal Tower Hamlets emails revealed this week, after the Palestine Solidarity Campaign won a Freedom of Information battle, show staff were actually worried that hosting the ride would breach the new International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. The council is among local authorities nationwide to adopt the IHRA definition, which is also accepted by the government and also Labour after it initially refused to take on all of its accompanying examples.

One of the definition’s working examples warns that “claiming the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” could constitute antisemitism. Officials noted that The Big Ride for Palestine website referred to Israeli apartheid.

“It’s a dreadful thing when an over-scrupulous interpretation of the IHRA definition is used behind closed doors to prevent awareness-raising of the situation in Palestine and the need for humanitarian support,” said a spokesman for The Big Ride, which buys sports kit for 300,000 Gaza children suffering severe psychological distress.

James Sorene of pro-Israel think-tank BICOM, said: “If you are going to do a charity bike ride for Palestinian children why have a website full of references to ethnic cleansing and Israeli apartheid?”

The charity formed in 2015 on the anniversary of the last war in Gaza. Supporters of the Palestinian people cycled from Edinburgh to London over nine days, raising £65,000 for sports projects helping children recover from loss and trauma.

The Tower Hamlets emails show that Council staff decided not to mention “antisemitism” when informing the charity of its decision because it would “open a can of worms”. They said there was “a real risk” that hosting the event could mean the Council breached the IHRA definition.

This year’s event comprised two one-day events. Last week, the London ride began in North Kensington and finished in Bethnal Green, while this week’s Manchester ride began in the centre and finished in Rusholme, in the city’s south.

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