Green Party councillor apologises for chanting ‘From the river’ outside MP’s office

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Green Party councillor apologises for chanting ‘From the river’ outside MP’s office

EXCLUSIVE: Green councillor Nathalie Bienfait says she 'deeply regrets' using the Israel destruction chant, saying she did not know its meaning at the time

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

A Green Party councillor chants 'From The River To The Sea' at Tower Hamlets protest
A Green Party councillor chants 'From The River To The Sea' at Tower Hamlets protest

A Green Party councillor has told Jewish News she “deeply regrets” using the inflammatory “From the river to the sea” chant as she joined a protest outside the office of an elected MP over her stance on the Gaza conflict.

Tower Hamlets councillor Nathalie Bienfait, the Greens parliamentary candidate for Poplar and Limehouse, was seen among a crowd of far-left pro-Palestine activists who congregated outside the office used by Labour MP Rushanara Ali to protest after she failed to back an amendment tabled by the SNP in a Commons vote last Wednesday.

Ali was targeted by the activists as one of three Muslim shadow ministers who remained loyal to Labour leader Keir Starmer in the divisive vote, which led to protests and vandalism outside several MPs offices.

In footage obtained by Jewish News, Bienfait can be seen among protesters, many of who were holding Socialist Workers Party placards, engaging in the chant ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’, which symbolises a call for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state.

Asked to comment on her actions, Bienfait told Jewish News:”I deeply regret to say that I was not aware of the implications of the chant when I attended that protest.

“I was informed of the meaning only after the protest. I can only apologise in the strongest possible terms for not informing myself better before attending the protest and taking part in the chanting.

“I was keen to attend the protest to put pressure on our elected representative Rushanara Ali to call for a ceasefire in the conflict in the Middle East, which I support.

“However, I also regret to say that I was not aware that MP Ali had already demonstrated support for a ceasefire prior to the protest, and therefore my reason for attending the protest had already been achieved.”

Councillor Nathalie Bienfait, Green Party Bow West

Earlier this month Bienfait had submitted a motion on behalf of Tower Hamlets Green Party calling for a ceasefire in Gaza but it was rejected by the monitoring officer on the basis that it was outside of the council’s remit.

Bienfait use of the an anti-Israel chant  at last week’s protest comes amid rising concern about the conduct of the Green Party, and several of its elected representatives in recent months, and in the aftermath of the Hamas terrorist atrocity in Israel on October 7th.

A social media post by the Greens in the aftermath of last week’s Commons vote was widely condemned after it listed the name of every MP who had failed to back the SNP amendment calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

The post also came with with claim “the Labour party is in chaos and is failing to deliver what constituents are demanding” over Gaza before adding, “Is your MP on the list?”.

Many complained that the Greens’ post came close to representing a “hit list” of MPs to be targeted by activists.

Former leader Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavillion was among those to raise concern about “language accompanying the Green Party graphic” listing the MPs which she said was “misjudged”.

Lucas added: “I had no prior knowledge before it was published but have raised my serious concerns internally to ensure it won’t happen again.”

In recent weeks Lucas, and Sian Berry, another former Greens leader, have also been among senior party figures to attend a succession of Palestine events, many organised by the PSC, who have staged the weekly central London protests which have seen regular displays of antisemitic conduct.

In a further inflammatory action, the Green deputy leader Zack Polanski appeared to double down on the attack, resharing a post on Twitter/X which after noting that shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens had been vandalised claimed the party’s MPs were attempting to portray themselves as “victims” to escape the “political heat” over their stance over the rising Gaza death toll.

Polanski also spoke at a ceasefire rally organised by the non-Zionist communal group Na’amod on Sunday defending the publication of the list by the Greens adding:”We are entitled in a democracy to know how local representatives vote.”

Meanwhile in Hastings, two Green councillors attempted to bring forward a Gaza motion to meeting last Wednesday, but were refused because the issue did not address a matter relevant to the functions or statutory powers of the borough.

Local Green parliamentary candidate Becca Horn was also seen speaking at a Ceasefire Now rally in Hastings town centre on November 5th organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

In June, Hastings PSC had invited shamed former Bristol University academic David Miller to give a talk in which he attacked the “Israel lobby” and claimed he had been cleared of antisemitism charges.

There is also evidence of close co-operation between the PSC and other Green Party representatives in cities including Bristol, Leeds and Manchester.

Zack Polanski

The Jewish Labour Movement has previously raised concerns about the Greens in relation to antisemitism claims, and the admission into the party of activists previously expelled or suspended by Labour.

Jo Bird , a councillor in Wirral,  was  confirmed earlier this years  as the co-secretary of the Jewish Greens organisation, despite her history of controversial statements in relation to the community, including a claim she believed there is a “privileging of racism against Jews as more worthy of resources than other forms of racism.”

Bird was expelled from Labour in November 2021 over her support for the proscribed Labour Against The Witchhunt organisation. She had previously provoked anger with her flippant remarks about Labour’s antisemitism crisis at meetings, repeatedly joking that “due process” should be known as “Jew process”.

Deputy leader Polanski, who is himself Jewish, later defended Bird’s appointment.

Jo Bird

Heather Mendick, another former high-profile ex-Labour member, who repeatedly faced antisemitism claims, was also photographed trying to get the Green candidate for the Mayor of Hackney role elected.

Mendick confirmed she had been out canvassing for the unsuccessful Greens candidate Zoe Garbett last month.

In March, the Jewish Labour Movement wrote to the Green Party leaders Carla Denyer and Adrian Ramsay expressing concern about the party’s record over antisemitism.

A letter, signed by JLM’s national chair Mike Katz, and national secretary Adam Langleben, highlighted the conduct on social media of an elected Greens councillor in the city of Norwich.

On Sunday, Labour shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the protests outside MPs offices and homes last week “have crossed the line from protest to intimidation.”

She added:“Protesting outside people’s homes, putting pressure on them in that way, I think it’s totally unacceptable.”

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