OPINION: The urgent case for proscribing the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

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OPINION: The urgent case for proscribing the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

Why the Home Secretary MUST secure any loopholes preventing prosecution for promoting Palestinian terrorism, writes Luke Akehurst

Palestinian supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)
Palestinian supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

In January 2023, We Believe in Israel launched a campaign calling for the proscription of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). A far-left and secular Palestinian terrorist organisation founded in 1967, the PFLP has predominantly targeted civilians and is best known for mainstreaming aircraft hijackings as a terror tactic in the 1970s, its assassination of Israeli Minister for Tourism, Rehavam Zeevi, in 2001, and participation in last year’s 7th October attacks on southern Israel.

While banned by the USA, Japan, Canada, Australia, Israel, and the European Union, it remarkably remains lawful in the UK under a post-Brexit loophole which is yet to be resolved.

In the UK, the PFLP is most associated with the far-left who have consistently used its flags and symbols to promote and glorify Palestinian terrorism, including since 7th October.

Leila Khaled is now a regrettably consistent fixture in certain activist circles with the University of Leeds’s Palestine Solidarity Group promoting an online event she spoke at in 2020, the Socialist Worker publishing an article praising her in 2022, and a branch of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign initially attempting to host her as a speaker at a fundraising dinner earlier this month.

Luke Akehurst

She also appeared on an Instagram post shared by the Queen Mary Barts & the London Friends of Palestine Society on 15th February 2023.

As part of our proscription campaign, we submitted freedom of information requests to every public authority in the UK requesting disclosure of any data they held on the PFLP. While most authorities refused our requests citing a national security exemption (a puzzle – if an organisation is a national security threat, how can it not be banned as a terrorist group?), one of the few who did respond was the University of Essex (UoE). UoE is best and rightfully known within the community for their proactive, principled, and exemplary response to antisemitic attempts to prevent a Jewish Society from being established in February 2019.

However, disclosure we received shows that the university was informed of posters promoting the PFLP’s activities along with its logo alongside that of the Communist Party of Turkey/Marxist–Leninist’s armed wing (Tikko) at exactly this time. Thus far, there has been no additional disclosure from the University indicating that these posters inviting support for a terrorist group were further investigated or properly responded to.

While just one incident we happened to discover through FOI disclosure, we fear that it is the tip of an iceberg of similar incidents which have been allowed to pass without consequence due to the PFLP’s current lawfulness. In cases such as this, the lack of proscription means that – if we are to be generous – authorities, including universities, are not able to recognise and respond to groups such as the PFLP, or even decide that they do not need to.

In the context of law enforcement and the criminal justice system, it prevents those who make clear expressions of support for terrorist organisations, and who are reckless as to whether that will encourage others to support the organisation, from being and prosecuted in the same way as they would for doing with Hamas or Hezbollah.

Section 13 of the Terrorism Act 2000 makes it an offence to display an article such as a flag or placard in a public place if doing so in all the circumstances arouses reasonable suspicion that the person is a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation, while under section 12(1) Terrorism Act 2000, it is an offence to invite support for a proscribed organisation. Supporters of the PFLP have regularly done just this, yet escaped prosecution because of a post-Brexit loophole.

Put simply, proscription would empower the police and Crown Prosecution Service to investigate and charge those suspected of supporting the PFLP and using it to promote Palestinian terrorism. The group’s current lawfulness runs directly against the public interest and acts as a potential radicaliser that risks drawing individuals into supporting terrorism, especially those on the left who would find radical Islamist groups unappealing but for whom the Marxist-Leninist PFLP has an ideological resonance.

With this in mind, we call on the Home Secretary to close this loophole and rightfully proscribe the PFLP. To join the 7,000 people who have already signed our PFLP campaign petition, please click here.

  • Luke Akehurst, director, We Believe in Israel. 
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