PSC director told to stop denying Jewish community fears over anti-Israel protests

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PSC director told to stop denying Jewish community fears over anti-Israel protests

Diana Johnson, chair of Westminster's powerful Home Affairs Select Committee, warns PSC director Ben Jamal over his failure to acknowledge impact of his demos

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Diana Johnson MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee
Diana Johnson MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee

The chair of Westminster’s Home Affairs Select Committee has rebuked the director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign for attempting to “deny” Jewish community safety fears during anti-Israel demos.

Diana Johnson, the Labour MP who chaired a committee hearing in parliament on the Palestine demos, reminded Jamal that “particularly in London Jewish people will not come into the centre of London because of the way they feel, that’s the issue.”

When Jamal failed to respond to her particular point, Johnson said:”You know, Mr Jamal, I’m just pointing out to you that a sizeable group of people are saying they feel uncomfortable and I’m not having you deny that those people have that view.”

Clearly flustered, Jamal replied: “No, no, no I’m not.”

Ben Jamal, PSC director

Jamal also suggested “there is a well established well documented political project to conflate antisemitism with legitimate criticism of Israel’s violation of the rights of the Palestinian people.”

At one point as he gave evidence, Jamal addressed claims of “problematic” chants such as “From The River Sea”, widely thought as a call for Israel’s elimination by many in the community.

But Jamal said the chant was “used by the vast majority of Palestinians” to describe how “their rights are deprived across all of historic Palestine, including if they are citizens of Israel.”

He said the chant did not seek the “abrogation anybody else’s rights” and to suggest it did was a way of saying “let’s not listen to Palestinians.”

Elsewhere in the two hour long session on Wednesday, Dave Rich, the Community Security Trust’s director of policy raised concerns about the organisation of the regular demos, along with their subsequent messaging.

Rich told the committee:”We have to go back to the absolutely horrific October 7th terrorist attack inside Israel… that sent a shockwave through the Jewish community.

“We then saw within the first 24 hours the first pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrations beginning. Actually while that terror attack was still going on the first demonstration was called outside the Israeli embassy on Monday 9th.”

Rich said these protests were organised with language that seemed to “welcome” what Hamas had done in there attacks that saw the slaughter of 1200 people.

The protests, which grew into massive events in the centre of London, had left Jewish people feeling “unsafe” and “afraid” and unable to make plans, Rich said, revealing he had 23 pages of evidence of the impact of the protests on the community, which he said he could share with the committee.

Rich said there was “no dialogue” with the organisers of the pro-Palestine demos, and said he would have welcomed attempts to ban pro-Hamas signs from the demos, if the organisers had attempted to do so.

Also giving evidence at the session was Gideon Falter of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, who shared the results of polling that the organisation had themselves conducted which suggested 69 per cent of the community were “less likely now to show visible signs of their Judaism.”

Falter said 4000 people had taken part in the “representative polling” which backed up his claims that the “marches had caused a situation where people were removing mezuzahs from their doors.”

The CAA chief claimed some in the community had “vacated their homes for the weekend” as a result of the demos.

At one point the MP Kim Johnson quizzed Falter over objections to the “From The River To The Sea” chant suggesting Benjamin Netanyahu had used “that phrase in his speeches as well.”

Falter initially suggested was “not going to start commenting on Israel politics” but added Netanyahu was “not going on the pro-Palestine marches.”

He added Hamas are “very clear” about the meaning of the chant.
Also giving evidence was the Muslim Association of Britain Yasmin Adam who claimed the UK government’s “unconditional support” for Israel had “emboldened members of the far-right.”

Adam claimed those on the pro-Palestine marches had “alcohol thrown at us” and that the “far-right spit at us.”

Chris Nineham, vice chair of the Stop The War Coalition claimed the Met Police had “put an enormous amount of pressure on us to call the marches off.”

The committee will report back on the finding of two sessions on the demos and policing them, in the new year.

After the session Jamal tweeted:”Just had an angry exchange with Dave Rich.

“I indicated why such a narrative inherently disregards the rights of Palestinians to define their own oppression.

“His outrageous riposte was, effectively, that Hamas uses the chant and therefore it is genocidal.”

Rich responded:”This is partly true. Ben said ‘Hamas are irrelevant’ to understandings of what the ‘River to Sea’ chant means.

“I think given what Hamas did on 7 Oct that’s an outrageous and nonsensical statement. Gaslighting, really. It’s fair to say we didn’t agree.”

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