A London council known as ‘Tower Hamlets’ has refused to hold a Palestinian charity event over fears it could breach its “anti-semitism guidelines.
Officials at Tower Hamlets council told the organizers of the Big Ride for Palestine, which has raised nearly £150,000 for sports equipment for children in Gaza since 2015, that the event’s “political connotations” meant it could not go ahead in the borough “without problems”.
Council workers also told the charity there was a risk speakers might express views which contradicted the council’s policies, according to the Guardian.
The Palestinian Solidarity Campaign gained access to internal emails after submitting a Freedom of Information event to work out why the fundraiser had been cancelled.
Behind the scenes, council staff raised fears of a “real risk” that the event and its organisers could be seen to have breached the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism because of references on their website to apartheid and ethnic cleansing. One official said there were concerns “not least because of the recent furour within the Labour party over Anti Semitism”.
The emails revealed the council attempted to assess the Big Ride website according to the rubric of the controversial IHRA definition.
The emails showed concern among council officials over quotes on the Big Ride website that described the Israeli treatment of Palestinians as ethnic cleansing and drew parallels between Israeli policies and apartheid-era South Africa.
One section of the website said: “Active opposition to the crimes of the Israeli state is a responsibility, just as opposition to South African apartheid was a moral and political imperative for many”, while another said: “It’s blatantly obvious to recognise the parallels between Apartheid South Africa and the state of Israel … This is an Israeli issue, not a Jewish one, many Jewish friends oppose this oppression.”
Elsewhere, the ride was described as a protest “against 67 years of Israeli ethnic cleansing”.
A Tower Hamlets council spokesperson told the Guardian: “The council gave the application careful consideration and decided not to host the event, because we do not host rallies with political connotations, albeit without direct links to political parties.”
A spokesperson for the charity said its work was focused on helping the 300,000 children in Gaza showing signs of severe psychological distress. The spokesperson added: “It’s a dreadful thing when an over-scrupulous interpretation of the IHRA definition of antisemitism is used behind closed doors to prevent awareness raising of the situation in Palestine and the need for humanitarian support.”