PPR0002

Written Evidence submitted by Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA)

 

I am providing this written evidence in my role as Chief Executive at CAA. I was asked to provide oral evidence on behalf of CAA to the Committee on 6th December 2023. This evidence provides a detailed written response and, where necessary, further clarification to the questions raised at the meeting of 6th December 2023 (including the request made at that meeting for further evidence to be provided on one question relating to policing of protests outside of London). This evidence also provides a detailed response, where necessary, to the points raised at the further Committee meeting of 12th December 2023.

 

The impact of the pro-Palestine protests on the Jewish community

 

We were asked for information regarding the impact that the weekly pro-Palestine marches and rallies have had on the Jewish community.

 

According to professional polling[1] undertaken by Campaign Against Antisemitism (“CAA”) following the 7th October 2023 attack in Israel:

 

        A staggering 90% of British Jews say that they would avoid travelling to a city centre if a major anti-Israel demonstration was taking place there. Our urban centres have effectively become no-go zones for Jews;

        Only 16% of British Jews believe that the police treat antisemitic hate crime like other forms of hate crime, with two thirds believing that the police apply a double standard;

        More than six in ten British Jews have either personally experienced or witnessed an antisemitic incident since 7th October, or know somebody who has;

        69% of British Jews say that they are less likely to show visible signs of their Judaism right now;

        Almost half of British Jews say that they have considered leaving the UK due to antisemitism, since 7th October 2023;

        A full 95% of British Jews believe that the Crown Prosecution Service should report statistics on prosecutions of antisemitic hate crimes; and

        90% of the Jewish community believes that the British Government should proscribe Hizb ut-Tahrir.

 

We have also asked the community for feedback on how they feel about the weekly pro-Palestine marches (including seeking victim impact statements). The common theme is that people are intimidated by those attending the marches, with some protestors glorifying terrorism, some inciting racial hatred, some committing racially or religiously aggravated public order offences and many others on the marches ignoring such actions.

 

There is considerable distress at the apparent lack of enforcement of the law by the police. Some felt too intimidated to travel on public transport or into central London on march days, and others reported feeling “terrified”, “scared to go out”, feeling “surrounded by hatred” and feeling “unsafe and ignored”. We know of people who have felt forced to remove mezuzot (Jewish religious boxes) from their front doors, people who would normally wear a kippah (skullcap) or other item of religious clothing/jewellery no longer doing so in public and even people having vacated their homes at the weekend due to the marches. We are also aware of synagogue services being rescheduled due to safety concerns and congregants being intimidated, and, since I gave evidence at the Committee, vandalism of numerous public menorahs displayed for the festival of Chanukah.

 

In terms of the work of CAA, which helps members of the public with antisemitic crimes and other antisemitic incidents, our caseload has never been higher.

 

The response of the police to antisemitic hate crimes, in the context of the pro-Palestine protests

 

British Jews grow up needing police protection and have historically had a positive relationship with the police. However, there is now a real sense of betrayal within the community, as we are witnessing an utterly inadequate police response and total inconsistency in the way that the protests and incidents outside of the protests are being policed. There have been some high profile examples of forceful police responses outside of the protests, on which we cannot comment in detail to avoid the risk of influencing the outcome of any court case, while much worse activity at the protests has gone unpunished.

 

There is particular concern about the fact that the Metropolitan Police Service (“MPS”) made announcements which sought to preemptively legalise the public use of the genocidal “From the river to the sea” chant[2] and then effectively gaslit the community about the meaning of “jihad”[3] (when shouted at a protest whose organisers were calling for support for the 7th October attacks by Hamas[4]), apparently in order to avoid putting officers in a position where they would need to make arrests.

 

For the worst offences, which are being pursued by the police, photographs of scores of people are being posted under Operation Brock but in many cases there is scant hope that they will be identified. There is understandable confusion and anger within the community as to why the perpetrators of such offences are not simply being arrested at the protests, where police are present.

 

In this regard we welcome the fact that in giving evidence on 12th December 2023 Assistant Commissioner Twist acknowledged that “the longer we do not intervene, that emboldens others. It makes it seem like a permissive environment for that sort of thing.” Assistant Commissioner Jukes similarly recognised that “the deterrent effect of enforcement action and intervention is critical in setting a tone for the future”.

 

While some of those giving evidence have sought to emphasise that there are very low numbers of criminal offences committed at the pro-Palestine protests in proportion to the numbers of protesters, we would emphasise that the numbers of arrests being made for criminal offences is not an accurate measure of the number of offences being committed. Assistant Commissioner Twist agreed in his evidence on 12th December 2023 that “in a march of 300,000 people [police officers] are not going to see everything”. He made the point that the police would like the organisers of the pro-Palestine protests to “clearly call out unacceptable and potentially illegal behaviours at the events” and for stewards at the pro-Palestine protests (who we understand to simply be members of the public who can sign up online to volunteer) to report concerns to police officers.

 

We would also emphasise that it takes one person to hold up a banner that supports Hamas or incites hatred against Jews. It takes hundreds of others walking alongside that person to do nothing. Assistant Commissioner Twist echoed this point in his oral evidence, noting that “on every occasion so far we have found offences of hate crime, supporting a proscribed organisation and people looking to intimidate. They are very small numbers but they exist nonetheless, and our point is that even if you cannot spot them, if even officers cannot spot them because they are in the middle of a crowd, there are other people walking alongside them who might be able to report them.”

 

There is understandable confusion and anger when people see the difference in treatment of, for example, a digital billboard van used by CAA to show images of Israeli child hostages (which was stopped by the police on 18th October, with instructions to switch off the digital billboards and leave the area in central London on the grounds that there would otherwise be a “breach of the peace”, and again by the police on a later date) or the treatment of various groups of environmental protestors who have blocked roads, with huge numbers immediately arrested and charged shortly thereafter.[5]

 

Meanwhile, cases that have been reported to the police by CAA involving terrorism offences (making statements in support of Hamas, a proscribed terrorist organisation under the Terrorism Act 2000) are being dropped by the police for investigation.

 

We would also note that the concerns that we have regarding the treatment of antisemitic hate crime and terrorism offences are not limited to the actions of the police. We are aware that, in determining their approach to offences committed at the protests, the police have been receiving advice from the Crown Prosecution Service (“CPS”) and of course any offence pursued by the police will then be sent to the CPS for a charging decision. We have long had concerns as to how effectively antisemitic hate crimes are handled by the CPS and have long called for the disaggregation of data relating to different forms of racial and religious hate crimes as collected and published by the CPS in order to be able to effectively and objectively analyse the work of the CPS in this regard. Our polling (referenced above) also shows that almost all British Jews also wish to see this disaggregation.

 

We are further concerned that current delays within the court system mean that arrests now are only likely to result in trials in 2025, with such significant delays to justice being seen to be done having a significant impact on the confidence of the community that they are being properly protected.

 

Policing of the March Against Antisemitism on 26th November

 

The March Against Antisemitism was the largest gathering against antisemitism in Britain in a lifetime, since the Battle of Cable Street in 1936. It was necessary to show solidarity between Jews and non-Jews: the United Kingdom, united against antisemitism.

 

The March Against Antisemitism was remarkably successful in achieving its aims, reminding British Jews that we are not alone and reminding all people in this country that the Britain which is world famous for tolerance and decency has not disappeared.

 

We consider that the March Against Antisemitism was effectively policed, with police coming from all across the country to keep those attending the march safe.

 

It is worth noting in this regard the clear difference between the policing of our march and the policing of the weekly pro-Palestine marches.

 

At our march the police were looking outside of the protestors for threats to the protestors, in contrast to the pro-Palestine protests, where police generally look inwards for instances of criminality. At the March Against Antisemitism, there were just two arrests, and the police have confirmed that in neither case was the individual concerned involved in our march.

 

I was asked at the meeting on 6th December 2023 whether the police had handed out leaflets at our march to explain what conduct and actions might be illegal, as they have at the pro-Palestine protests. I stated that no leaflets had been handed out to the best of my knowledge. I can now confirm (and note that Assistant Commissioner Twist also confirmed in his oral evidence on 12th December 2023) that no such leaflets were distributed at our march.

 

Policing of the pro-Palestine protests

 

We, of course, have sympathy with those frontline officers who are hopelessly outnumbered at the weekly pro-Palestine protests. It is not possible to effectively police 100,000-300,000 people with just 1,000-2,000 police officers. We have already noted above the concerning incident at one of the protests in Manchester, which at the very least creates the perception that the police are not in control.

 

We would strongly urge the police – as we have for weeks now – to use their powers under sections 12 (or as appropriate section 14) of the Public Order Act 1986 (“the Public Order Act”) to impose conditions which include limits on the numbers permitted at the weekly pro-Palestine demonstrations, so that they can be effectively policed and any criminality can be effectively (and immediately) addressed.

 

We note in this regard that, when giving oral evidence to the Committee on 12th December 2023, Robin Simcox, Commissioner for Countering Extremism, appeared to agree. He made the important point that when “you have repeated large-scale disruptions in major cities for a significant amount of time I would argue that at some point that balance where Jewish people, for example, must feel safe to go into a city begins to shift...I have heard chants to globalise the intifada. I have a pretty good idea of what that means, what that looks like. We saw it on 7/7, we saw it in the Bataclan in Paris in 2015, we saw it in Manchester Arena. We know what that looks like. The right to protest, yes, but is it a right to protest in the centre of London every week to ensure that Jewish people, many Jewish people, do not feel safe to go there? I am not convinced.”

 

Lord Walney, the Government’s Independent Adviser on Political Violence and Disruption made a similar point in his oral evidence on 12th December 2023, noting that the “cumulative level of disruption for the majority of Jewish people living in the capital — having an increased level of fear, not wishing to come into the centre because of fear of the marches, the rise in antisemitic incidents — ought to make us want to place much greater conditions on those marches or even pause them”. He made it clear that he would “like to see greater conditions [imposed on the protests], which would immediately give us a better sense as to whether those conditions would be able to stand up in court.”

 

There seems to be a general consensus, therefore, that at the very least the police should be making greater use of their powers under the Public Order Act in relation to placing conditions on the weekly protests.

 

We would emphasise that there are multiple existing powers that the police could be using to address criminality at the protests (and which we and 15 eminent King’s Counsel have called on the police to use). These include:

 

        Terrorism offences:

        Section 12 (1A) of the Terrorism Act 2000 makes it an offence to express an opinion or belief that is supportive of a proscribed organisation (for example, Hamas) and be reckless as to whether a person to whom the expression is directed will be encouraged to support a proscribed organisation.

        Section 13 of the same Act makes it an offence for a person in a public place to wear an item of clothing/display an article in such circumstances as to arouse reasonable suspicion that they are a member or supporter of a proscribed organisation.

        Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2006 makes it an offence to publish a statement or cause another person to publish a statement which directly or indirectly encourages terrorism where it is intended for members of the public to be (or there is recklessness as to whether members of the public will be) encouraged to commit, prepare or instigate acts of terrorism.

        Public Order Act offences:

        Under Section 5 it is an offence to use threatening or abusive words or behaviour or disorderly behaviour or display any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening or abusive, within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress by it. Section 31 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 provides that a person who commits a section 5 1986 Act offence which is racially or religiously aggravated may be imprisoned for up to two years.

        Under section 18 it is an offence to use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour if the intention is to stir up racial hatred or, having regard to all the circumstances, racial hatred is likely to be stirred up thereby (with a similar offence in relation to stirring up religious hatred under section 29B).

 

The pro-Palestine march on Armistice Day

 

It is worth remembering the global context for these marches. Multiple European countries have banned such marches and even before Israel responded militarily to the 7th October attack by Hamas, people were standing outside the Sydney Opera House chanting “gas the Jews”. These marches are globally inciting fear in the Jewish community.

 

We recognise, of course, the need to balance the right of people in the UK to demonstrate as against the right of people in the UK to feel (and be) safe. For this reason it was only after four weeks’ of pro-Palestine protests that we called for a ban, due to the failure of any conditions imposed on the previous protests to stop the intimidation of Jews.

 

We are deeply concerned by the fact that the MPS and its Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, appear to see the policing of the weekly pro-Palestine as a public order situation, whereby it is a success if there is limited violence or criminal damage. This ignores the fact that part of the reason that there is not more violence at the weekly pro-Palestine marches is because opponents of the marches are intimidated off the streets. Where an opponent has attended, there have been reported instances of violence. We would emphasise that there is a difference between people peacefully marching and people marching with limited violence for non-peaceful objectives, which result in the intimidation of a community. A further reason for the limited violence is because the police do not take action against criminality in the protests in real time, deliberately avoiding provoking the demonstrations but at a cost to the maintenance of law and order.

 

I summarise below the specific action taken by CAA in seeking proper policing of these marches:

        On 25th October 2023, after two weeks of protests, we wrote to Sir Mark Rowley seeking tighter conditions under section 12 of the Public Order Act in advance of the third protest. Section 12 provides for conditions to be placed on marches by the police (section 14 allows for the same for rallies). Where it is reasonably believed that the protest may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community (relevant cumulative disruption may be taken into account) the police can impose such conditions as are considered necessary to prevent the public disorder/damage to property/serious disruption to the life of the community.

        On 3rd November 2023 we arranged for an open letter which was signed by a number of eminent barristers, including Sir Michael Burton KC GBE, Jonathan Goldberg KC, Lord Pannick KC and Lord Grabiner KC, to be sent to Sir Mark Rowley. The open letter called on the MPS to use its power generally in relation to public order and terrorism offences and to use the power under section 12 of the Public Order Act to impose tighter conditions on the upcoming protest on 4th November 2023.

        On 7th November 2023, after four weeks of protests and with the upcoming Armistice Day protest, we called for that protest to be prohibited under section 13 of the Public Order Act (which allows for prohibition of any specified class of marches in a police chief’s area for a period not exceeding three months, with the Home Secretary’s consent, where it is reasonably believed that the powers under section 12 to impose conditions will not be sufficient to prevent serious public disorder).

        We wrote to the Mayor of London (who is responsible for maintaining the MPS and ensuring that it is efficient and effective) asking that he use his position to hold the MPS to account for the failure to date to properly police these protests, noting that options included prohibiting further protests under section 13(4) of the Public Order Act.

        We also wrote to the then-Home Secretary, urging her to use her powers under section 40 of the Police Act 1996 to direct the Mayor of London to take specified measures to remedy the failure of the MPS up until then to properly police these protests. Sections 40(1) and (2) permit the Home Secretary, where they are satisfied that the whole or any part of a police force is failing to or will fail to discharge any of its functions in an effective manner, to direct the relevant local policing body (in the case of the MPS, that is the Mayor of London) to take specified measures for the purpose of remedying the failure or preventing such a failure occurring. We noted that an option open to the MPS to remedy its failure to properly police London during the weekly protests was to prohibit further protests under section 13(4) of the Public Order Act.

 

The need for new legislation to allow effective policing of protests

 

We would recommend expansion of the scope of section 13 of the Public Order Act. Under the legislation as it currently stands, these types of marches can only be prohibited if the conditions imposed are not sufficient to prevent serious public disorder. There should be serious consideration given to extending the scope of section 13 to cover the situation where there is cumulative serious disruption to the life of the community (which is a ground under which conditions can be imposed on marches or rallies under sections 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act).

 

We also consider that it would be worth giving further consideration to introducing legislation to cover what the 2021 report on “Operating with Impunity” by Sir Mark Rowley and Dame Sara Khan (then Lead Commissioner of Commission for Countering Extremism)[6], described as “hateful extremism”, with a high bar for any new legal power linked to intent and specific serious harms. We are extremely concerned by the oral evidence provided by Dame Sara Khan on 12th December 2023 to the effect that she had not had a response from the Government to any of her reports when she was at the Commission for Countering Extremism, despite the fact that one of the key recommendations made to the Home Secretary in March this year by Sir John Saunders, who carried out the inquiry into the Manchester Arena bombings, was as a matter of urgency to consider and respond to the “Operating with Impunity” report.

 

That 2021 report defined “hateful extremism” as follows: “Activity or materials directed at an out-group who are perceived as a threat to an in-group motivated by or intending to advance a political, religious or racial supremacist ideology: to create a climate conducive to hate crime, terrorism or other violence; or attempt to erode or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of our democratic society as protected under Article 17 of Schedule 1 to the Human Rights Act 1998 (‘HRA’).”

 

The 2021 report identified a gap in the existing legislation which covers terrorism and incitement to racial hatred but does not cover actions which would constitute hateful extremism, and called for legislation to cover that gap in order to combat the significant operational challenges law enforcement bodies and regulatory agencies and others have faced in countering such extremism.

 

The 2021 report noted that research suggests that online extremism can often have real world, offline harms and that “extremists have professionalised, are ‘intellectualising’ extremist rhetoric in an attempt to infiltrate mainstream, and are coordinating locally, national and transnationally, aided by online platforms.”

 

Interestingly, the 2021 report uses antisemitism as a “theoretical example in practice” of the current hateful extremism legislative gap and notes that a neo-Nazi group could repeatedly upload videos online that avoid abusive or insulting language but disseminate antisemitic conspiracies and that would be legal. They give as a further example, that glorifying a terrorist who carries out a mass shooting at a synagogue, but not encouraging conduct that should be emulated by the public, would also be legal.

 

Beyond the issue of new legislation, we would also emphasise that the policing of protests since the 7th October 2023 has demonstrated the need for a means of holding police forces to account. While the Mayor of London has a duty to hold the Commissioner of the MPS to account for delivering a professional, efficient and effective service to Londoners, we have written to Sadiq Khan in this regard (see further details above) and no action appears to have been taken. There needs to be some form of effective accountability, and the police cannot hide behind the request for more legislation, when they are currently failing to use existing powers.

 

It bears reiterating that while we would support legislative changes as outlined above, we remain firmly of the opinion that the police already have sufficient powers to police the current protests effectively, and are simply failing to apply those powers. The police must not be able to pass the buck to legislators by claiming that they lack statutory authority to take necessary actions.

 

Finally, we would strongly recommend that further consideration is given to proscription of the organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir, which organised the protest on 21st October at which there was a public call for “jihad” and in relation to which we have already written directly to the Home Secretary, and of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which is a vital funder and direct instigator of terrorist atrocities around the world, in relation to which many members of both Houses have also sought proscription. We have previously disseminated to MPs a background briefing on the IRGC[7].

 

Policing of protests outside London

 

Experiences of the policing of the pro-Palestine protests vary around the country.

 

For example, in Manchester there have been serious concerns raised regarding the policing of these protests, including specific incidents on which we cannot comment in detail to avoid the risk of influencing the legal outcome but which raise questions as to whether the relevant force’s policing decisions were impacted by the behaviour of protestors. Meanwhile, in Glasgow we understand that the policing of the protests there has been effective and there are fewer concerns regarding public disorder and regarding offences being committed and not being dealt with. This may be due to the fact that protests there are smaller.

 

Policing of hate speech

 

We note that at the Committee hearing on 12th December, Robin Simcox was about his evidence on hate speech being expressed at some mosques since 7th October 2023 (with videos of such speech in some cases being posted online). In that context, it was asked (at Q136) whether hate comments left on CAA’s social media sites were policed in the same way.

 

There is a huge difference between hate speech disseminated by a group and hate speech left by members of the public under the social media posts of a group and not endorsed by that group in any way. We therefore found this line of questioning to be completely inappropriate. Even at the best of times, it is very difficult to moderate hundreds of comments left on various social media sites. At a time of surging antisemitism when CAA, a small, volunteer-led charity, is receiving thousands more messages than it normally does, it becomes even more difficult. We consider that the true test is consistency; to the extent that an organisation is able to find and remove hate speech, is it removing it all consistently, no matter to whom it is directed? In this we are confident that CAA is entirely consistent, even though we accept that we do not have the resources to moderate every comment left under our social media posts.

 

In this context we would bring to the attention of the Committee the fact that in February 2017[8] CAA published a study of all 2,991 user comments and threaded replies left on the Facebook page of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (“PSC”) during November 2016 (the PSC also provided oral evidence to the Committee on 6th December 2023). In addition to assessing that seven percent of all of the comments were overtly antisemitic, CAA duplicated antisemitic comments which had been allowed to remain, and modified them to target abuse at the “Bangalla People”, a non-existent tribe featured in the 1950’s comic strip, The Phantom. The hate speech against “Bangalla People”, which was almost identical to the hate speech against Jews which had been allowed to remain — in some cases for weeks — was removed within six hours.

 

 

December 2023


[1] See https://antisemitism.org/almost-70-of-british-jews-are-hiding-their-identity-and-almost-half-have-considered-leaving-britain-since-7th-october-new-caa-polling-shows/

[2] See https://www.ajc.org/translatehate/From-the-River-to-the-Sea

[3] See https://news.met.police.uk/news/statement-on-the-hizb-ut-tahrir-britain-protest-474096

[4] See https://archive.md/2023.10.19-144300/https://www.hizb-ut-tahrir.info/en/index.php/dawah/britain/25203.html

[5] See https://news.met.police.uk/news/further-charges-following-just-stop-oil-protests-in-london-474732

[6] See https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/602fe034d3bf7f7220fe10e1/CCE_Operating_with_Impunity_Accessible.pdf

[7] See https://antisemitism.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Time-to-Proscribe-IRGC.pdf

[8] See https://antisemitism.org/caa-investigation-exposes-bigotry-within-palestine-solidarity-campaign-caa-calls-for-unions-to-disaffiliate/