Standing with Palestine in Bethnal Green

A brilliant public meeting last week – 70 people heard our case against Tower Hamlets Council.   Earlier this year it refused to allow The Bug Ride for Palestine – a charity bike ride for children in Gaza, permission to us its parks for a welcome rally.  Through Freedom of Information requests, we discovered that the secret reason was that we might be contravening the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.

We need to safeguard the right to speak out about Palestine in Tower Hamlets.

Clare Short, Cllrs Gabriela Salva-Macallan and Ehtasham Hoque, Rob Ferguson of Free Speech on Israel, and Ben Jamal, director of PSC spoke.

watch Ben Jamal’s talk here

Our lobby of the Council has been postponed until January 15th 2020 because of the election.   Please join us – speakers will be announced shortly.

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Council blocks TH Palestine event over predicted IHRA definition misuse

A solidarity event to welcome cyclists raising awareness and money for Palestinian children suffering from the Israeli occupation was blocked by TH Council over fears they could be breaching a misguided definition of antisemitism.

The Big Ride 4 Palestine event was to be held in the borough with cyclists completing a 36m bike ride from Kensington to Bethnal Green on Saturday 27 July.

TH Council withheld the real reason for preventing one of their venues being used, however, subsequent release of emails between Council staff revealed in the Guardian show concerns over the definition of anti-semitism according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition.

TH Palestine Solidarity warned of the potential misuse of the IHRA.s definition in preventing free speech and legitimate support and campaigning for the Palestinian cause prior to the Council adopting it, but were ignored.

The full Guardian article can be read here. The letter to the Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, from Palestine Solidarity Campaign in protest can read here. A response from Free Speech on Israel can be read here.







Tower Hamlets Council must respect right to free speech

Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Campaign press release on the lobby of and petition to Tower Hamlets Council on 21 November. The lobby, supported by Free Speech On Israel,  and the petition called on the Council to challenge antisemitism and respect the right to free speech and safeguard Palestinian solidarity.

On Wednesday 21st November, a group of  residents from Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Campaign (TH PSC) presented a petition to the full council meeting, requesting that the council ‘Safeguard Palestinian Solidarity’ and addressed the Council in support of the petition. This was in response to the recent adoption of the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, without any caveat that would enable Palestinians and their supporters to continue to speak out freely about harmful actions of the Israeli government.

TH PSC are pleased that in response to our petition Councillors Sirajul Islam, Kevin Brady, and Mayor John Biggs made supporting statements in solidarity with Palestine. All three noted that it is not racist to criticise Israel. After the petition Councillor Andrew Wood suggested that Israel’s policies might be ‘war crimes’. Listen to a recording of the Council meeting.

In light of this, we are disappointed that the Mayor chose to reject our petition at full council, and not make a clear commitment to protect freedom of speech. We are also concerned that the Mayor condemned the petition as ‘offensive’, and questioned our right to petition, despite his earlier supportive comments. We are also concerned that the speaker allowed councillors to talk the petitioners out of time, in a further effort to silence us.

Anti-semitism on the rise

As we said at the meeting, antisemitism is on the rise across the world, and openly antisemitic governments are in power in Hungary, Lithuania, Austria – electoral success fanned by Trump’s racist policies. We were horrified at the murder of eleven Jews in Pittsburgh, in an attack clearly motivated by antisemitism and the hostile environment of current US politics.

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi addresses the lobby.

It is clear that antisemitism, Islamophobia and anti-migrant racism are on the rise in the UK. This is a particular concern to residents of Tower Hamlets. We have been actively involved in building opposition to this, including support for the Unity march against fascism and racism on 17 November, where we joined numerous Labour Party and Union members, including councillors from Tower Hamlets. We will march again on 9 December to oppose the rally called by Tommy Robinson and UKIP in London.

Problems with the IHRA definition

We believe that the IHRA working definition of antisemitism does not just fail to help in identifying or combating real antisemitism; it sows divisions amongst those that the far right target. The definition itself is vague, and many legal experts have questioned it, including Sir Stephen Sedley QC, Hugh Tomlinson QC and Sir Geoffrey Bindman.

Despite claims to the contrary there is widespread concern about the definition within the Jewish community.  The man who drafted the IHRA definition of antisemitism has condemned its use to curb freedom of speech.

Some of the examples attached to the definition threaten to silence Palestinian voices, and it is the responsibility of those campaigning for Palestinian rights to raise concerns.

TH Council adopts IHRA definition

We are aware that numerous councils across the UK have adopted the IHRA working definition in one form or another but are concerned that Mayor Biggs claims that it is an ‘international definition’.

The IHRA itself lists only eight governments that have adopted the IHRA’s working definition, and two of those include ruling parties that promote antisemitism and revisionist versions of Holocaust history, namely Austria and Lithuania.

We are extremely concerned that the adoption by Tower Hamlets Council of this working definition could lead to a situation where citizens expressing support for Palestine, or criticising Israel, could be subject to legal or work place sanctions. This has happened in Dudley where UNISON member Paul Jonson has been suspended from his council job for stating on social media that ‘Israel is a racist endeavour’. We support the solidarity campaign in defence of Paul by many trade unionists and others, including within his own union, UNISON.

Palestinian solidarity at risk

Criticising Zionism or Israel as a state does not constitute criticism of Jews as individuals or as a people and is not evidence of antisemitism. Allegations of antisemitism without further supporting evidence are unfair and unjust.  In the absence of this the necessity of holding the government of Israel, to account by the international community is prejudiced. We are particularly concerned that Tower Hamlets Council should be made aware of the misuse of this issue by the far right.

The real danger is that the adoption of the IHRA working definition will silence Palestinian voices. Its adoption by Tower Hamlets Council without caveat or due discussion, threatens division in Tower Hamlets between those who have a common interest in combating antisemitism, Islamophobia, and the rise of the far right.

Contact: Sybil Cock, Tower Hamlets Jenin Friendship Association and Palestine Solidarity Campaign

Lobby & petition against TH Council’s full adoption of the IHRA definition

TH Palestine Solidarity Campaign will lobby TH Council next month (5.45-7.30pm at the Town Hall on Weds 21 Nov) to express our concerns over the recent adoption of the full IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Councillors were reportedly pushed into voting in favour of it resulting in an unanimous vote that could restrict our ability to campaign for Palestine in the borough.

We are also urging supporters of Palestine and free speech, who live, work or study in Tower hamlets, to sign our petition (petition now closed) calling for the Council to include a caveat to the adopted IHRA definition that will protect our right to legitimately criticise the Israeli State, its policies, Zionist ideology, as well as support and advocate for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. Please email us if you would like a paper version of the petition.


In an era when the far-right is growing in confidence it is more important than ever to stand against Holocaust denial,, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and any other forms of antisemetic prejudice and hatred.

However, many of the examples which accompany the IHRA definition systematically conflate opposition to Israel with antisemitism, threatening to undermine many years of practical solidarity with the Palestinian people in the face of decades of dispossession and occupation.

We note that the motion to adopt the full IHRA definition was moved by Conservative councillors, whose party has been at the forefront of promoting Islamophobia and the racist ‘hostile environment’ that has affected the lives of so many of our residents.

Click here to read more about the Council’s adoption of the full definition of the IHRA and our concerns.

Further information is also available on the excellent Free Speech on Israel website.

Statement on TH Council’s full adoption of IHRA definition

TH Palestine Solidarity will be protesting against TH Council’s full adoption of the IHRA definition at the Full Council meeting on Weds 21st November at Mulberry Place.

Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Campaign (THPSC) and Jenin Friendship Association (THJFA) regrets TH Council’s decision of 17 September to adopt, in its entirety, the IHRA definition of antisemitism and the accompanying “examples”.

In an era when the far-right is growing in confidence it is more important than ever to stand against Holocaust denial, anti-Jewish conspiracy theories and any other forms of antisemitic prejudice and hatred.

However, the examples which accompany the IHRA definition systematically conflate opposition to Israel with antisemitism, threatening to undermine many years of practical solidarity with the Palestinian people in the face of decades of dispossession and occupation.

We note that the motion was moved by Conservative councillors, whose party had been at the forefront of promoting Islamophobia and the racist “hostile environment” that has affected the lives of so many of our residents.

Opposed to all forms of racism

We are opposed to all forms of racism, antisemitism and Islamophobia. Tower Hamlets has a proud history of uniting our community against racism and fascism – from Cable Street to the EDL and Britain First. This includes unity across differences in view over Israel-Palestine.

It is vital that our borough, particularly given the threat of the far-right today, maintains this unity and defends freedom of expression over Israel-Palestine.

We therefore oppose attempts to widen the definition of antisemitism beyond its historic meaning of hostility towards or discrimination against Jews as Jews. PSC and THJFA have always opposed any expression of antisemitism, whatever the context.

A statement we can support

We therefore support the statement by many leading Jewish academics and others that:

Criticism of Israel is not antisemitic unless motivated by anti-Jewish prejudice. Examples of this can include: holding all Jews accountable for the actions of the state of Israel; engaging in conspiracy theories about the state of Israel that draw on antisemitic stereotypes about supposed Jewish power; accusing all Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel than to the interests of their own nations.

“Criticism of Israel, of its displacement of Palestinians and of its denial of their rights, is not antisemitic. Criticising laws and policies of the state of Israel as racist and as falling under the definition of apartheid is not antisemitic. Calling for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel to oppose those policies is not antisemitic. We call upon all public bodies and other organisations to apply these principles in addressing antisemitism within their own organisations and when challenging it within wider society.”

Problems with IHRA

We believe the Council’s decision to adopt the full IHRA definition, with all its examples, can only serve to suppress criticism of the Israeli state and support for the Palestine cause.

It is a decision that flies in the face of calls from Palestinians in the West Bank, the Israeli Knesset and in Britain, and OVER 40 international Jewish organisations  to reject the full IHRA definition. It will also disappoint the many Palestinians who have a personal connection with our borough.

Despite denials, the IHRA definition has already been used to suppress criticism of Israel. As the letter from Arab members of the Knesset makes clear, it specifically silences Palestinian voices in articulating the institutional and structural roots of their own oppression. Currently Israel has over 60 laws that discriminate against Palestinians.

Working together, getting it right

Since the formation of THJFA in 2002, our community, the Council, many councillors and our Mayor, have welcomed visitors from Jenin in Palestine. We have campaigned with the support of Tower Hamlets constituents, to further this friendship by twinning Tower Hamlets with Jenin.

We believe that adopting the definition sends a message that criticism of the Israeli state and solidarity with the Palestinian people will be discouraged in our borough and regarded with suspicion.

We aim to campaign that nothing in the Tower Hamlets code prevents our community from expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people and support for their struggle for equality and human rights or from discussing the reality and roots of their oppression.

We believe many in our community will be concerned at the adoption of the full IHRA definition. We intend to protest at the next meeting of our Council on Wednesday 21st November.

We will continue to highlight the struggle for Palestinian human rights; to build the solidarity campaign in our borough and to insist on the freedom to protest at the racist structures of power that have been employed to dispossess and oppress the Palestinian people.

Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity Campaign and Jenin Friendship Association

TH Palestine Solidarity holds successful events to commemorate Nakba Week

To commemorate Nakba Week in May, we held two successful solidarity events in Tower Hamlets.

Roman Road Market Stall

On Saturday 13th, we held our fourth stall on the Roman Road Market, selling Zaytoun Palestinian produce (olive oil, dates, almonds, and maftoul), which again proved to be very popular.

Profits from the sales contribute towards a range of solidarity work, including future local and cultural exchange activities. Recent examples of donations to groups based in Jenin, the city we hope to one day twin with Tower Hamlets, were reported on here.

Sales of Palestinian produce though is just one benefit of our Roman Road stall. We also secured more than 40 signatures supporting the child prisoners campaign; ensured the Palestinian flag was proudly visible; had many conversations with people who knew more or less about the situation in Israeli occupied Palestine. We also promoted the Monday night event.

Film showing and talk

On Monday 15th, we held a public film night and stall at the Brady Centre, with almost 50 people attending. We screened the British documentary ‘Firefighters Under Occupation’, which was introduced by Lucy Masoud, an official from the Fire Brigades Union, who has witnessed first-hand the experience of fire fighters in occupied Palestine.

The film follows fire fighting units in Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Bethlehem and Jerusalem and the additional challenges they face with limited equipment having to contend with Israeli armed checkpoints and vehicle searches.

The film was followed by a short presentation by Sybil on her recent experience at the Bethlehem Marathon. The evening concluded with a Q&A with both Lucy and Sybil reflecting on what we’d seen and discuss other topical events in Palestine – particularly the hunger strike by Palestinian political prisoners, which has since been suspended after securing many of their demands.

Thanks to everyone who participated or helped to organise these events. If you would like to get involved in future events – helping on our next Roman Road stall or on local Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions engagement with shops selling fresh produce on the Roman Road are two live examples – please contact us.

Film & talk: Firefighters under Occupation – Mon 15th May Brady Centre, Whitechapel

Join us to mark the 69th anniversary of the Nakba, when 700,000 Palestinians were forced to flee their homes during and after the 1948 war with Israel and who largely remain refugees.

Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity is holding a free public event with film, speakers and discussion: 7.15pm-9pm, Monday, 15th May @ Brady Centre, 192-196 Hanbury Street, Whitechapel, E1 5HU.

  • Firefighters under Occupation: one-hour documentary about life as a Palestinian firefighter in the occupied West Bank
  • London Fire Brigades Union: Lucy Masoud will share her insights on the film and firefighting in Palestine
  • Bethelehem Marathon: report from our chair, who just returned from Bethlehem having completed the race
  • Palestinian produce stall: Palestinian olive oil, dates, soap, zatar (herbs) etc will be available for sale

Please join us and invite your friends for what will be a very interesting and informative evening!

We will also be running a stall at Roman Road market on Saturday, 13th May, selling Palestinian fair trade produce, so do stop by and say hello if you’re in the area.

Art and Resistance: Portrait of Palestine exhibition raises thousands for Palestine

The Portrait of Palestine exhibition was the latest project undertaken by TH Palestine Solidarity (THJFA and TH PSC) and proved an overwhelming  success.

The project:

In March 2016 local cartoonist and illustrator Tim Sanders was crowd funded to participate in a two week event called the Freedom Theatre ride round the West Bank of Palestine. The annual event is organised by the Freedom Theatre, based in Jenin refugee camp, to bring together artists and activists from Palestine and abroad to visit Palestinian communities in villages, towns and refugee camps for mutual exchange through art, theatre and discussion. Members of THJFA accompanyed Tim on the ride.

On return TH Palestine Solidarity worked to create an exhibition of the distinctive illustrations that Tim created on his journey. Our intention was to use the exhibition to make the realities of life under military occupation in Palestine accessible to a wide range of people and to promote a wider understanding of the situation in Palestine.


Several local union branches and individuals helped fund Tim’s trip and we were also grateful to get sponsorship from Zaytoun in the form of £800 of Palestinian produce.

In order to raise money from this generous offer, stalls were booked in the Roman Road market on two occasions where we sold the produce. This, together with the income raised from a summer garden party where copies of Tim’s prints were auctioned raising a further £500, enabled us to raise the money needed to hire the gallery and fund the launch event as well as giving us the opportunity to reach out to a wide range of local people to inform them about Palestine, our group and the upcoming exhibition.


The exhibition was listed in the local press and online media as well as highlighted on PSC, Tower Hamlets, Zaytoun and many trade union websites. We reached lots of local people through our own social media campaign and through posting hundreds of postcards and leaflets in local venues and through letter boxes. The launch was broadcast by Al Jazeera Arabi TV while the exhibition received prominent coverage in the local council newspaper Our East End with a half page spread showing a photograph of Tim painting a mural in the West Bank.

The exhibition:

The exhibition took place at Four Corners gallery on The Roman Road, Bethnal Green from 29th Feb to 3rd Dec 2016. Thirty five prints in all were developed from Tim’s sketch-es and were printed by Print 101 on high quality giclee paper. All were framed and signed by the artist and hung around two rooms of the gallery.

A slide show of photos from the trip was also created and on continuous loop to give visitors greater insight into the places and communities visited by the Freedom bus.

The launch event on the evening of the first day was attended by around 120 people. A magnificent spread of Palestinian food was provided and a range of Zaytoun produce was on sale. Visitors heard presentations from Momin Swaitat, theatre performer and graduate

of the Freedom Theatre; Wesam Tahboub of Palestinian olive oil producers Zaytoun and of course from the artist Tim Sanders. Over £1500 was raised at this event alone from sales of £10 tickets, produce and limited edition prints.

Over the following four days a range of visitors from the diversity of local communities were encouraged into the exhibition by the colourful window display and by members of the group who took turns to wave a Palestinian flag outside the gallery and hand out leaflets to passers by.

This really worked well and resulted in a constant stream of visitors, all of whom received a folded hand out that gave a context to the images in the exhibition.

Most visitors were keen to discuss the exhibition and wider issues about Palestine and human rights. The feedback we received from these discussions, and from the feedback forms that all the visitors were asked to fill in, was overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the exhibition itself and what it represented in the fight for freedom and human rights.

At a time where politics and the media was focusing on divisions between communities it seemed that people were keen to have the opportunity to focus on our common humanity. Overall we estimated that around 300 people visited the exhibition and many of these left their email addresses so that we are able to contact them about future events.


Sales of prints:

All visitors were able to buy prints from a small selection available at the exhibition or to order bespoke prints that we ordered for them from the printers and which we sent off to arrive before Christmas. Despite the complexities of this task, this was achieved and in all over 150 prints were sold.

Outcomes and future plans:

As we still have the framed prints we are planning at least one further exhibition before auctioning them to raise further funds for Palestine. Currently we are negotiating an exhibition in the summer with P21 gallery in Chalton Street, Euston.

The exhibition yielded £3,500 profit which we are sharing between the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, the Jenin Cultural Centre and a project in Jenin refugee camp that produces prosthetics for people injured by conflict. We have also contributed to the production of a film by a young Palestinian on peaceful solutions to the conflict.


Sponsors of the exhibition and Tim’s participation in the Ride included:

  • Zaytoun
  • East London Teachers Association (NUT)
  • Tower Hamlets UNISON
  • UNITE London housing workers’ branch
  • University and College Union London Retired Branch
  • National Union of Journalists London Central
  • We are also grateful for the support of graphic designers Smith+Bell, local picture framers Ginger White and printers Point101 as well as individual donors.

Portrait of Palestine Proves A Popular Sketch of Palestinian Life!

Thank you to everyone who attended our popular art exhibition at Four Corners Gallery, Bethnal Green.


From Tuesday until Saturday last week, we opened the doors of the gallery to those from afar as well as from our own community, to experience Tim Sanders’ unique portrait of Palestine sketched during The Freedom Ride earlier this year.

We were humbled to host over one hundred and twenty people at the opening of the exhibition where guests enjoyed Palestinian cuisine whilst browsing the illustrations and listening to our speakers. Al Jazeera broadcast the evening’s events live! The first speaker to address the audience – international and in house – was Mo’min Swaitat, a graduate from The Freedom Theatre, the institution which organised The Freedom Ride. He spoke passionately about The Freedom Threatre, cultivating individual talent of Palestinians and the importance of protecting the cultural life of Jenin, our twinned city. He shared the lamentable news that Cinema Jenin was to be destroyed to make way for a shopping arcade. Mo’min emphasised the value of art in shaping, not merely a response to oppression, but articulating a vision of a more hopeful future.


We owe a great debt of thanks to Zaytoun for their enormous contribution to the exhibition. Wesam Tayboub, social relations manager for Zaytoun also spoke at our opening, delighting us with the details of the ancient olive harvest in the West Bank and giving mouth-watering descriptions of Palestinian cuisine produced using ingredients such as Palestinian Medjoul dates. Zaytoun produce, which supports Palestinian farmers to continue to make a living despite the obstacles of occupation, was snapped up in great quantity during the week, especially the ‘liquid gold’ olive oil!

Tim Sanders, with his characteristic humility and humour, shared insights and inspirations that helped form the reportage style of his illustrations. He spoke movingly of the deeply affecting scenes that he witnessed, albeit it briefly, hoping that ‘the images would speak for themselves’. One of the illustrations he captioned ‘To Exist is To Resist’, for him this was the most evocative slogan of life in Palestine, capturing so much experience in so few words – something he wished to replicate with his art.


We are delighted that many who visited the exhibition throughout the week not only enjoyed the experience but said that the illustrations enhanced their awareness of Palestinian life and struggle, just as Tim intended.



We are enormously grateful to those who made the exhibition possible, including all the individual donors and unions who sponsored Tim to attend the Freedom Ride 2016 (NUT, Unite Housing Branch, NUJ, Unison, UCU); Zaytoun;  those involved in production and logistics including Four Corners Gallery, Ginger White company, print 101, Riverside Printers, Smith+Bell; as well as all the activists from our Tower Hamlets Palestine Solidarity group who, with no previous experience of this type of undertaking, worked over many months to put on our first ever exhibition.