PRESS BRIEFING: Tower Hamlets Council and the IHRA
- On Saturday 3rd August, it was revealed (following a Freedom of Information request submitted by Palestine Solidarity Campaign) that Tower Hamlets Council refused an event application from The Big Ride for Palestine because of secret concerns around the IHRA definition of antisemitism.
- The Big Ride is an annual event now in its 5th year. It seeks to combine a love of cycling with awareness raising of the rights deprivations suffered by the Palestinian people and showing solidarity with their struggle for justice. It raises money for children’s charities in Gaza. The Ride has attracted significant and widespread endorsement from MPs from numerous political parties as well as prominent public figures.
- In response to this story – which gained widespread media coverage at local, national and even international level – PSC wrote to Mayor Biggs, the elected leader of Tower Hamlet Council, outlining its serious concerns over this decision and calling on him to take action.
- Mayor Biggs agreed to meet with PSC representatives (both local and national) as well as a representative from The Big Ride to discuss these concerns in more depth. This meeting took place on 29th October.
- One of the key asks from this group is for Tower Hamlets Council to adopt an additional caveat to the previously adopted IHRA definition of antisemitism which explicitly protects freedom to criticise the state of Israel.
- This ask was previously made of Tower Hamlets Council via petition in November 2018 by local PSC activists, and it was rejected. Activists warned at the time that, without the caveat, the adoption of the IHRA definition posed a threat to freedom of expression and activism relating to Palestine. The Council asserted that this would not happen.
- The IHRA definition of antisemitism has been criticised with regard to threats to freedom of expression by eminent lawyers, respected members of the Jewish community, academic experts on antisemitism, and bodies such as the Institute for Race Relations. Last year a group of prominent Palestinians wrote to the national press highlighting that “any use by public bodies of the IHRA examples on antisemitism that either inhibits discussion relating to Palestinian dispossession by ethnic cleansing, when Israel was established, or attempts to silence public discussions on current or past practices of settler colonialism, apartheid, racism and discrimination, and the ongoing violent military occupation, directly contravenes core rights”.
- Local residents have submitted another petition to Tower Hamlets Council calling on them to once again consider adopting the caveat to the IHRA definition of antisemitism. This petition will be considered at a Council meeting on Wednesday 15th January. There will be a rally outside the council building at 6pm prior to the meeting, and inside the meeting proposers of the petition will have the opportunity to speak directly to the Council to make their case. The Mayor will then issue a response.
Press are welcome to attend this event, and Palestine Solidarity Campaign representatives will be available for interview or comment. For further enquiries please contact firstname.lastname@example.org