Waving a Palestinian flag on British streets “may not be legitimate” any longer if it is deemed to be a show of support for acts of terrorism, home secretary Suella Braverman has said.
The cabinet minister has told police officers to use the “full force of the law” against any shows of support for Hamas or bids to intimidate the UK’s Jewish community in the wake of the attack on Israel.
Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters gathered outside the Israeli embassy in Kensington to demonstrate on that same evening, letting off fireworks, lighting flares and chanting “Israel is a terrorist state” and “Free Palestine”.
In a letter addressed to chief constables, Ms Braverman gave examples of protest that she said could amount to public order offences – including any that target Jewish neighbourhoods, waving pro-Palestinian or pro-Hamas symbols and chanting slogans that could be interpreted as anti-Israeli.
Putting pressure on police, Ms Braverman said she encouraged all chief officers “to ensure that any protests which could exacerbate community tensions by way of offensive placards, chants, or behaviours that could be construed as incitement or harassment, have a strong police presence”.
“It is not just explicit pro-Hamas symbols and chants that are cause for concern,” said Ms Braverman – who on Monday visited Golders Green, a north London area with a large Jewish population, which has seen a restaurant smashed and pro-Palestine graffiti.
“I would encourage police to consider whether chants such as ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ should be understood as an expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world, and whether its use in certain contexts may amount to a racially aggravated Section 5 public order offence.”
She added: “I would encourage police to give similar consideration to the presence of symbols such as swastikas at anti-Israel demonstrations. Context is crucial. Behaviours that are legitimate in some circumstances, for example the waving of a Palestinian flag, may not be legitimate such as when intended to glorify acts of terrorism.
“Nor is it acceptable to drive through Jewish neighbourhoods, or single out Jewish members of the public, to aggressively chant or wave pro-Palestinian symbols at.”
Asked about Ms Braverman’s comments on Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also said waving a Palestinian flag on the streets of Britain could be an issue – depending on the circumstances.
“If it’s provoking or encouraging attacks that might be one thing, there might be other situations,” he told LBC, adding: “It’s very important that at times like this we don’t conflate peaceful discussion of Palestinian issues with Hamas.”
Mr Starmer also called for the colours of the Israel flag to be displayed at the Wembley arch for England’s match this Saturday, as the FA deliberates whether to do so. He told LBC: “I do think they should be on the arch. I think a message needs to go out that we stand with Israel.”
The Labour leader also said the BBC should explain why it is not calling Hamas terrorists. “The BBC needs to explain why it … I said terrorism and terrorist, and to me that’s obviously what we are witnessing. So I think it’s for the BBC to explain why then not doing it.”
The BBC has rejected criticism over its decision not to call Hamas militants “terrorists”, after it was labelled “disgraceful” by the defence secretary Grant Shapps. Mr Shapps suggested that the BBC needed to fix its “moral compass”, as he urged it to revise its long-standing editorial position.
A BBC spokesperson said: “We always take our use of language very seriously. Anyone watching or listening to our coverage will hear the word ‘terrorist’ used many times - we attribute it to those who are using it, for example, the UK government.”
Ms Shapps described actions by Hamas in Israel as “pure evil” and suggested he agreed with the characterisation of Hamas as “human animals” – saying the attacks on Israel were not “human behaviour”.
Asked on BBC Breakfast if he agreed with a top Israeli politician who had described the fight as one against “human animals”, Mr Shapps said: “Yes. I mean, if you think about what has happened, you know, families being slaughtered and babies being murdered, festival goers, this is not human behaviour to go around and do that.”
It comes after Rishi Sunak vowed to “hold people to account” if they are found to be supporting Hamas in Britain. The PM said police have been given “clear guidance” to “clamp down on any behaviour that falls foul of the law”.
Three people arrested during the protests near the Israeli embassy in Kensington on Monday evening. Only a few miles east, more than 4,000 people joined a vigil outside No 10 organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council.
Hamas, the Palestinian group behind the surprise strikes on Israel on Saturday, which left more than 1,000 people dead, is proscribed as a terror organisation in the UK. Hamas sent fighters across the border into Israel and fired thousands of rockets in an unprecedented incursion, which also saw a music festival targeted.
At least two Britons were killed in the Hamas onslaught, with another feared dead and more missing. Nathanel Young, 20, was serving in the Israeli army when he was killed during Hamas’ charge.
Bernard Cowan, who grew up around Glasgow, also died. Jack Marlowe, 26, who went to the same London school as Mr Young, is believed to be missing, while photographer Dan Darlington is feared dead.
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