This article was originally posted on the Jewish Chronicle. Click here to read the original.
A government minister has cast doubt on the likelihood of a ban being imposed on Hezbollah’s terrorist wing in Britain.
Nick Hurd, the Police Minister, told a Labour MP who raised concerns about the Al Quds Day rally at which activists waved the flag of the Lebanon-based terror group, that the law allowed such activity as part of “peaceful protest”.
He said demonstrators would only be committing an offence if “the context and manner in which the flag is displayed” proved the activists were waving them “specifically in support” of the already banned section of Hezbollah.
In a letter seen by the JC, Mr Hurd deflected responsibility for dealing with the fallout of last month’s protest to the Metropolitan Police, and gave no indication of a potential change in the law to ban Hezbollah supporters from the streets of Britain.
Labour Friends of Israel said the comments were a “weak defence of the status quo” from the government.
Mr Hurd, whose comments were made in a letter to LFI vice-chair Louise Ellman three weeks ago, said the Home Secretary could not herself have implemented a ban on the protest, and would have required a police application to stop the march going ahead if the Metropolitan Police Commissioner felt it would “result in serious public disorder”.
The minister said it was entirely at the police’s discretion to decide how to manage the event.
The Islamic Human Rights Commission, which organised the Al Quds rally, “is not a proscribed organisation”, Mr Hurd wrote. “This means they can express their views and demonstrate, provided they do so within the law.”
On the question of flags, Mr Hurd said: “While the UK proscribes the military wings of both organisations [Hamas and Hezbollah], we do not proscribe either group in their entirety, so their political wings are not proscribed.
“The flags for the organisation’s military wings are the same as the flags for their political wings. Therefore, for it to be an offence for an individual to display the flags for these organisations, the context and manner in which the flag is displayed must demonstrate that it is specifically in support of the proscribed elements of the group.”
Jennifer Gerber, LFI director, said: “Sadly, the government’s initial promise of action appears to have been replaced by a weak defence of the status quo and a total failure to recognise the deep hurt both to the Jewish community, and to London as a whole, caused by the flying of flags belonging to an antisemitic terror group on the streets of the capital.
“As LFI and Sadiq Khan have demanded, the Home Secretary should act immediately to close the loophole in the law, proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety and thus allow the police to ensure we never again witness this abhorrent sight.”
The anti-Israel demonstration in central London on June 18 saw activists blame “Zionists” for the Grenfell Tower tragedy. Police are now investigating the leader of the rally, but no arrests were made on the day. Around 1,000 people attended the event.
Ms Ellman had previously pressed Theresa May on the issue in the House of Commons, and Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, had said she would “consider” banning marches at which activists planned to fly the Hezbollah flag.
Sadiq Khan, Labour’s Mayor of London, wrote to Ms Rudd last week urging her to close the legal loophole around the Al Quds Day march by making support for Hezbollah’s official “terrorist wing” illegal in Britain.
Mr Khan wrote: “As you know, the power to proscribe an organisation is a reserved matter for you as Home Secretary. I have received strong representations from the community and from some members of the London Assembly that extremist groups are exploiting a loophole and carrying Hezbollah flags on this basis.”
Ms Rudd has yet to respond.
Under the Terrorism Act 2000, Hezbollah’s “political wing” is banned in this country. But the organisation makes no distinction itself between its two wings, and both are represented by the same emblem which includes an assault rifle being brandished. It is this image on flags waved during the Al Quds march which have stoked anger in the Jewish community.
Hamas was proscribed in Britain in March 2001. Hezbollah’s “external security organisation” was banned at the same time, and the proscription was extended in 2008 to include its “military apparatus including the Jihad Council”.