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Battle joined to defend democracy

BATTLE was joined to defend the right to protest today as the government launched a twin-track attack on the Palestine solidarity movement.

Top cabinet minister Michael Gove launched a mendacious smear attack on the pro-Palestine protests while Lord Walney, the government’s “independent adviser” on political disruption, published his long-trailed report full of repressive measures.

Yet even while moving to attack democratic rights, the government was handed a stinging rebuke by High Court judges who ruled today that earlier measures by the Home Office to make it easier to ban protests were unlawful.

The government had lowered the threshold for what is considered “serious disruption” by a protest to community life from “significant” and “prolonged” to merely “more than minor” and had allowed police to consider “cumulative disruption.”

Akiko Hart, the director of rights group Liberty, which had brought the case, said: “This ruling is a huge victory for democracy and sets down an important marker to show that the government cannot step outside of the law to do whatever it wants.”

In his speech, Levelling up Secretary Mr Gove abused the peaceful and enormous pro-Palestinian protests, which he said were “increasingly strident, visible and lurid, demonstrations of anti-semitism on our streets.

“I know that many of those on these marches are compassionate people — driven by a desire for peace and an end to suffering. But they are side by side with those who are promoting hate.

“The organisers of these marches could do everything in their power to stop that. Many — the majority — don’t.”

Mr Gove further and falsely claimed that “it is dangerous for people to be openly, clearly, proudly, Jewish near these marches.

“The organisers of the marches say that there are Jewish people on their demonstrations.

“But they are only safe if they deny what is dear to so many Jewish people — the safety of people in Israel.”

Lord Walney’s report, compromised by the revelation that the right-wing pro-Israel once-Labour MP known as John Woodcock now takes money from the arms industry, rehashed recommendations he has leaked to the press steadily in recent months.

Making it clear that his target was the left, he proposed making it easier for police to ban the pro-Palestine marches, making protest organisers pay for policing and restricting where such protests could be held.

Mr Gove unsurprisingly dubbed the report “brilliant” and pledged to give careful consideration to the suggestions, including making march organisers pay the police.

Ben Jamal, the director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said:  “The resumption of these baseless attacks by Michael Gove and John Woodcock amount to an admission: apologists for Israel’s genocidal violence and system of apartheid have lost the democratic and legal arguments, but continue to attempt to delegitimise Palestinian solidarity. They will not succeed.

“Far from stopping the genocide in Gaza as required under international law, the UK is complicit and actors such as Gove and Woodcock attempt to deflect from that fact.”  

And campaign group Momentum said: “Woodcock's 'review' is a transparent attack on the right to protest, driven by elite interests and the Tories' disdain for our democratic rights. It belongs in the dustbin of history — and so does he.”

Extinction Rebellion, also singled out for attack, commented:  “It is shameful for the Home Secretary to commission a supposedly ‘independent’ report from someone who acts as a lobbyist for both the fossil fuel companies and the arms companies whose profits are threatened by the activities of the groups he is targeting.”

The organisers of the Gaza ceasefire marches have written to the police protesting at the decision to allow an abusive group of Israel supporters to rally within feet of the march last Saturday.

In a letter the six organisations demanded a meeting with Met Commissioner Mark Rowley, saying that “the whole demonstration had to run a frightening gauntlet of abuse, insult and provocation, the aim of which was clearly to create a physical confrontation.

“We want an explanation of how and why this was allowed to happen and an undertaking that future counter protests will be properly policed.”


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