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British official wants to prohibit pro-Arab chants and criminalize waving of the Palestinian flag

  In the wake of the horrifying attacks in Israel by the Iran-backed militant group Hamas, a British official is pushing for a clampdown on ...

 In the wake of the horrifying attacks in Israel by the Iran-backed militant group Hamas, a British official is pushing for a clampdown on pro-Arab chants. She also wants the waving of the Palestinian flag to be declared a criminal offense. Home Secretary Suella Braverman wrote to chief constables in England and Wales, suggesting the said measures as well as any attempts to use flags, songs or swastikas to harass or intimidate members of the Jewish community.

According to Braverman, the cops should also not restrict themselves to potential offenses related to the promotion of Hamas, a proscribed organization. "It is not just explicit pro-Hamas symbols and chants that are cause for concern. 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 offense," she wrote. Such offenses are punishable by fines of up to £2,500 or up to two years in prison.

The British official also encouraged the police to give similar consideration to the presence of symbols such as swastikas at anti-Israel demonstrations. "Context is crucial," she said. "Behaviors 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 neighborhoods, or single out Jewish members of the public, to aggressively chant or wave pro-Palestinian symbols. Where harassment is identified, I would encourage the police to take swift and appropriate enforcement action."

Additionally, she appealed to all chief officers to ensure that protests which could exacerbate community tensions by way of offensive placards, chants, or behaviors that could be construed as incitement or harassment, have a strong police presence to ensure perpetrators are appropriately dealt with so communities feel protected. As per sources from her office, her words had been approved by government lawyers.

Despite leaving the decisions on arrests to the police, she still urged the the forces use all available powers to prevent disorder and distress to communities, "and that your officers will act if there are any incidents that stray into criminality," she said.

Meanwhile, the correspondence was sent after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak vowed that anyone in the United Kingdom supporting Hamas would be "held to account" in the aftermath of the attack on Israel. Discussing his visit to a synagogue in north London on Monday night, Sunak said that the police had "been given very clear guidance and advice from the government to do everything that they can to keep the community safe." Officers will definitely "clamp down on any behavior that falls foul of the law," Sunak said.

U.K. Palestine groups: Braverman's "suggestion" is an assault on basic rights

For critics, the secretary's words will deeply concern freedom of speech advocates and members of the Muslim community. Human rights barrister Shami Chakrabarti said Braverman's letter that had been so readily press-released suggested that the intervention is at best virtue signaling and at worst seeking to compromise operational independence," adding: "Police chiefs know their powers and duties. Anxious and vulnerable minority communities are not made safer by the politicization of policing in difficult and dangerous times."

Campaigners said the letter had set a dangerous precedent in denying democratic rights. Ben Jamal, director of Palestine Solidarity Campaign, one of the six groups organizing a rally on Saturday, October 14, branded Braverman's letter an "assault on the basic right of British citizens to show solidarity for the Palestinian people's legitimate desire to have their rights realized." Jamal added that police officers enacting her orders would be denying "the right of Palestinians to fly a flag which is the symbol both of their nationhood and struggle for liberation."

Ismail Patel, chair of Friends of Al-Aqsa, another of the protest's co-organizers, also pointed out that protesters who stood against the British government's war against Afghanistan and Iraq "were never obstructed from voicing our opinions like this." He urged "people to join the protest in London on Saturday with Palestinian flags held high."

Kate Hudson, general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, another group organizing the march, said it is of "great concern to our democracy" that the "political views of the government should entitle them to suppress legitimate views."

"Freedom of speech, the right to protest – that can't be allowed to be eroded… Everyone will lose if democratic freedoms are worn away," she said.

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