On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators will gather outside the Saudi Arabian embassy in London for the annual al-Quds Day march. From there, they will proceed through the capital chanting ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ – which is to say, the State of Israel will be destroyed. Alongside the Palestinian tricolour, many will be waving another flag: the banner of Hezbollah.
In doing so, none of them will be breaking the law. Hezbollah is a terrorist organisation with a bloody rap sheet but the UK Government only proscribes its paramilitary wing, not the group as a whole. As such, the Hezbollah flag, which depicts an assault rifle and the legend ‘The Islamic Resistance in Lebanon’, can be freely flown on the streets of London. The Metropolitan Police has already told Labour MP Louise Ellman as much.
This is the organisation we are talking about.
Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, says:
‘If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew’.
He tells his followers:
‘The Jews will gather from all parts of the world into occupied Palestine, not in order to bring about the anti-Christ and the end of the world, but rather that Allah the Glorified and Most High wants to save you from having to go to the ends of the world, for they have gathered in one place–they have gathered in one place–and there the final and decisive battle will take place’.
That is the organisation whose supporters will take over London’s streets on Sunday, in full view of police and without any legal consequences. The Islamic Human Rights Commission even advises attendees that ‘you can bring a Hizbullah flag to show support for the political wing of Hizbullah. This is because the political wing of Hizbullah is not a proscribed organisation’.
Speakers at Al-Quds Day include Mick Napier, chair of the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign, who freely admits to using the term ‘Zio’ and was last year convicted of aggravated trespass against an Israeli-owned cosmetics store in Glasgow. Former Anglican vicar Stephen Sizer will also headline. In 2014, Sizer attended a conference in Iran where topics up for discussion included ‘Zionist fingerprints on the 9/11 cover-up’ and other conspiracy theories. The Church of England censured him for disseminating ‘clearly antisemitic’ material online, though Jeremy Corbyn claimed he was a victim of ‘a wider pattern of demonising those who dare to stand up and speak out against Zionism’.
At last year’s march, speaker Nazim Hussein Ali told the crowd that ‘some of the biggest corporations who were supporting the Conservative Party are Zionists. They are responsible for the murder of the people in Grenfell, in those towers in Grenfell, the Zionist supporters of the Tory Party.’ He cautioned demonstrators to be ‘careful of those rabbis who belong to the Board of Deputies, who have got blood on their hands’. The Crown Prosecution Service declined to bring charges against him.
When a march will already feature angry partisans and pungent rhetoric, the likelihood that others in the crowd will fly a terrorist flag can only be intimidating and inflammatory. This is why Jewish and anti-extremism groups are calling on the government to close the loophole that allows Hezbollah sympathisers to glorify a terror group unimpeded. A petition on the matter has attracted more than 13,000 signatures. London mayor Sadiq Khan has written to Home Secretary Sajid Javid lobbying for a complete ban.
The mayor shouldn’t get his hopes up. I put some questions to the Home Office: Did the Home Secretary intend to proscribe Hezbollah in its entirety? Would he do so in time for Sunday’s demonstration? Is it his position that the non-proscribed wing of Hezbollah does not, per the Terrorism Act 2006, engage in ‘the unlawful glorification of the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of acts of terrorism’? And does he honestly believe that public display of the gun-emblazoned Hezbollah flag does not ‘glorif[y] the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of such acts or offences’ under the 2006 law?
Security minister Ben Wallace came back with:
‘No group is free to spread hatred or incite violence, which is why the police have comprehensive powers to take actions against individuals, regardless of whether a group has been proscribed or not.’
Which — and I’m squinting to read between the lines here — looks like a No. I understand that the sticking point for the Home Office is Hezbollah’s use of the same banner for its armed and political wings. As such, a person displaying the yellow and green standard would have to specify that he was waving it in support of the armed wing. So don’t pair your Hezbollah flag with a ‘Frankie says jihad’ T-shirt and you’ll be fine.
I asked the Conservative Party the same questions. They directed me back to the Home Office. This was helpful, in a sense, because it reminded me that the Tories are still in government. There hasn’t been an overnight coup by the Greens or anything. Theresa May and her party are never done talking tough on terrorism and extremism. They even published a new strategy on Monday. Yet when it comes to something as basic as fully outlawing a terrorist organisation, they wring their hands and seek refuge in non-existent distinctions. The Tories spin a strong line on terrorism but – whether it’s funding the police or putting Ulster squaddies in the dock or letting Islamists glorify a paramilitary group in full public view – they are weak and shifty and unreliable.
A final point. Before the local elections, the Tories made all sorts of promises to stand up for the Jewish community. In response, Jews turned out and helped them humble Labour. Now their pre-election rhetoric will be tested against their actions in government. If they won’t even ban Hezbollah, many Jewish voters who went from Labour to Tory will wonder if they have switched open hostility for callous indifference.