Following a gruelling effort over several years by Campaign Against Antisemitism and others, we are cautiously optimistic that Hizballah will finally now be completely proscribed by the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, with the support of the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt.
We recall past disappointments, however. For example, we were assured last summer that Hizballah would be fully proscribed by October 2018 “at the very latest”.
Ensuring that the Government completely proscribes Hizballah has been an important objective for Campaign Against Antisemitism since our charity was established.
Currently, the British Government distinguishes between Hizballah’s “military wing” and “political wing”, even though Hizballah mocks the Government and says that no such distinction exists. The loophole enables brazen shows of support for Hizballah, including pro-Hizballah parades through central London which are organised by a registered charity, and fundraising and even recruitment for any supposedly non-military activities conducted by Hizballah are permitted in Britain. It is extremely likely that such funds are used to finance terrorist activity, and could be used to target British subjects.
Every year, Campaign Against Antisemitism has worked closely with the Metropolitan Police Service, the Mayor of London’s Police and Crime Commissioner and the Home Office to try to prevent annual pro-Hizballah “Al Quds Day” parades through London’s most iconic streets, including Bond Street, Oxford Street and Regent’s Street.
We have also sent a large team from our Demonstration and Event Monitoring Unit to gather evidence at the parades, at which Hizballah supporters have marched with placards stating “We are all Hizballah”, heard from antisemitic speakers, and even draped babies in Hizballah flags. In one year, our volunteers were forced to withdraw from the parade.
We even launched a private prosecution against the leader of the parades who in 2017 claimed that “Zionists” had paid the Government to burn down tower blocks, days after the horrifying Grenfell Tower inferno, but our private prosecution was successfully taken over and shut down by the Crown Prosecution Service, despite the best efforts of our lawyers. Indeed, there has been an appalling failure to tackle incitement at the parades, with police even using “national security” grounds to avoid answering Campaign Against Antisemitism’s requests for information on whether anybody has ever been arrested for membership of Hizballah at the pro-Hizballah parades.
Progress in proscribing Hizballah has long been stopped by disagreement between the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, even though the decision can be made by the Home Secretary alone, so long as a majority of MPs agree with them, which has not been in doubt. The disagreement is rooted in diplomats’ preference for being able to openly engage with Hizballah, which has a major role in Lebanese politics. That has led to a perverse and dangerous loophole: when Hizballah was proscribed by a Labour Government in 2008, only Hizballah’s “military wing” was added to the list of proscribed terrorist organisations under the Terrorism Act 2000.
That meant that any person giving a police officer “reasonable suspicion” that they are supporting the terrorist organisation committed an offence under the act, but only if the officer could be sure that they are supporting Hizballah militarily and not politically. That is because Hizballah’s imaginary “political wing” was not proscribed, enabling those on the annual Hizballah parades to claim to be supporting Hizballah’s political wing, not its military wing.
Even Hizballah found this false distinction ridiculous. In October 2012, Hizballah Deputy Secretary-General, Naim Qassem, said: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hizballah on one hand and the resistance party on the other…Every element of Hizballah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, are in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.”
Hizballah has also been clear what “resistance” means. Its Secretary-General, Hassan Nasrallah, who is the leader of any fictitious “wing” of Hizballah that the Government may wish to imagine, said: “If Jews all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”
Hizballah has been true to its mission, bombing Jewish targets from Buenas Aires to Burgas, and it has even been blamed for setting off two bombs in London outside buildings used by Jews and Israelis.
Over the course of years, we have argued for the total proscription of Hizballah with Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, and each of her successors since, including making representations to Sajid Javid. Recognising that much of the opposition to fully proscribing Hizballah came from within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we have supplemented our representations to the Home Office with formal submissions to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and others.
In an attempt to force a decision from the Home Office, Campaign Against Antisemitism also launched a parliamentary petition which gained over 15,000 signatures from all but one of the UK’s 650 parliamentary constituencies, from Orkney to St Ives. The 15,000 signatures considerably exceeded the 10,000 required to compel the Government to consider the matter and formally respond, but when the Home Office did issue a statement, it shamefully failed to rule on the issue.
During our campaigning work against Hizballah, we gained the support of figures from the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, a former Downing Street Chief of Staff to a prominent Muslim leader. Their brave voices have been strengthened by calls from the Mayor of London and others, but the Government repeatedly proved unyielding.
Whilst the position of the British Government has been a long and shameful betrayal of British Jews, some have called for even greater leniency. Jeremy Corbyn, who famously called Hizballah his friends, even argued for the lifting of any restrictions on the group in the UK. One branch of the Labour Party even debated whether members of Hizballah should be allowed to join the Party.
We are now cautiously optimistic that our efforts, and those of many other friends and allies, may now be about to bear fruit, we also recall past disappointments and the fact that our country has long disgraced itself by permitting Hizballah supporters to operate with relative impunity. If our current optimism is correct, then successive Governments of all political affiliations have shamed themselves by resisting calls for them to act, with progress only coming now due to the growing national recognition that antisemitism has flourished in Britain to the extent that our country’s Jewish minority is now fearful for its very future.