Palestine Expo 2017, with a list of controversial speakers, is being held on 8th and 9th July at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in Westminster, opposite the Houses of Parliament. According to the the government’s website, the conference centre “is an executive agency, sponsored by the Department for Communities and Local Government”.
The event is billed as “the biggest social, cultural and entertainment event on Palestine to ever take place in Europe” and is being heavily advertised. According to the Palestine Expo Facebook page on 6th June: “This week over 200 Palestine Expo billboards went up across London Underground platforms.” A closer look, however, has uncovered troubling undertones to what is billed as a cultural event that will give the British and European public a taste of Palestinian food, art, music, entertainment and history.
The organisers of the event are the Leicester-based, Friends of Al-Asqa, which was founded and is chaired by Ismail Patel. At a “Stop the Gaza Massacre” demonstration in London on 10th January 2009, during “Operation Cast Lead”, Mr Patel told a cheering crowd that “Hamas is not a terrorist organisation. The reason that they hate Hamas is because they refuse to be subjugated to be occupied by the Israeli state and we salute Hamas for standing up to Israel.” Hamas is listed by the British government as a proscribed organisation under the Terrorism Act and advocates the murder of Jews around the world. In 2009, Friends of Al-Aqsa published an opinion article by Palestinian journalist Khalid Amayreh, who claimed that “It is well known that Israel, through the numerous Zionist lobbies or pressure groups, more or less controls America’s politics, media and financial institutions” and that the Iraq war “was conceived in and planned by Israel through the mostly Jewish neocons in Washington.”
We put these matters to Friends of Al-Aqsa and Mr Patel. Friends of Al-Aqsa told us that “We consider antisemitism and any form of racism extremely repugnant”, that Mr Patel’s praise for Hamas was merely “intended to be specific to that time period [during ‘Operation Cast Lead’] while Gaza and its governing body (Hamas) were under sustained military assault”. It also noted that it removed the article by Mr Amayreh from its website and has published articles by a number of Jewish people.
The list of speakers for the Palestine Expo 2017 includes individuals with worrying views.
One speaker, John Pilger, an Australian film-maker, wrote in The Guardian in 2006 that Hizballah represented “humanity at its noblest”, writing: “The resistance to rapacious power, to epic crimes of invasion (which the Nuremberg judges called the ‘paramount’ crime) is humanity at its noblest; yet the paradox warns us that no resistance is pretty; that each adds its own form of violence in order to expel an invader (such as the civilians killed by Hizbollah rockets); and this has applied to heroic partisans in Europe and heroic Kurds and those faceless, despised Iraqis who have succeeded in pinning down the American homicidal machine in their country.”
Another speaker, Tariq Ramadan, an Egyptian-Swiss academic, was banned from 2004 to 2010 from entering the United States for allegedly supporting a charity that the Bush administration labelled a fundraiser for Hamas (the ban was lifted by the Obama administration). He also reportedly wrote on Facebook in May 2014 that Belgian officials may be part of a conspiracy to falsely present the Brussels Jewish museum shootings as antisemitic. According to The Forward, Professor Ramadan wrote: “The two tourists targeted in Brussels worked for the Israeli secret services”. Claiming that the Belgian government had not commented, Professor Ramadan pondered: “Coincidence. Is this a case of antisemitism or a maneuver to divert attention from the real motives of the executioners? We oppose all slaying of innocents and racism but at the same time, it’s time they stopped taking us for fools.”
A third speaker, Malia Bouattia, is the recently-defeated President of the National Union of Students (NUS), who called Birmingham University a “Zionist outpost in higher education” because it has “the largest Jsoc [Jewish student society] in the country.” She railed against “Zionist-led media outlets”, characterised Palestinian terrorism as “resistance” and voted against condemning ISIS. When called on by Campaign Against Antisemitism and numerous student leaders to retract her comments, she penned an article in The Guardian claiming that her accusers were simply sexists and racists. Ms Bouattia has since refused to confirm that Israel even has a right to exist, and she told an audience at the School of Oriental and African Studies that the government’s anti-terrorism strategy is led by “Zionist and neo-con lobbies”. Last July, Ms Bouattia drew further condemnation when she used her casting vote to strip Jewish students of their ability to elect their own representative.
It is extremely troubling that this event is being held at an iconic, government-sponsored venue, right opposite the seat of British democracy. We are writing to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government expressing our concerns.
We would like to thank Jewish Human Rights Watch for sharing detailed information about this event with us.