Two London-based pro-Israel activists have pleaded guilty to harassing Palestine solidarity campaigners and will now face fines and a community order.
Jonathan Hoffman and Damon Lenszner appeared at Hendon Magistrates’ Court in the UK capital, having been accused of threatening and harassing pro-Palestine campaigners at a demonstration in October.
The campaigners had been protesting outside the Puma store in London’s famous Carnaby Street, calling on consumers to boycott the sportswear giant in protest against its sponsorship of the Israel Football Association (IFA). The IFA includes teams located in Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements and has therefore been outed by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as complicit in Israel’s occupation.
October’s incident was caught on camera, with the video showing both Hoffman and Lenszner aggressively chanting “terrorist supporters off our streets” while waving Israeli flags. The pair can be seen shouting in the face of one demonstrator, Sandra Watfa, before Lenszner pushes away a second protester who attempts to help her.
Though Watfa tries to continue reading her statement, she is forced to turn around and demand Hoffman “stop touching [her]”, a demand he ignores.
In court, the judge called Hoffman and Lenszner’s behaviour “aggressive bullying”, before imposing a fine and a community order on the duo.
The pair were first slated to appear in court in March but failed to attend the hearing; in light of their absence a warrant was issued for their arrest, prompting them to appear at Westminster Magistrates’ Court two days later. They pleaded not guilty to all charges.
It is not clear what prompted the pair to change their plea today at Hendon Magistrates’ Court.
Hoffman in particular has a long history of disrupting pro-Palestine events with violent behaviour and aggressive rhetoric.
In November 2017, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London arranged a screening of a film called “From Balfour to Banksy: Visions and Divisions in Palestine”. A group of agitators known to have ties to the far-right English Defence League (EDL) disrupted the event, shouting aggressively at the event’s speakers and waving Israeli flags. Several audience members were visibly distressed and left the lecture theatre as a result.
Among the group was Hoffman, who subsequently took to social media to accuse the film’s producer of anti-Semitism and supressing free speech. Producer Miranda Pinch responded to Hoffman’s accusations, telling MEMO:
Free speech was definitely suppressed, but not by us. The tactics of those who try to prevent any information about the plight of the Palestinians or any open discussion on the subject is indeed suppression of free speech. We, the producers of the film, were not even allowed to answer questions. We were just shouted at in an abusive manner while they manically waved Israeli flags. The impression given was that they had no valid questions or arguments and just wanted to prevent ours.
Earlier in 2017, Hoffman was one of four pro-Israel activists thrown out of the UK parliament for disruptive behaviour. London-based organisation the Palestinian Return Centre (PRC) held an event at the Houses of Parliament to discuss Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem, during which Hoffman and others shouted abuse at audience members, speakers and the chairman of the event, Labour party Member of Parliament (MP) Mark Hendrick.
Just a month earlier, Hoffman and another pro-Israel activist, journalist Jerry Lewis, were again removed from the Houses of Parliament. Lewis broke into the invitation-only meeting and refused to turn off his recording equipment, despite being repeatedly asked to do so by the event’s chair. The UK police then confiscated Lewis’ parliamentary press pass and escorted him out of the building.