A pro-Israeli group with close ties to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has come under fire for “muzzling free speech in the UK” during what appears to be a desperate attempt to shut down a major event on Palestine in London this weekend organised by the UK organisation, Friends of Al-Aqsa (FOA).
The frantic effort to block the two-day event known as “Palestine Expo” saw the UK pro-Israeli group, Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), seeking cancellation of the conference by applying pressure on the German owners of the venue, Olympia London exhibition centre.
Bizarrely, the self-styled legal group attempted to shut down the event through a recently passed resolution in the German parliament which defines the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic. The non-binding bill was met with wide-scale condemnation including from 240 Israel and Jewish professors who urged German lawmakers to oppose the motion and “not to endorse” it due to what they say is an attack on Israel’s critics “based on the false allegation that BDS as such equals anti-Semitism.”
UKLFI admitted that after failing to have the event cancelled due to Olympia London dismissing their complaint, the pro-Israel group contacted three of Olympia’s German co-owners and appealed using the recently passed anti-BDS law to achieve this end.
On its website, UKLFI also suggested that it had gained a victory through its frantic lobbying and claimed that FOA was “under pressure to curb [its] advocacy” of the BDS movement ahead of the “Palestine Expo” exhibition. Rejecting UKLFI’s claim FOA said: “Friends of Al-Aqsa wishes to make it clear that it has received no such communication from any institutes, authorities or companies.”
In its press release countering UKLFI and its campaign to supress free speech, FOA revealed that the pro-Israeli lobby group had made no attempt to contact them or any of the other organisers of Palestine Expo.
Raising their concerns over the UKLFI’s attempt to pressure German owners by citing German law to suppress free speech in UK, FOA said: “No German law applies either to the hosting of such an event in the UK or in Germany, even in light of the German parliament’s recent decision to pass a non-binding motion condemning BDS, a move which was itself criticised by many Israeli academics.”
“UKLFI’s failed attempts to close down a legitimate event in London present a disturbing challenge to the rule of law in the UK, while the attempt to enlist a foreign parliament’s motion to restrict freedom of expression undermines the rights of British citizens.”
FOA went on to say that “such a move would also undermine the rights of Israeli citizens like prominent Israeli journalist Gideon Levy and Knesset Member (MK) Dr Youssef Jabareen, both of whom will be speaking at the Palestine Expo.”
This year’s Palestine Expo, which attracts thousands of people, will also include Israeli academic Ilan Pappe and other prominent academics from across the world.
UKLFI is thought to be “one of the quietest yet most influential Israel lobby actors currently operating in Britain”. A profile of the group indicates that since 2011, it has closely monitored Palestine solidarity movements and worked to repress them, often with significant impact. Its targets include academics, students unions, local councils and others that are critical of Israel.
According to Powerbase, a website that provides a free guide to networks of power, lobbying, public relations and the communications, UKLFI held a two-day seminar “jointly with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Israel Embassy in London to combat BDS”.
In what would have been a direct attack on campaign groups and activists, UKLFI is thought to have secured the support of an unnamed MP who had agreed to propose an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act that would have allowed audience members or performers to seek damages from activists and impose injunctions against future protests. Former Liberal Democrat peer Lord Alex Carlile reportedly agreed to back the amendment in the House of Lords.
MEMO contacted Lord Carlile who is one of several patrons of UKLFI and asked if he had any concerns regarding his association with the pro-Israeli lobby group in light of its attempt to muzzle free speech in the UK by applying pressure on German owners of a prestigious British institution.
The office of Lord Carlile acknowledged the email and said that peer was not able to offer any comment on the issue.