Chants and symbols may also be grounds for criminal charges, the government told police
Police in England and Wales should treat Palestinian flags, chants and other symbols displayed in certain contexts as hate speech, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said in a letter of instruction sent on Tuesday.
“It is not just explicit pro-Hamas symbols and chants that are cause for concern,” Braverman wrote in the letter. “I would encourage police to consider whether chants such as: ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ should be understood as an expression of a violent desire to see Israel erased from the world, and whether its use in certain contexts may amount to a racially aggravated section 5 public order offense.”
“Context is crucial. Behaviors that are legitimate in some circumstances, for example the waving of a Palestinian flag, may not be legitimate such as when intended to glorify acts of terrorism,” Braverman added, urging “swift and appropriate enforcement action” against those who “drive through Jewish neighbourhoods, or single out Jewish members of the public” and “aggressively chant or wave pro-Palestinian symbols” at them.
Police should deal with any protests that could “exacerbate community tensions by way of offensive placards, chants, or behaviors that could be construed as incitement or harassment,” Braverman concluded.
Her letter comes after a large crowd of people rallied in London on Monday evening outside the Israeli embassy in Kensington, chanting “Free Palestine!” and “Israel is a terrorist state!” Three people were arrested at that protest.
Meanwhile, around 2,000 people attended a vigil for Israel in Westminster, while Prime Minister Rishi Sunak went to a prayer service at Finchley United Synagogue in north London.
On Tuesday, Sunak vowed that anyone supporting Hamas would be “held to account,” noting that it was a “proscribed terrorist organization” in the UK.
Police had been “given very clear guidance and advice from the government to do everything that they can to keep the community safe,” Sunak said during a visit to Staffordshire, and will “clamp down on any behavior that falls foul of the law.”
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has called on supporters of Palestine to stay home, saying that their demonstrations cause “distress” in what he described as “a difficult, delicate situation.”
The UK has declared full support for Israel in the conflict with Hamas, which broke out on Saturday when the Palestinian militant group that runs much of Gaza fired rockets and sent commandos into Israeli territory.