Palestine protest leader says James Cleverly's call for activists to end Gaza marches is 'absurd'

28 February 2024, 19:14

'It's absurd for him to think it's his place to advise a protest movement on when they should...'

By Kit Heren

The leader of one of the largest groups of pro-Palestine protesters in the UK has slammed the Home Secretary for an "absurd" call to end marches in London.

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Ben Jamal, who leads the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, said that it wasn't James Cleverly's place "to advise a protest movement on when they should or should not be protesting".

Mr Cleverly said on Wednesday that he was unclear on the aim of the protests, which have been going on most weekends since October 7, when Hamas committed their atrocity in Israel, leading to a war that has killed around 30,000 people.

Mr Jamal told LBC's Tom Swarbrick: "It's strange, I would say perhaps a little absurd for a senior politician, not leastly, Home Secretary, to think it's their place to advise a protest movement on when they should or should not be protesting."

He added: "I would say this, his remarks are not that surprising, because they are indicative of a government that barely tolerates protests, doesn't seem to regard protest in the way it should be regarded, as a fundamental right.

Read more: Home Office unveils £31m security package as Cleverly vows to 'protect MPs from intimidation'

Read more: Gaza protests have cost police more than £25m as MPs warn demonstrations put other force priorities at risk

James Cleverly on Wednesday
James Cleverly on Wednesday. Picture: Alamy

"And a fundamental part of the democratic system is the way that people hold their leaders to account alongside exercising their vote."

Mr Jamal said that the protests would stop "when the reason for the protests stops".

John Healy, Labour's Shadow Defence Secretary, also weighed in to the debate on Wednesday, telling LBC's Andrew Marr that he did not back Mr Cleverly's comments.

It comes as Israel prepares to raid the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where over a million people are taking shelter from the war, having been funnelled their by the IDF. Fears have been raised over the safety of these civilians in the upcoming ground offensive.

Israel is seeking to rescue the remaining hostages taken by Hamas, and wipe out the terrorist group who have run Gaza for over 15 years.

Ben Jamal
Ben Jamal. Picture: Alamy

Mr Jamal led a large protest group to Parliament on Wednesday to call for MPs to vote for a ceasefire in Gaza. That was the same night that Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle broke with convention by allowing a Labour amendment to an SNP motion.

He told Tom: "People won't stop protesting because they're appalled at what they're saying. They want human rights to be respected. And they're appalled at our government's response to the situation".

Mr Jamal added that "people are marching because they don't see the government taking effective action."

Several MPs have said that they fear for their safety because of intimidation from protesters. Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood was targeted by activists at his home.

Pro-Palestine protests have been going on for nearly 5 months
Pro-Palestine protests have been going on for nearly 5 months. Picture: Alamy

Mr Jamal said he did not endorse protesters going to MPs' houses. "That's an issue of privacy and respect for the privacy of members of parliament and their family," he said.

"What we're actually seeing at the moment is a conflation of what should be straightforward for everyone about respect for people's homes, with an injunction that actually the government should look carefully at stopping protests outside parliament, outside council chambers and outside MPs offices. We don't accept that at all.

"Those are absolutely legitimate places for peaceful protests to take place and any attempt to abrogate the right to do that would be a fundamental assault upon our democratic freedom."

The Home Office has said that it will provide increased security provisions for MPs to "protect democratic processes from intimidation, disruption or subversion," as part of a £31 million security package.

James O'Brien 'fearful' about James Cleverly 'tightening restrictions' on protests

Under the plans, all elected MPs and candidates will have a dedicated named police contact they can discuss security matters with, officials said.

Ministers have said they are also thinking about increasing the notice that protest organisers have to give the police before a demonstration.

Mr Cleverly told the Times: "The question I ask myself is: 'What are these protests genuinely hoping to achieve?'

"They have made a point and they made it very, very loudly and I'm not sure that these marches every couple of weeks add value to the argument.

"They're not really saying anything new."

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