IHRC has repeated its call for Barry Gardiner to apologise for asking the organisation to remove Palestine flags from its shop window after the Labour MP refused an earlier request to do so on the grounds that it sought to impinge on its right to freedom of expression.
Claiming to be acting on behalf of a local constituent, the MP for Brent North walked into IHRC’s headquarters in Wembley on 14 April asking for the flags to be taken down as they were causing tension in the area and were insensitive owing to the presence of a kosher bakery next door.
Rather than apologise, Mr. Gardiner defended his actions in a letter dated 19 April. He wrote: “In my view such an act was bound to cause offense. However, our freedom of speech is precisely a freedom to offend. I had believed it might be worth speaking to your colleagues in the IHRC shop to urge them to behave in what I considered a reasonable and non-confrontational manner for the sake of harmonious community relations. Sadly they and you appear to be unwilling and have chosen to assert your rights within the law. I guarantee you that I will defend your right to do so, but you cannot expect me to applaud what I believe to be a poor decision. Nor can you expect me to apologise for hoping you might have responded more positively.”
IHRC has now written back to the MP asking him once more to apologise for his actions. Since his impromptu appearance, IHRC has been visited by the police who have also asked for the flags to be removed, this time on the grounds that they may invite attacks on the organisation’s staff or premises. It has also set off a whispering campaign in which IHRC has been accused of kicking the MP off its premises.
In the letter IHRC reminds Mr. Gardiner that he was guilty of making an assumption that the Jewish bakery next door actually finds the flags to be a cause of inter-community tensions.
“We are not sure what your point is unless you are claiming that our neighbouring shop is pro-apartheid and or racist towards Palestinians, and therefore will find the flag offensive. Is that the case? You are doubtless aware that these flags and similar placards and slogans are routinely carried in the UK, Israel and around the world by Jewish activists?”, says the letter.
IHRC continues to display the flags in its shop front and will not be bullied by politicians or the authorities into backing down over its support of Palestinian rights, especially given that bullying is increasingly being used as a tactic by the pro-Israel lobby to silence critics of Israel.
The letter reiterates the point that Mr Gardiner has failed to act on complaints by Muslims in Brent North about repeated instances of Islamophobia.
IHRC is an NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.
Islamic Human Rights Commission
PO Box 598
Telephone: (+44) 20 8904 4222