‘We’ll keep coming back’: Hackney protesters vow to continue fight for Palestine

Protesters hold up a sign on the Town Hall steps. Photograph: Noora Mykkanen

Protesters have demanded an end to the council pension fund’s investment in companies complicit in the blockade of Palestine.

A crowd of around 100 people gathered at Hackney Town Hall last night to make their feelings known.

Organised by the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC), the protesters accused the council of supporting Israel’s “apartheid and occupation” in Palestine with investments in companies such as defence firm Elbit and construction giant Caterpillar.

PSC has previously claimed the council’s pension fund has £30m invested in such companies – higher than the council’s figure of £2.02m.

The latest demonstration, one of many held during council meetings since 7 October last year, was staged to coincide with the Town Hall’s pensions committee and the arrival of councillors.

Last night’s demonstration. Photograph: Noora Mykkanen

Activist Heather Mendick, one of the PSC organisers, said: “Being here tonight is about bearing witness.

“The council has built a barrier around itself. For example, you can’t say the word ‘apartheid’ in the chamber. That’s blocked on grounds that it’s potentially offensive.

“As a result, it’s very hard to make an impression on them and make them feel the urgency of what’s happening in Palestine every day – 250 people being killed every day by Israel.

“But being here is important in principle, so that we don’t just allow them to carry on with a committee that’s investing £30m in the occupation, in apartheid as if it’s nothing, as if no one cares.”

She said: “Hackney stands with Palestine.”

Mendick, who is Jewish, said there were “quite a few Jewish people here tonight”.

“When things are done in your name, you have a certain responsibility to act,” she added.

Green councillor Alastair Binnie-Lubbock told the crowd the council should promise that the pensions committee “invests in our future” instead of fossil fuels, arms, and companies “complicit in the occupation and apartheid”.

Hackney activist Sulekha Hassan vowed that the protesters would “keep coming back” for every major council meeting.

“If our councillors and our council cannot find a backbone to denounce genocide and racism, we should not allow them to be our representatives,” she told the crowd.

A protester called Paul was passing through when he decided to stop by to add his voice amid the “horrific situation” in Gaza.

The demonstrators later joined the pensions committee in the Town Hall chamber, where they chanted “shame on you” and “you have blood on your hands”, causing the meeting to be briefly adjourned while the public gallery was emptied.

Publicly, there was no reaction from the committee chair Cllr Kam Adams.

Following a PSC protest in November, Cllr Adams said: “We recognise the grief, fear and anger it (the conflict in Gaza and Israel) is causing.”

He wrote to campaigners at the time to explain that “the council takes very seriously the right of its residents to participate in the democratic process. We also have a duty to foster good community relations, which is part of our public sector equality duty.

“At such a difficult time for so many people, we are concerned that any perception that we are centring one set of voices on this subject could damage community cohesion.”

Adams also said previously that the council’s pension fund has “passive investments” worth £1.9m in “companies conducting business activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territories”.

He added: “We do not directly own any stocks or shares in individual companies.”

He explained that even the investment fund manager does not control which stocks are included in a passive fund.

Hackney Council has been approached for comment.