Palestine supporters condemn ‘shocking’ placards as pro-Israeli group gatecrashes Town Hall rally

Complaints were made about th placards being held up by pro-Israel activists. Photograph: PSC

Three people were arrested outside Hackney Town Hall last night as pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli activists congregated ahead of a politically sensitive council meeting.

The protests took place as councillors inside the chamber decided against divesting stocks held by the council’s pension fund in an Israeli arms company.

The Metropolitan Police confirmed that two people, a 25-year-old man and a 51-year-old woman, were detained on suspicion of causing racially or religiously aggravated harassment, alarm of distress.

A 59-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of causing fear or provoking violence due to threatening behaviour.

All three were taken to an east London police station before being bailed pending further enquiries.

It has yet to be confirmed if those arrested were pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli protesters.

Police presence was heavy at yesterday’s gathering, with officers ensuring the two groups were kept apart.

The pro-Palestinian crowd was significantly larger than the pro-Israeli group, which was made up of approximately 20 people.

The Citizen spoke to a number of pro-Israeli protesters, most of whom admitted they were not Hackney residents but had come to support “Israel’s right to defend itself”.

The two sets of protesters were kept apart by police. Photograph: Maya Sall

One person, draped in an Israeli flag, held up a placard likening the pro-Palestinian supporters to members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The sign read ‘Covering your face be like’, with two KKK members pictured below.

A neighbouring placard held by a pro-Israeli supporter read ‘Global Intifada = London Bombings 2005’.

Complaints were made to police at the protest about the KKK placard, with one officer replying: “I’ll look into it”.

The Citizen asked the Met if the person holding the placard was one of those arrested, but the force refused to confirm or deny.

“From our point of view, these banners were the epitome of hate speech,” said Sussan Rassoulie, secretary of Hackney’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

“Likening the traditional dress of some Muslim communities, or the choice of dress by women generally, to the actions of the murderous and racist Ku Klux Klan is beyond reprehensible.

“We think the police should have picked up on that without us pointing it out to them.”

Cllr Alastair Binnie-Lubbock, co-leader of Hackney Green Party, condemned the placard: “It’s implication is incredibly Islamophobic.

“This behaviour and sign don’t represent the morals and values of the people of Hackney.”

“It’s seen in stark contrast to the peaceful Palestine encampment and campaign,” he continued.

“To come and counter-protest in such a way, when the pro-Palestinian, pro-divestment protesters are participating in the democratic process and asking for humanity and peace, is shocking.”

Martin Sugarman, chair of Hackney’s twinning relationship with Haifa, an Israeli town, defended the placard, labelling it a “valid comparison between BDS [the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement] and racist KKK”.

He accused those who made the complaints of being a “namby pamby woke person… upset by a valid sign” and said their objection to it is “the height of hypocrisy”.

Hackney Council has been approached for comment and is expected to provide a response tomorrow morning.