The English Defence League (EDL) has attracted some attention in Israel because of the incongruity of non-Jews waving Israeli flags at demonstrations dubbed “far right” by the press and the Israeli Embassy in London’s virtually unprecedented step of condemning a pro-Israel local group in another country. The irony is compounded by the fact that this happened immediately after the EDL held a large pro-Israel rally outside the embassy.
This distancing was presumably motivated by the attacks on the EDL in much of the British media and fear that failure to denounce the group will increase anti-Israel feelings in the United Kingdom, already at an all-time high. In fact, however, the people attacking the EDL are already Israel’s enemies while this group is one of its few friends nowadays. Moreover, the accusations of the EDL being a racist or fascist group are simply not true.
Indeed, the slander against the EDL is another example of how special treatment for Islam and radical Islamists compared to the repression of forces criticizing them so often prevails in Britain today. Here’s a little case study of how things work.
On December 11 the EDL held a demonstration in Peterborough. The EDL proclaims itself as “dedicated to peacefully protesting against radical Islam” and on that December day they largely fulfilled this role. Around 2,000 people marched through the town and listened to speeches. A handful of counter-demonstrators claiming the EDL are “fascists and racists” were kept at bay by the police. The day passed with fewer arrests than a typical Saturday night in any English town.
But not according to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. Ten days later, an EDL leader was arrested and charged under Section 4b of the Public Order Act with “Racial Aggravation” in relation to a speech he gave in Peterborough. That speech can be viewed on YouTube here:
One doesn't need to condone the speech’s content or agree with it to acknowledge that it is a normal expression of free speech. But there are also additional points of interest to this case.
The man who gave the speech is Guramit Singh, a Sikh whose family comes from India. During his talk he noted that he has been called a "racist" for criticizing Islam, though he is from the same ancestry as Pakistani or Indian Muslims. Indeed, many or most Sikhs are actually the descendants of Muslims.
Singh also explained that he was particularly passionate that day because it was the anniversary of his grandfather being killed fighting in the British army during World War Two. He was angry that some Islamists burned poppies, the symbol of honoring Britain's war dead on November 11, British Remembrance Day. This is an emotional issue in the UK. I don’t need to point out to readers in Israel how we would feel if the Israeli authorities allowed aggressive Islamic demonstrations outside military cemeteries on Yom Hazikaron.
Singh says nothing trying to inspire violence, whereas it has been shown that some mosque sermons in the UK are directly inflammatory (including derogatory statements about Christianity and Judaism). I wouldn't be in favor of arresting Muslims who said something I don't like or agree with either, though I'd be happy to see the statements publicized so more people are aware of the things being said.
But consider the double standards at play. When a television program played examples of mosque sermons demonizing Christians and Jews a few years ago the police filed a complaint with the media watchdog against the program makers, and nothing against the sermon-givers. The program makers eventually sued the police and won considerable damages.
Meanwhile another EDL leader, who goes by the pseudonym of Tommy Robinson, has been arrested on three separate and apparently trumped-up offenses. One of these is related to the Remembrance Day poppy burning incident. The first charge is that when Robinson grabbed a flag from an Islamist protestor during the struggle the pole might have accidentally hit a police officer. At his first appearance in court on November 22, the judge expressed surprise that the police had placed restrictions on his freedom of association and voided them.
In addition, Mr. Robinson has been charged with some vague financial irregularities. The authorities have frozen his bank accounts, virtually shut down his business, and demand that he ask permission before he can spend any money to pay for his living expenses. He and his pregnant fiancée was arrested by heavily armed police. He has made a detailed accusation that the police have been shopping for informants to give false testimony against him.
One tactic being used against the EDL is a court-imposed “Anti-Social Behaviour Order” or ASBO. In one case, two men were ordered not to engage in any EDL-related activity—including even posting anything on the Internet, for ten years. In effect, this is a specially created law used only against the EDL in which the rights to free speech and peaceful protest are simply taken away from them.
Why is there so little protest against this repression? The answer is that once demonized the EDL and its members can simply be deprived of democratic rights. This is bad enough without Israel’s government or Jewish groups adding to the slander and untruth about the most visibly active pro-Israel organization in the United Kingdom today.
What makes all of this even more ironic is that radical Islamist groups, including those engaged in incitement against Jews and Israel, are treated with kid gloves by a police force and court system that is literally too frightened to take them on. Here’s one example: recently, a group of extremists on trial for doing massive damage to a factory making goods for Israel were released after the judge told the jury to find them not guilty since, he said, conditions in the Gaza Strip were so terrible as to justify their vandalism.
The erosion of civil liberties combined with what at times seems like an anti-Israel lynch-mob atmosphere especially in much of the media and on campuses cannot be good for British Jews or for Israel.
*) Brian of London made aliyah in 2009 after deciding that the anti-Israel lynch-mob atmosphere in London would not be good for his children. By day he runs a business in Tel Aviv in addition to writing and broadcasting on the Internet on sites such as Israellycool and Israpundit.