Louise Ellman, Chair of the All-Party Britain-Israel Parliamentary Group and Labour (Co-op) MP for Liverpool, Riverside
This June, thousands of protestors will march through central London waving the AK-47-adorned flag of a terrorist organisation, calling for the destruction of the Jewish state. They will be able to do so through a legal loophole which must be closed.
For years, the Iranian-sponsored Al-Quds Day march has, effectively, been a Hezbollah solidarity protest, giving a prominent platform to the most extreme and anti-Semitic elements of the pro-Palestine movement.
The director of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, which organises the march, claimed at last year’s protest that “Zionists” were responsible for the Grenfell Tower fire and that “rabbis who belong to the Board of Deputies…have got blood on their hands.”
Hezbollah’s flag will undoubtedly be present at this year’s protest again. That is because the UK Government currently maintains a distinction – entirely without factual basis – between Hezbollah’s political and military wings, only proscribing the latter. Those flying the Hezbollah flag can therefore claim they are only “expressing support” for the former.
The distinction is entirely artificial.
Hezbollah’s Deputy Secretary General, Naim Qassem, stated, in 2009, that the “same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel.” And, in 2012, he further stated that: “We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other. Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, are in the service of the resistance and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.”
The UK government’s decision to persevere with this act of political fiction has more severe consequences than mere flag-waving. Most importantly, it hinders the fight against terrorism by allowing Hezbollah to circumvent anti-terror sanctions. As Dr Matthew Levitt, a Hezbollah specialist and director of the counterterrorism programme at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, has written on the EU’s identical policy: “The irony is that by limiting the designation to Hezbollah’s “military wing”, the EU effectively undermined its ability to seize any funds under this asset forfeiture regime. Hezbollah accounts in Europe are not likely to list as account holders ‘Hezbollah military wing’. Legally, any funds tied to Hezbollah but not expressly linked to its military wing remain untouchable in Europe.”
The UK’s current position further fails to deter Hezbollah from operating on UK soil. The government has long acknowledged that the group has a small, but overt presence in the UK through its ‘Foreign Relations Department’.
Failing to fully proscribe Hezbollah also tells Britain’s Jews that their security is not taken seriously. Hezbollah are the reason Jewish schools, charities and synagogues have such intense security, as these procedures were initiated after the Islamist group’s bombing of the AMIA Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires in 1994, which killed 85 people.
We must act now to rein in Hezbollah when they seek to wreak further damage in the Middle East, too. The group are currently fighting as an Iranian proxy on behalf of Assad’s regime forces in Syria. But they will soon turn their attention – and their arsenal of over 100,000 missiles – to Israel, whose destruction is their foremost mission. The UK must take a firmer line on Hezbollah now to make clear than any act of aggression against Israel will not be tolerated, before such escalation happens.
Against that background, the government’s claim that full proscription could destabilise Lebanon does not hold water. Hezbollah is the reason Lebanon is unstable. The group assassinated Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, and Hezbollah supporters recently celebrated gains in parliamentary elections by placing that same machine-gun adorned flag on Hariri’s statue in Beirut. If the UK government wants to help Lebanon, it should not endorse the presence of an Islamist terrorist group in the country’s government.
Full proscription of Hezbollah is thus both common sense policy and an urgent necessity. Such a move would help us fight terror; significantly curtail Hezbollah’s ability to operate in and out of the UK; tell anti-Semites that they are not welcome on our streets; and send a clear message that the UK government will not tolerate war-mongering against Israel.
Proscription does not require any new legislative change; it is already in the Home Secretary’s powers. He should exercise it immediately.