UK's terror ban on Hamas: a Tory love letter to Israeli occupation in Palestine
One week after the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel called the LSE students' protest against Israeli Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely anti-Semitic and threatening to British Jews, the British government decided to declare Hamas a terror group.
The decision followed Patel's announcement at the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C. that a ban on the entire movement was in order. "We've taken the view that we can no longer disaggregate the sort of military and political side," she said to reporters.
Correlating the decision with Hamas' "fundamental and rabid anti-Semitism," Patel said the movement will be proscribed under the Terrorism Act, effectively making the expression of support to the movement illegal and punishable by up to 14 years in prison.
Hamas' military wing has been on the UK terror list since 2001. But that has not had much effect on either Hamas' strength or its support.
"Here, neither the settler-colonial dimension of the conflict nor the fact that many of the pro-Palestine activists are Jewish seems to matter"
Even though the movement operates across the world, it never targeted Jewish-Israeli interests outside the conflict zone. Its 1988 Charter - which Western governments use as a basis to ascribe anti-Semitism to the movement - limits the struggle with Zionism within the geographical borders of historical Palestine.
But the boundaries set by the movement are not always immune to some of its officials' extremist views. In 2019, Hamas' Political Bureau's member Fathi Hammad, as he participated in the Gaza Great March of Return, called upon Hamas to expand the struggle against Zionism beyond the boundaries of historical Palestine. Hammad went as far as inciting Palestinians against Jews abroad "if the blockade on Gaza hasn’t been lifted."
The statement provoked a wave of criticism by Palestinians who described Hammad as impulsive and thoughtless and he was accused of being in breach of Hamas' principles that distinguish between Jews as a religious group and part of the "People of the Book," and Zionism as an aggressive political ideology responsible for the dispossession of the Palestinian people.
Within the new definition of anti-Semitism which has been popularised by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and embraced by most European governments, Hammad's comments are interpreted in strict anti-Semitic terms and undoubtedly are. But, they, as have others, allow the IHRA to nitpick instances in the conflict to conflate Judaism with Zionism and vice versa; therefore framing critical views of Israel - perceived as the "collective Jew" - as anti-Semitic.
Here, neither the settler-colonial dimension of the conflict nor the fact that many of the pro-Palestine activists are Jewish seems to matter.
Tainting Hamas as an anti-Semitic organisation disregards the fact that banning the movement or lack thereof has absolutely no effect on British or European Jews. What is more, forcing Hamas into a Eurocentric debate on anti-Semitism is non-contextual and devious.
For the British government, one can speculate, the issue goes beyond protecting British Jews. Criminalising Hamas has short-term objectives that serve the current Tory government, and long-term objectives that will ultimately strengthen Israel's strategic stance in Europe.
In the short term, the ban helps the government discredit the opposition, mainly the Labour Party, by appearing as the sole guardian of Jewish welfare in the UK - a sensitive issue for many Brits. This is despite evidence suggesting that anti-Semitism within the Tory party is rife and often ignored or downplayed.
Tory MP, Jacob Rees-Mogg, described in 2019 two fellow Jewish Tory MPs, Oliver Letwin and John Bercow, as "Illuminati who are taking the powers to themselves," echoing a trope of "Jewish criminality" used by the Nazis and their sympathisers.
Rees-Mogg made no apology, and when asked to condemn him, Boris Johnson and other senior Tories remained silent.
Additionally, criminalising Hamas is crucial in fostering a range of political and economic interests with Israel. Espionage technology and "countering Islamic fundamentalism" are among them.
There is also the psychological satisfaction - racist gratification - in incriminating an Islamic movement representing a worldview perceived as antagonistic or inferior to Western values.
📢 Home Secretary @pritipatel is taking action to ban Hamas in its entirety in the UK.— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) November 19, 2021
This will see anyone found guilty of joining or supporting the terrorist group facing up to 14 years in prison.
Read more https://t.co/usQVCPmHgI pic.twitter.com/wAQ4BhefUS
None of the above, however, is likely to inflict significant harm upon Hamas. Examples in Canada and the United States show that banning Hamas in its entirety has proven ineffective in weakening the movement's operational capacity. Why would the UK be any different?
Hamas does not function within the UK legal or financial system or has diplomatic ties with the UK government, albeit low-profile contacts were reportedly made between Hamas and European and UK officials. Hamas is a non-state actor that does not fully operate within the normalised standards of international relations and, therefore, it cannot be "disciplined" in the traditional state-centric methods.
As for the long-term impact, the Hamas ban is not British-centric, but mostly an Israeli one.
The Israeli army has killed at least 77 Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the beginning of 2021, a non-government organisation reported on Sunday...https://t.co/n8G3HbE3Z0— The New Arab (@The_NewArab) November 22, 2021
According to Haaretz, putting Hamas on the terror list was operationalised after Israel's PM Naftali Bennett asked Boris Johnson to take the step at the Glasgow climate summit.
Israel is aware that labelling Hamas as a terrorist organisation may not resolve Israel's dilemma in Gaza, but the incrimination of any form of support to it in Europe may lead to limiting the impact of the Palestine solidarity movement as a whole.
The critical key is in Patel's phrase "expressing support to Hamas." The phrase is generic and subject to interpretation. What does qualify as support to Hamas?
An unprincipled interpretation of "support," particularly within the Eurocentric conceptualisations of anti-Semitism, is likely to be politically biased and will have dire consequences on the Palestine cause and the scope of its advocacy.
The Palestinian Mission in London was quick to voice such concerns by condemning the UK's decision, saying that the British government's move was retrograde and unhelpful to the two-state solution. The Palestinian Foreign Ministry described it as unjustified aggression against Palestinians, especially coming from the country that issued the Balfour Declaration.
The fact, however, remains that there is a drastic difference between anti-Semitism in the European context, a situation where Jews are singled out and oppressed as a minority, and the situation in Palestine where Jewish self-determination has been implemented through terrorism, ethnic cleansing, and expansionism, and is currently maintained through military occupation and denial of Palestinian human rights. This is aggravated with the criminalisation of the Palestinian right to even resist.
"The right to resist and be free is morally legitimate and protected under international law, and that transcends the colonialist's religion or ethnicity"
Many Palestinians and their supporters have strong criticism of Hamas' methods and ideological worldview, but, one way or another, Hamas emerged in the complicated context of the fight for human rights and justice in Palestine, a context shaped by Israel's atrocities. Does that make us all anti-Semites? Does that incriminate all of us under British law? The defamation campaigns waged against many of us, Palestinian and pro-Palestine activists, Jewish or otherwise, myself included, by Zionist and pro-Israel apologists sure frame it this way.
But that is the way it has always been, narrative and counter-narratives. Because, at the end of the day, a one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, and in the Palestinian-Israeli context what has come to be defined without nuance or specificity as anti-Semitic involves legitimate anti-colonial struggle by universal definitions.
It would have made no difference for Palestinians if the occupiers of their land were Christian, Muslim, or even Hindu. The right to resist and be free is morally legitimate and protected under international law, and that transcends the colonialist's religion or ethnicity.
Dr Emad Moussa is a researcher and writer who specialises in the politics and political psychology of Palestine/Israel.
Follow him on Twitter: @emadmoussa
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.