Israel-Hamas conflict is “generational moment” of radicalisation, police chief warns

Amid warnings that the Israel-Hamas conflict is a “generational radicalising moment”, private security is being deployed to protect MPs who refuse to comply with demands from pro-Palestine activists that they back an immediate, permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

Amid warnings that the Israel-Hamas conflict is a “generational radicalising moment”, private security is being deployed to protect MPs who refuse to comply with demands from pro-Palestine activists that they back an immediate, permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

As reported by the Telegraph, the Home Office, police, parliamentary authorities and security services are intensifying work to ensure security for MPs, building on procedures triggered by the murder of Sir David Amess by an Isis supporter in October 2021.

As well as installing security measures at MPs’ homes and constituency offices, and the deployment of uniformed police officers at key events, private security operatives have been assigned for guard duties and close protection where intelligence suggests there is a significant risk.

The number of MPs’ surgeries and events requiring this level of protection has risen substantially since Israel’s military response to Hamas’s October 7th terrorist attack on its southern Kibbutzim. Hundreds of MPs have also been provided with an overhauled package of security training from specialist advisers.

The news follows a recent spate of incidents in which politicians have been targeted by pro-Palestinian – and in some cases pro-Hamas – demonstrators, either for their pro-Israeli views, or for failing to call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

Earlier this month, former armed forces minister Tobias Ellwood warned “the bar for acceptable treatment is falling” after a large pro-Palestinian crowd gathered outside his home to hold up placards depicting the MP with the words “complicit in genocide” across his face, while also filming themselves chanting support for Iran-backed Houthi rebels who have explicitly declared British interests as “legitimate targets” and attacked British-registered commercial shipping vessels in the region. Police attended Mr Ellwood’s address and advised him against returning home after the activists lined an adjoining road for several hours.

Another Conservative MP, Mike Freer, recently announced his decision to step down at the next election, citing the abuse, harassment, intimidation and death threats he has received from Islamic extremists since first being elected in 2010 as the MP for the North London constituency of Finchley and Golders Green; that is, the constituency with the highest number of Jewish voters in Britain.

The staunchly pro-Israel Justice Minister said the “final straw” was an incident that came last Christmas Eve, when his office was set ablaze in an arson attack that Freer describes as having “melted the phones, melted the computer screens, and caused the ceiling to collapse”. In the aftermath of that attack, Freer received an email describing him as “the kind of person who deserved to be set alight”. Following police advice, the MP now wears a knife-proof vest when attending constituency events.

Last week, in a debate on rising antisemitism in the UK, Sir Michael Ellis, the Conservative former attorney general, noted the cross-party nature of the problem while flagging the horrendous threats levelled at MPs as a result of the Gaza conflict. “The aggressive hounding by protesters of MPs, especially Labour MPs out campaigning… is a real threat to the democratic process,” he said.

The day after that debate, the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, broke with Parliamentary convention by allowing Labour MPs to vote for an amendment to an SNP motion calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Sir Lindsay has since explained that he did so because of genuine fears over the safety of Labour MPs who have faced threats from pro-Palestine supporters over Labour’s hesitation on calling for a ceasefire.

In the lead-up to the debate, the SNP had been hoping to split the Parliamentary Labour Party by tabling a motion calling for an “immediate” ceasefire, which the Party opposes but which some Labour MPs support. However, the Speaker then allowed MPs to vote on Labour’s amendment to the motion, which called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” but made a longer ceasefire contingent on Hamas releasing the Israeli hostages. He did so despite being warned by the House of Commons clerk that to do so would break with Parliamentary convention for such opposition day debates.

According to Sir Lindsay’s line of reasoning, in the absence of being able to vote on their own party’s amendment, loyal Labour MPs would have felt obliged to vote against the SNP motion and that, in turn, could have led to violent reprisals against them and their families by Muslim extremists.

Following Sir Lindsay’s extraordinary decision, Rishi Sunak said that Parliament had sent a “very dangerous signal” that “intimidation works”, and warned that legitimate protests were being “hijacked by extremists to promote and glorify terrorism”.

Separately, a senior counter-terror officer who leads the Prevent programme has said that the number of suspected extremists flagged had risen by 13% since Oct 7th, with the figures increasing around news of Israeli hostages and pro-Palestine protests.

“We have always seen the impact of world events closer to home, and our concern is that this will create a long-term increase in risk in the UK and beyond,” Detective Chief Superintendent Maria Lovegrove, who heads the police arm of the Prevent counter-extremism programme, said, adding that although the rise is primarily being driven by concerns over Islamist extremism, the far-Right is also now mobilising in an attempt to use the war as a “divisive narrative”.

She continued: “We’re not waiting for something to happen, we’re not blinkered on how something in another part of the world can manifest itself in increased threats here. We are trying to flatten the curve, before it becomes a generational radicalising moment.”