PSC condemns Chelsea and Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust’s decision to remove an art exhibit created by children in Gaza after pressure from the extremist lobbying group UK Lawyers for Israel. We call upon the Trust to immediately reverse this decision and restore the Artwork.
This decision represents one of the most egregious examples of pressure being exerted on public bodies, cultural and educational institutions to suppress Palestinian voices, expressions of Palestinian identity and the facts of Palestinian history, by conflating them with antisemitism. In the last few years, a council has refused to allow a local park to be used as a space to gather to raise money for children in Gaza. Elsewhere an art gallery has removed a statement of solidarity with Palestinians from an exhibit focussed on global human rights abuses.
The artwork in question at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, was a joint project between local Chelsea schools and schools in Gaza and featured artwork produced by Palestinian children depicting their lives and histories, then transferred to pottery plates by local children.
UK Lawyers for Israel claimed the exhibit made Jewish people feel vulnerable and harassed citing in particular a plate which contained an image of Al-Aqsa mosque with a Palestinian flag flying above it. In wilful ignorance of the religious significance of al Aqsa to Palestinian Muslims and Muslims around the world, UKLFI asserted that, “It is offensive for Jewish people to see a Palestinian flag over their holiest site”. As pointed out by the British Palestinian committee in their letter to the Trust, “The implication underlying this and previous complaints by UKLFI is that Palestinian symbols of identity, for example the Palestinian flag, are inherently “offensive”, which, in itself, is deeply prejudiced and a specific form of discrimination against Palestinians.”
UK Lawyers for Israel is notorious for pressurising public bodies or regulatory authorities to silence Palestinian voices, or the voices of those advocating for Palestinian rights , often with letters threatening legal action. Its targets have included academics, student unions, architects and local councils. It is also notorious for its hosting of meetings with extremist speakers including representatives of Regavim, widely regarded as an extremist group, which advocates for the violation of International Law by promoting Israeli settlement of the whole of the West Bank. Regavim denies that there is any Israeli occupation and is active in petitioning the Israeli courts for the demolition of Palestinian properties. Its co-founder, MK Bezalel Smotrich, is now a minister in Netanyahu’s government and is notorious for racist and homophobic remarks, previously describing LGBTQ+ Jews as “beasts”.
The illegitimate conflation of expressions of Palestinian identity and advocacy for Palestinian rights with antisemitism has now received such endorsement across the political mainstream that it is creating a climate where public bodies targeted with the false accusation of racism feel obliged to yield to the demand for censorship. This is an attack not just on the rights of Palestinians but on broader principles of freedom of expression. The Hospital Trust needs to act now to reverse this decision, stand up to the bullying of UKLFI and restore the artwork.