Securitising Palestinian Solidarity: The Fight for Democracy and Freedom of Expression

By Dr Madeline-Sophie Abbas (Senior Lecturer in Racism and Anti-Racism at Lancaster University)

Hundreds of thousands of Britons have taken to the streets of London in support of Palestinian rights and to call for a ceasefire in Gaza on successive weekends, with a height of an estimated 300,000 protestors on 11 November 2023. Such efforts have been replicated across the country. Accompanying these protests has been a virulent restaging of the fight for democracy against the purported dangers of extremism.

The Israel-Palestine conflict presents the most politically contentious context currently through which articulations of democracy and the right to freedom of expression and protest are contested, which disproportionately affects British Muslim and Arab populations due to their perceived propensity for ‘extremist’ behaviours, but which also reveals a broader expansion of restrictions to civil society activism and ability to critique the UK state.

This briefing aims to:

  • Introduce Prevent and its criticisms,
  • Explore the implications of the new definition of extremism for civil society mobilisation in support of Palestine,
  • Examine the ways in which democratic engagement and freedom of expression have been undermined, particularly within education amid government demands to present political neutrality – a neutrality that is at the expense of calling out genocide whilst supporting apartheid and human rights violations via the anti-BDS Bill and maintaining ongoing arms sales to Israel that renders neutrality moot.

I conclude that we need to move beyond security framings to foreground human rights. This requires contesting restrictions to freedom of speech that a claim to political neutrality demands, but which actually works in support of state oppression against Palestinians within a culture of fear that naming genocidal violence and occupation will be equated with support for extremism and/or antisemitism that is detrimental not only for Palestinian rights, but advocating for a humane world.

Read the full briefing:

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