LONDON—As British parliamentarians debated an outright ban on Hezbollah in the UK, with several speakers questioning the British government’s ongoing distinction between the group’s military operations and its so-called “political wing,” some Labour MPs have been advised not to push for the move because party leaders want to “encourage” the terrorist group “down an effective democratic path”.
The briefing advises backbenchers: “There is a balance between making absolutely clear our abhorrence of using violence to achieve political ends and at the same time encouraging organisations down an effective democratic path.’’ It adds: “Full proscription could be a move against dialogue and meaningful peace negotiations in the Middle East.”
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn described Hezbollah, and the Hamas terror group, as “friends” during a parliamentary meeting in 2009.
The debate on a motion to ban of the Lebanese Shiite group was organized in the House of Commons by Joan Ryan, a Labour MP and chair of the party’s Friends of Israel group. He noted Hezbollah’s “anti-Semitic ideology that seeks the destruction of Israel” and urged the government to add the group’s political wing to the list of proscribed organisations. He slammed what she described as an “artificial distinction’’ between political and military wings,” adding that it was “time to end this dangerous game of semantics.”
Since 2008 the UK proscribes only the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.
According to Labour Friends of Israel, the group “has long called for the complete proscription of the terrorist group Hezbollah. Currently, the UK only proscribes Hezbollah’s ‘military wing,’ but not its ‘political wing.’ The UK’s distinction is not one that Hezbollah itself recognizes. Its 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.’
The group added: “This false distinction means that Hezbollah flags can be flown on the streets of Britain,” LFI wrote. “This is most notably seen in London during the annual al-Quds Day parade. Last June, LFI vice chair Louise Ellman wrote to the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, calling for Hezbollah’s proscription as well as asking London Mayor Sadiq Khan to review the policing of the event. In November, she met with the Metropolitan Police to discuss our concerns.”
According to the 2000 Terrorism Act, the Home Secretary may proscribe an organisation as “concerned in terrorism” if it commits or participates in acts of terrorism; prepares for terrorism; promotes or encourages terrorism (including the unlawful glorification of terrorism). Under UK law, financial assets of proscribed organisations may be subject to freezing and seizure and it is a criminal offence to be a member of or invite support for proscribed organisations.
The US State Department declared Hezbollah a terrorist organisation in 1997 and the US has imposed sanctions on the group since 2001. The Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council voted to classify Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation earlier this year. Like the UK, the EU only proscribes the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation