On 25 February, the United Kingdom announced that it would fully proscribe Hezbollah. Previously, it had only proscribed the “military wing” and the external security unit of the Lebanese terrorist group and not its “political wing”.
The distinction was no more than a diplomatic tool. Even Hezbollah itself has dismissed separate “wings” talk, as one can see in this thorough assessment of the issue by the Community Security Trust (CST), the group that protects British Jews.
Announcing the ban, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, said:
Hizballah is continuing in its attempts to destabilase the fragile situation in the Middle East – and we are no longer able to distinguish between their already banned military wing and the political party. Because of this, I have taken the decision to proscribe the group in its entirety.
The Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, added these remarks:
We are staunch supporters of a stable and prosperous Lebanon. We cannot however be complacent when it comes to terrorism – it is clear the distinction between Hizballah’s military and political wings does not exist, and by proscribing Hizballah in all its forms, the government is sending a clear signal that its destabilising activities in the region are totally unacceptable and detrimental to the UK’s national security.
British Jewish groups greeted the news. In a joint statement, the CST, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and the Jewish Leadership Council said:
We welcome the Home Secretary’s move to proscribe Hizballah in full. The Jewish community, including our organisations and leading community newspapers, have long led the call for this ban…Hizballah was responsible for the deaths of 85 people in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community centre in Buenos Aires and remains a threat to Jewish communities around the world, launching deadly attacks against civilians in Israel and Bulgaria and planning for attacks in other places such as Cyprus
So did Sadiq Khan, London’s mayor, a Labour party member and a Muslim:
I have been clear that antisemitism and hate crime has no place whatsoever in our city or in our society.
I wrote to both the previous Home Secretary Amber Rudd and current Home Secretary Sajid Javid to raise my deep concerns about the support shown for Hezbollah at the annual Al Quds march in London.
The fact the Home Secretary has finally listened to our concerns and is taking action is welcome. Banning the political wing is long overdue. It has been exploited as a vehicle for extremist views for far too long, as well as limiting what the police are able to do to crack down on it.
Indeed, at the 2018 Quds Day march in London, demonstrators for Hezbollah used the “wings” distinction to secure impunity.
The reaction was different at the top of the Labour party. Its spokesman questioned the decision and even the motives of the Home Secretary:
Decisions on the proscription of organisations as terror groups are supposed to be made on the advice of civil servants based on clear evidence that those organisations fall foul of the proscription criteria set out in legislation.
The Home Secretary must therefore now demonstrate that this decision was taken in an objective and impartial way, and driven by clear and new evidence, not by his leadership ambitions.
Furthermore, the party did not instruct its MPs to attend the Parliamentary vote on the government’s decision.
All of this is no surprise. Memorably, in 2009 Jeremy Corbyn described Hezbollah and Hamas as his “friends”, on video.
Corbyn has also heaped praise on the self-styled Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), a Khomeinist political campaigning group in London. The IHRC organizes the annual “Al Quds Day” marches, where support for the Iranian regime and Hezbollah are the central themes. In 2012, Corbyn spoke at the march.
In 2014, Corbyn attended an event celebrating the Iranian revolution at the Islamic Centre of England, a regime outpost in London, to “make the case for Iran”.
Before he became party leader, Corbyn also worked for Press TV, a propaganda arm of the Iranian regime which had been widely and harshly criticized in the UK before his appearances. He continued to appear on the channel even after it lost its UK broadcasting licence.
Panning the ban of Hezbollah is arguably quite remarkable in the current circumstances. The Labour party is engulfed in a serious crisis about antisemitism. Some of its vocal critics focus on Corbyn and his close allies as the root of the problem. Labour is also facing a strong challenge from MPs who have left the party to form a new independent political group. This is no time for a new row, one might think, yet here Hezbollah has been chosen as a spark.
One Labour MP, Wes Streeting has expressed just this concern:
I support the proscription of Hezbollah without hesitation or equivocation and plan to vote for it in keeping with Labour’s proud social democratic tradition. Given voters’ concerns about the instincts of the Labour leadership on security and defence this is a very poor judgement indeed.
Yet for seasoned observers, the leadership’s awkward stance is not remarkable. Stubborn attachment to “anti-imperialist” causes endures on the British far left, leaving an opening even for Hezbollah.
At present, Labour is behind in the polls, despite the travails and unpopularity of the Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May.
But British politics are highly volatile and likely to remain so for some time. Opponents of Hezbollah and other Islamists should not be complacent. If Mr Corbyn ever does come to power, it is highly unlikely that the UK will be on their side in the fight with extremists.