Edinburgh city Council decided on 30 August that rather than twinning with Gaza, it would call upon the Edinburgh Partnership to do some exploratory work with Gaza on “mutually beneficial projects”.
For three years campaigner Pete Gregson has been promoting his petition to the council to get Edinburgh twinned with Gaza City. (Because Balfour came from Lothian and effectively made Israel, Gregson believes there is a historic debt to Palestine and most especially the people of Gaza. Edinburgh City Council has received thousands of letters from Edinburgh residents in support of twinning.)
Gregson first lodged his Council petition in April 2019; three months later, the council’s chief executive persuaded the councillors to agree that “Edinburgh should not twin with any more cities”.
“Following an intervention from the deputy leader, Councillor Mandy Watt, the councillors… agreed that the petitioner himself, Pete Gregson, be prevented from addressing the committee. This unprecedented action appears to stem from the fact they were frightened of what Gregson might say, in particular that he might criticise Israel.”
The council did not accept Gregson’s argument that his proposal pre-dated the no new twinning decision and should therefore be allowed to stand. They were unconcerned by the fact that Edinburgh alone of all major Scottish cities is not partnered with one in Palestine.
At the Policy Committee meeting, at the last minute, the Labour Council Leader Cammy Day decided that “following legal advice” none of the five (pro-Palestine) deputations that had been booked in should be allowed to speak. This meant that the Mayor of Gaza, Dr Yahya Sarraj, was prevented from addressing the committee, as well as the IT training agency director of Gaza Sky Geeks and the manager of the Take My Hand orphans’ centre from the Jamaliyah camp. Also prevented from speaking was the vice-chair of the Dundee-Nablus Twinning Association and the Convener of the Derby and Derbyshire Friends of Hebron.
“… Labour Councillor Mandy Watt had told Gregson that it would be more appropriate for Edinburgh to twin with Tel Aviv, because, she said, they ‘were more like us’.”
Following an intervention from the deputy leader, Councillor Mandy Watt, the councillors also agreed that the petitioner himself, Pete Gregson, be prevented from addressing the committee. This unprecedented action appears to stem from the fact they were frightened of what Gregson might say, in particular that he might criticise Israel. Because the proceedings are public and are webcast and archived for later retrieval, the council was nervous of PR disasters.
Three years earlier, Labour Councillor Mandy Watt had told Gregson that it would be more appropriate for Edinburgh to twin with Tel Aviv, because, she said, they “were more like us”. She may have been fearful that he would mention this publicly in his speech (he was not going to).
One of the committee members, Scottish National Party (SNP) Councillor Kate Campbell, had previously told Gregson that she would support working with Gaza, as long as Gregson himself was not involved. (Gregson had been expelled from the GMB union for criticising Israel and has been painted by them and in the press as an anti-Semite and holocaust denier, even though he has the backing of two senior rabbis, and has never disputed the holocaust. What he had actually said was that Israel exaggerates the holocaust for political ends.)
An MP who had supported Gregson’s twinning from day one, Tommy Sheppard, told Gregson a month ago that because Gregson was chair of the Campaign Against Bogus Antisemitism he was withdrawing his support, not for the Gaza twinning, but for Gregson himself.
Since then, Sheppard has been briefing the SNP group at Edinburgh Council and the press to exclude Gregson.
In the face of such pressure, Gregson agreed to resign as Chair of the Edina-Gaza Twinning Association (EGTA), a body that was founded on Easter day of this year and which has been active in running free online English classes with Gazans and promoting businesses to get their websites built in Gaza. But even Gregson’s resignation was not good enough for the councillors.
The motion passed on 30 August clearly declared that “the petitioner and the organisation listed on the petition [EGTA] are not involved in any future processes”.
Not even the Greens felt this was unreasonable. This was surprising, for the only councillors at the committee that did speak against Israel were Green Councillors Alex Staniforth and Alys Mumford. The Greens are the only party not to have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism. The definition, adopted by all other parties, major trade unions (bar the PSC) and 40 per cent of local authorities, states that to declare Israel racist is tantamount to Jew-hate. The Labour, SNP and Liberal Democrat councillors knew that if they criticised Israel, they would likely face sanctions.
Gregson and the 32 members of EGTA will continue to work with groups in Gaza and will now suggest they approach the Edinburgh Partnership to propose projects. EGTA’s present focus is on getting British traders to get their websites built in Gaza – they have had one site built by Gazan developers and have orders for more. Because, thanks to the Israelis’ illegal 15-year siege, Gaza suffers extreme poverty, the wages there are low – typically £1 an hour. Gregson believes there is a ready market from those that support Palestine to get their websites built in Gaza, for the sites are high quality and cheap, and many Gazans speak excellent English.
He has had 10,000 flyers printed and is about to embark on a tour of 16 major UK cities, distributing hundreds of flyers to Palestine activists in every town, at the same time as promoting his “Rabbi on the Road – Beyond Israel” UK tour.
A five-minute video where Gregson reads out the council motion adopted on 30 August can be viewed below:
Contact Pete Gregson on (+44) 0758 472 2191 to speak to any of the deputation representatives, or for photos from yesterday’s rally at Edinburgh City Chambers. Contact t can be made also through www.twingaza.com
Notes for editors
- The Scottish Information Commissioner recently declared Edinburgh City Council to be in breach of Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation when they failed to respond to Gregson’s FOI questions asking why his petition had been deleted from the council website, who in the Israeli authorities had stopped his petition from being discussed in March of this year, and why his promise of a pitch to committee in June 2020 had been removed from the agenda. See more here.
- For links to council documents and the webcast from 30 August, click here.
- To find out about websites built in Gaza, cick here.
- For more information about the “Rabbi on the Road” tour (posted on the Campaign Against Bogus Antisemitism website), click here.
Scottish Information Commissioner to investigate Edinburgh City Council over FOI failure on Gaza twinning petition