UPDATED: Chiswick councillor condemns ‘intimidation tactics’ over Gaza ceasefire letter

This story has been updated

Conservative Councillor for Kingston Council, Jamal Chohan, did not co-author or endorse an email to UK councillors threatening to name them if they did not sign an open letter to MPs calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. This information was wrong on the Local Government Association website, which has since been changed.

As of 27 November 2023, the Local Government Association updated their statement on this story as follows:

“On Monday 20 November, the LGA issued a statement in response to complaints about the unsolicited email circulated by Cllr James Giles to 19,000 councillors across the UK. The email sought signatures to a letter to the Prime Minister and included a perceived threat that the names of councillors choosing not to sign would be published. The wording of that email implied that Councillor Jamal Chohan had co-authored both the letter and the covering email.

“Based on that wording, our statement identified Councillors James Giles and Jamal Chohan as co-authors of the letter and the covering email. Councillor Chohan has since clarified that whilst he co-authored the letter, he was not involved in drafting, nor did he endorse the wording, of Councillor James’ email.

“We have now amended the statement on our website and would ask you to note that Councillor Jamal did not endorse or sign the original covering email.”

Images above: Cllrs James Giles (left) and Jamal Chohan (right) 

“Quite clearly an attempt at intimidation”

One of Chiswick’s Conservative councillors has condemned what he has described as an “an attempt at intimidation” after thousands of UK councillors were urged to sign an open letter to MPs calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, with the threat of their name being publicised if they refused.

The co-authors of the letter were Kingston councillors James Giles, an independent, and a Conservative Jamal Chohan. Cllr Giles wrote to all UK councillors on Sunday (20 November) asking them to sign a public letter calling for a cessation of hostilities, which have seen at least 13,000 people killed by Israeli attacks in Gaza since Hamas’ attack on October 7, in which 1,200 Israelis were killed.

In the cover email drafted by Cllr James Giles, councillors were threatened that their name would be published should they fail to sign the open letter attached to the email. This email, which contained the alleged threat to councillors, was not endorsed by Cllr Jamal Chohan.

The message was sent to all 19,102 councillors in England and Wales, alleging that anti-Semitism had been “weaponised” to silence those who opposed Israel’s response in the wake of the 7 October attacks by Hamas.

“It’s quite clearly an attempt to intimidate councillors into supporting the letter” said Cllr Jack Emsley, who represents Homefields ward in Chiswick for the Conservatives.

He told The Chiswick Calendar the letter was “mimicking the Green Party’s attempt to do the same by publicising of a list of MPs who refused to back misguided calls for a ceasefire in Parliament.”

In the covering email, Cllr James Giles said:

“To be clear and stating the obvious, anti-Semitism is wholly unacceptable.

“However, this term cannot continue to be weaponised to absolve Israel of any accountability in how it has contributed to the ongoing tensions and its failure to comply with international law.”

“We will also be publishing the names of those who have been invited to sign but choose not to, in the interest of accountability.”

‘Threatening’ letter downplays “horrific levels” of anti-semitism, says Cllr Jack Emsley

Responding to news of the letter on X, formerly Twitter, Cllr Emsley said he would not be signing the letter and having his name published would be a “badge of honour”.

The Conservative councillor said signing the letter would have little impact on the Israel-Hamas war, but it would have an impact on is the local Jewish community, at a time when anti-Semitic attacks in London were at a “disgustingly high level”.

Cllr Emsley told The Chiswick Calendar:

“Aside from the fact that Israel has a right to defend itself following the worst atrocity committed against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, I won’t be signing the letter because it seeks to threaten elected representatives and downplays the horrific level of antisemitism currently being faced by the Jewish community in London.”

Cllr Emsley said Chiswick’s eight Conservative councillors were “completely united” in their stance on the Israel-Hamas war, adding that he was confident none of his colleagues would be signing the open letter.

Posting on X on Sunday, Cllr Giles said he was “so proud” of over 300 councillors from across the country who had signed the letter in less than a day, adding that the number was growing by the hour and signatories came from every party.

While highlighting that no constituents had got in touch with him to sign the letter, Cllr Emsley said he suspected most residents in Chiswick “want their councillors to get on with what we’ve been elected to do rather than pontificating about conflict in the Middle East”.  He added:

“That being said, a couple of residents did get in touch following my tweet to say well done for standing up to the threat to publicise names of councillors who choose not to sign. I think the vast majority of residents in Chiswick will utterly reject the threatening undertones of James Giles’ letter which, in many ways, seems designed to sow division and create a toxic environment for local representatives.”

The Local Government Association said the letter “went against everything it stood for” and said it was urgently investigating.

Israel has “absolute right” to defend itself, Hounslow Conservative Group says

Hounslow Conservative Group released the following statement on the conflict in October. Cllr Emsley emphasised on Monday the statement still stands. The statement reads:

“Hounslow Council Conservative Group is horrified and disturbed by the atrocities committed by Hamas against Israel, which have caused horrific devastation and created an escalating humanitarian crisis.

“There can be no justification for Hamas’ barbaric terrorist attack which is driven by hatred. Our thoughts are with all those innocent Israelis, Palestinians and others who have lost their lives, all those taken hostage, and everyone affected by this conflict.

“We welcome the Government’s £30 million aid package to provide food, water, healthcare, and shelter for the Palestinian people, who are also the victims of Hamas.

“Israel has the absolute right to defend itself and deter future terrorist acts against its citizens. We are also appalled by the huge increase in antisemitic incidents and attacks in London since the Hamas atrocity and urge everyone to oppose all forms of racism and not to allow the politics of hatred to spill over onto our streets.”