Councillor ‘intimidated’ colleagues to sign Gaza ceasefire letter

James Giles emailed all 19,102 councillors in England and Wales on Sunday, asking them to sign a public letter calling for a Gaza ceasefire
James Giles emailed all 19,102 councillors in England and Wales on Sunday, asking them to sign a public letter calling for a Gaza ceasefire

A councillor sent an “intimidating email” to thousands of colleagues, threatening to publish the names of anyone opposed to a ceasefire in Gaza.

The “abhorrent” 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 actions in the wake of the Oct 7 attacks by Hamas.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said the threat to publish the names of councillors went against everything it stood for and confirmed that it was urgently investigating.

The email was sent by Cllr James Giles, an independent councillor on Kingston Council, in south-west London, who emailed members on Sunday asking them to sign a public letter he had previously written calling for a ceasefire.

The letter had been co-authored with Jamal Chohan, a Conservative councillor, who said he had nothing to do with the email later sent by Cllr Giles.

In the letter, the pair wrote: “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.”

In his email, Cllr Giles said that he would be publishing a list of all the people who supported the ceasefire, although anyone who “feared retribution from their parties” could be anonymous.

He added: “We will also be publishing the names of those who have been invited to sign but choose not to, in the interest of accountability” but later backtracked after angry responses from councillors who said the threat was “dangerous at a time when councillors were already feeling under intense pressure”.

Jamal Chohan says that while he co-authored the letter, he had nothing to do with the email later sent by Cllr Giles
Jamal Chohan says that while he co-authored the letter, he had nothing to do with the email later sent by Cllr Giles

One anonymous Labour councillor told The Telegraph she had spoken to police after receiving death threats for her stance on the conflict.

She added: “Councillors are public property – we live in our communities, many people know where we live. We don’t get the same level of protection that MPs get, however, and we don’t have police protection when we are meeting the public.

“It has made me think about whether it is even worth being a councillor. The allowance is pitiful – we do it because we want to help our residents. But is it worth being this scared?”

She described the email as “performative”, adding: “As a council, we had just been talking about safety measures that could be implemented for councillors and then this letter came out. The people that wrote it will know we are not protected and are saying they will name the people who don’t agree with their bullying tactics. It’s abhorrent.

“We are all aware of what happened to Jo Cox and David Amess and what we feel now is this fear of the unknown. There is this anger out there, and we don’t know what is going to happen.”

A number of councillors, including Alex Prager, Barnet Conservative, shared their responses to the letter on social media. Mr Prager wrote: “If you serve your residents as a local councillor with the same passion as you perpetuate anti-Semitic tropes, you’d be doing them a real service.”

Barbara Cannon, a Cumbrian councillor, described the email as a form of “bullying” and said: “Today I am being asked to sign a letter or my name will be published for ‘accountability’. This is for someone I don’t represent and don’t know. It’s always men with big opinions and small brains. I won’t be signing.”

Cllr Giles, representing the Kingston Independent Residents party, previously worked alongside George Galloway, the far-Left politician, on his unsuccessful campaign run in the Batley and Spen by-election.

Cll Chohan, a solicitor, has previously voiced his opposition to the bombardment of Gaza and claimed to be “isolated” from his party.

“I was raised with the belief that we [the UK] are keepers of peace in the world”, he said in an interview with online publication National News. “The narrative that these children are somehow human shields is completely invalid – would you be OK with an armed officer in Kingston shooting a child as cannon fodder to apprehend a suspect?”

Cllr Chohan told The Telegraph on Monday that he had not signed off the email warning that names would be published and had only co-authored the open letter, saying: “Cllr Giles wrote the email to all councillors that contained the perceived threat. It was not written or approved by me.”

In a joint statement issued earlier on Sunday night, Cllr Giles said it had never been the intention to publish the names of councillors who objected.

“There is no intention to publish names of councillors that do not respond to our email, nor is there any intention to publish the names of any individuals against their will,” the statement said.

“We would encourage any elected representatives that have been threatened to contact the police as this cannot be tolerated. We will continue our democratic duty to engage in debate.”

Cllr Shaun Davies, the chairman of the LGA, said: “Pending investigation, Cllr Giles has stood down from all formal positions within the LGA and all upcoming speaking opportunities at our events, with immediate effect.”

A spokesman for Kingston Council said: “Our primary concern is the security and safety of our residents, elected members, staff and our local communities, whilst encouraging tolerance and community cohesion.

“The campaign that has been brought to our attention by many is an initiative of individual councillors and is not Kingston Council-led or endorsed. We are currently looking into the details surrounding this matter and are unable to provide any further comment at this stage.”

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