Two prominent Zionist activists have been convicted of harassment and threatening behaviour after intimidating Palestinian activists at a demonstration last year.
Jonathan Hoffman, a former vice-president of the Zionist Federation, and Damon Lenszner, who used to be on the board of Plymouth Argyle Football Club, changed their not-guilty pleas in exchange for government prosecutors dropping assault charges.
The court saw footage of the pair hectoring and attempting to drown out pro-Palestinian activist Sandra Watfa and others as they protested in central London on October 6, 2018 against the Puma store in Soho over the sports manufacturer’s sponsorship of the Israeli football team.
Hendon Magistrates’ Court imposed a fine and costs totalling a few hundred pounds on Hoffman and a similar amount on Lenszner. The court also imposed an eight-week community sentence of a curfew on Lenszner, meaning he must stay at his Hendon home between the hours of 9pm and 6am. The order is to be enforced with an electronic ankle tag.
In addition, the court imposed an “indefinite” restraining order on the pair, barring them from any contact with three activists from the Palestine solidarity group InMinds.
In a victim impact statement read out in court, Ms Watfa said the incident left her feeling “silenced and intimidated”, claiming that she has not attended another protest since.
Passing sentence, District Judge Dean said: “I accept both of you had a legitimate right to counter-demonstrate… But it is fair to describe each of your behaviours depicted in the recording as being wholly unacceptable.
“It was intimidating behaviour, which ran the risk of provoking a reaction, either from a passer-by, or from those you were counter-demonstrating against. Both of you encroached on the personal space of those demonstrators… You engaged in hectoring behaviour. You were trying to drown out what was being said by them.
“It was counter-productive. Anyone who saw what you did were likely to be alienated by your behaviour.”
The video shows the Zionists surrounding, screaming at, and – in Lenszner’s case – striking the boycott activists. They had intended to “prevent the protest,” the government lawyer argued.
Lenszner’s defense lawyer, Daniel Berke, admitted his client had “crossed the line” and had gone beyond acceptable free speech, claiming he had “snapped.” But he argued for the men’s “good character”, pointing to the fact that neither man had any previous convictions.
Hoffman immediately responded to his conviction on his blog calling it a “disgrace” based “on lies.”
In March, Hoffman and Lenszner failed to attend their initial hearing in Westminster Magistrates’ Court and warrants were issued for their arrests. They surrendered the next day, claiming not have to have been notified.
Reacting to the verdict, the Islamic Human Rights Commission said it welcomed the conviction of the two Zionist activists.
As a co-organiser of the annual Al-Quds demonstration, the IHRC said it has seen a marked spike in violent and disorderly behaviour associated with pro-Israel activists aiming to disrupt the event.
The IHRC said: “Both Hoffman and Lenzsner are regular attendees at the Zionist counter demonstrations against Al-Quds day. This year Lenzsner was restrained by police for violent behaviour while Hoffman was seen being pushed away by police for his aggressive behaviour towards pro-Palestine marchers that included women and children.
“Other Zionists activists like Laurent Kachauda were searched for weapons by police following threats to shoot attendees of Al-Quds day. We also saw pro-Israel activists carrying Israeli flags being physically removed by the police due to the real threat of violence, whilst members of the far right, carrying Israel flags, who joined the Zionists were seen doing sieg heil salutes (Nazi salutes) to intimidate pro-Palestine activists.”
IHRC Chair, Massoud Shadjareh added: “We believe that it is high time that people who seek to physically and verbally attack pro-Palestine activists to prevent them from carrying out lawful activities should face the full force of the law. For far too long the police response has been too anaemic and it has only emboldened the culprits to escalate their aggression”.