London councillor behind ‘intimidating' letter to peers over Gaza ceasefire says he stands by his words

Conservative Cllr Jamal Chohan and independent James Giles (Kingston Council)
Conservative Cllr Jamal Chohan and independent James Giles (Kingston Council)

A London councillor behind a "threatening" letter sent to thousands of colleagues demanding they call for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war has said he "stands by" his words.

The email from independent Kingston councillor James Giles was sent to more than 19,000 elected members at town halls in England and Wales on Sunday.

A list the names of those who "have been invited to sign but choose not to" will be published, it says.

The move was branded "intimidating" by some and the Local Government Association (LGA) on Monday confirmed that the Metropolitan Police has been "made aware" of the situation.

The letter read: “We are writing to demand that you call for an immediate ceasefire and that you focus your efforts towards driving lasting peace in the region through meaningful impartial mediation for a two state solution....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.”

Councillors who support a ceasefire but fear "retribution from their parties” could sign anonymously, it adds.

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

Mr Giles admitted that the section of the letter had been "clumsily worded" and he would only publish the names of those who gave permission for him to do so.

He told the Standard: "If there are councillors who actively refuse to [sign the letter] and they give me permission to publish their names, I will do so.

"I admit there was a section that was clumsily worded. Councillors who support or do not support a ceasefire and wish to remain anonymous can do so. But I stand by the letter. It is about the devastating humanitarian situation in Gaza The scenes have been absolutely heartbreaking.

"My hope is that even if this encourages just one more MP to openly call for a ceasefire it will have been worth it."

Some 300 elected representatives have already signed, including Kingston Conservative deputy leader Jamal Chohan,

Mr Chohan said: "Regarding the perceived ‘threatening email’, it was not drafted, sent or endorsed by me. I have however joined hundreds of councillors in co-signing the letter calling for a ceasefire. Many Conservative councillors have signed it."

But Barnet councillor Alex Prager branded the email "despicable" and "threatening".

He said: "I have requested that my name top the list of councillors who refuse to sign."

Hounslow councillor Jack Emsley said: "Needless to say, I won’t be signing this letter sent to me by James Giles - he’s welcome to publicise my name, I’ll wear it as a badge of honour."

Some 1,200 people were killed in Israel when Hamas launched a surprise assault on October 7. More than 120 more were taken hostage.

Gaza’s Hamas-run government says at least 11,500 Palestinians have been killed, nearly half of them children, since Tel Aviv launched its counter attack.

Councillor Shaun Davies, Chair of national membership body for local authorities the LGA, said the organisation did not endorse "how this recent communication from Cllr Giles and Cllr Chohan was sent".

"We can also confirm that the LGA did not share any councillor email contact information," Mr Davies said.

"We understand that The Royal Borough of Kingston’s Monitoring Officer, the Information Commissioner’s Office and the Metropolitan Police are aware of this ongoing situation.”

Mr Chohan is listed as a Tory councillor and deputy leader of the opposition on Kingston Council's website.

But a Conservative HQ source said that he was no longer a member of the party and had not been for some time.

However, he was listed as the Conservative candidate on the ballot paper at last year's local election, beating former Boris Johnson aide Ben Mallett by 14 votes to be elected to the council.

Mr Chohan said: "In the past few years, the Conservative Party has accepted thousands of pounds in donations from me, they have stood me as a councillor candidate, appointed me as Deputy Leader of the Opposition in local council and used my endorsement of candidates in other elections.

"Why is this question of membership being asked at the same time as I am advocating for peace and ceasefire in Gaza?

"My bank account has a debit clearly showing membership fees paid to the party."