London police review move to excuse Muslim officer at Israeli embassy
Officer excused after saying he couldn't guard embassy due to his opposition to Lebanon war.
London's police, facing an uproar over a report that a Muslim officer had been excused from guarding the Israeli embassy, said that the department decided not to use him there after the officer disclosed his concerns about a war in Lebanon.
"This is not about political correctness. I want to make it clear that this decision was taken on the basis of risk and safety," Deputy Commissioner Paul Stephenson said in a statement released by Metropolitan Police.
Commissioner Ian Blair had ordered an urgent review of the decision following a report in The Sun newspaper saying that Constable Alexander Omar Basha, who worked in the Diplomatic Protection Group, had sought to be excused from duty at the embassy because of moral objections to Israeli bombing of Lebanon.
Basha's wife is Lebanese and his father is Syrian, said Superintendent Dal Babu, chairman of the Association of Muslim Police.
Press Association, the British news agency, quoted unidentified police sources as saying the officer was willing to accept the posting, but feared reprisals against relatives in Lebanon if he was spotted guarding the embassy. Basha could not be reached for comment.
Stephenson said the department encouraged officers "to be up front and honest" about any matters which could affect their performance.
"At the height of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict in August this year the officer made his managers aware of his personal concerns, which included that he had Lebanese family members," Stephenson said.
"Whilst the Israeli embassy is not his normal posting, in view of the possibility that he could be deployed there, a risk assessment was undertaken, which is normal practice. It was as a result of this risk assessment - and not because of the officer's personal views whatever they might have been - that the decision was taken temporarily not to deploy him to the Embassy.
"The public would expect us to conduct such a risk assessment and review the suitability of any firearms officer undertaking such duties."
Stephenson did not say what risks were discerned in this case.
Before any details of the case had been disclosed, debate raged between those who were shocked and those who dismissed it as a minor incident.
"By allowing this officer to avoid guarding the Israeli embassy, the Met has set an extraordinary and dangerous precedent," said Damian Hockney, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, which oversees the department.
"What happens if a Greek officer doesn't want to guard the Turkish embassy, or an anti-hunting officer refuses to protect pro-hunt demonstrators?" Hockney said.
But another authority member, Peter Herbert, said the story was a "ridiculous fuss about nothing."
"It is not uncommon for police officers to make requests of a personal nature," Herbert said. "Even officers with connections in Northern Ireland have made similar requests before."
Glen Smyth, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, whose union represents lower-ranking officers, said the officer did not refuse the posting but requested another on the basis of his family circumstances.
"It is one thing for an officer to refuse to do something without giving sufficient cause, it is quite another for an officer to make a polite request which if agreed to, would result in a variation of duties," Smyth said.
Babu said he understood that moral objections were not the issue. "This is about the welfare of an individual, and not about a moral issue," Babu said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
"This particular officer had brought an issue forward - his wife is Lebanese, his father is from Syria - and he brought up this issue at the start of August this year, and had expressed a desire to be posted elsewhere while the war was going on," Babu said.
"He is now working normal DPG (Diplomatic Protection Group) duties, and clearly if an issue happens at the Israeli Embassy he will deal with it."
Diplomatic Protection Group officers are usually armed and are assigned to guard official buildings like the Houses of Parliament, politicians and visiting dignitaries as well as diplomats.
Two police officers with machine-guns guard were on guard Thursday outside the red-brick embassy on a quiet street in the ritzy Kensington district. Thick barriers in front of the embassy protect it from intruding vehicles, and police deter passers-by from taking photographs.
The Israeli Embassy released a brief statement saying it had "full confidence in the ability of the Metropolitan Police force to provide the embassy with maximum security, as well as its ability to deal with this sort of grave problem."
It later released another statement that said protecting the embassy was a "difficult problem," and expressed "full confidence in the devotion, professionalism and ability of the Metropolitan Police Force to provide the embassy with maximum security."