Charney (as a representative of all members of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain) v Reverend of the Hinde Street Methodist Church [2016] GWLR 1

Tension abounded today as judgment was handed down in this controversial case, presided over by Mr Justice Tungsten:

  1. The claimant, Mr Paul Charney, is Chairman of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain. He likes Israel. The defendant, the Very Reverend Pam Wafer, is Reverend of the Methodist Church in Hinde Street, London W1U. She does not.
  2. If we lived 200 years ago, these two individuals would probably never have come into contact at all, let alone have got involved in such hostile litigation as the instant case. But we do not live 200 years ago – as evidenced by the fact that Ms Wafer is a lady clergyman – and so the parties have managed not only to meet but, somehow, come to blows over a “separation wall”. The very idea of people engaging in a bitter squabble over an erection whose sole and express purpose is to separate warring factions confused me for quite some time, but I think I now understand it and am ready to give judgment.
  3. Mr Charney, as I believe I mentioned, likes Israel and sees himself as an important line of defence against its ultimate and terminal destruction. Rev Wafer doesn’t like Israel and hopes, by holding a small exhibition in her church in Marylebone, to bring about the liberation of the Palestinian people.
  4. Rev Wafer’s exhibition is entitled ‘They Shall Not Pass’ and features a replica of the erection separating Israel from the West Bank (I adopt the term used by the BBC so as not to appear to favour one party over another).
  5. The actual separation wall in the Holy Land is, in some parts, up to 25 feet high and fashioned of high-strength concrete; in other parts it simply consists of coils of vicious-looking razor wire. Rev Wafer’s reconstruction – designed, she says, “to bring home to the visiting public the horrors of the Occupation” – is of balsa-wood, tissue paper and chicken wire, and seems more reminiscent of a cake stand at a school fête than of the state-sponsored brutality she claims it emulates. No matter. The law protects bad and inadequate forms of political expression as much as it protects sensible ones: see Shovel v Justard (1877) 4 PLCR 55, in which the plaintiff was wrongfully arrested for causing a breach of the peace while protesting outside the London Zoo about the lack of unicorns therein.
  6. Mr Charney’s case is, he says, simple. I would not go quite that far. But I have managed to distil sixteen main points from his submissions. That is too many for me to fit in before lunch so I have chosen to focus on these three: (i) the exhibition is anti-Semitic and intimidates London’s Jews; (ii) the exhibition is not balanced; and (iii) he is under a lot of pressure from his members to have the exhibition closed down so could I please do him a favour just this once milord.
  7. I find that there is nothing in the first argument. While a 25-foot concrete wall may well intimidate those who are forced to pass through it as part of their daily business – a state of affairs which, Rev Wafer assures me, is in fact the case in relation to the West Bank’s Palestinian population – I fail to see how an inadequate reconstruction of it in a church can have any impact on London’s Jews, except on those Jews who choose to go there to “provide some balance” (on which see below), who can hardly then complain that they were intimidated by a situation into which they deliberately placed themselves. I am reminded of the well-known line, “Doctor, doctor, I have broken my arm in two places!” “Well, don’t go there any more”: see the judgment of Clavicle LJ in the medical negligence case R v St Damian’s Hospital ex parte Babar [1943] KOR 23, 56.
  8. Mr Charney’s second argument is more promising but, on closer examination, equally devoid of merit. One is reminded of the experience of opening an elaborately-wrapped birthday or anniversary present only to find a box containing nothing but an uncooked radish.
  9. He submits that the exhibition is unbalanced (in fact his actual pleading was that it was “one-sided”, but as I fail to see how a wall can be one-sided I am paraphrasing). It may well be unbalanced, but nothing is so sacred as the right of an Englishman to be unbalanced, especially in the matter of a wall. This has been the case ever since the days when one upright citizen (at least, they were upright to begin with) became so unbalanced that he literally fell off a wall, and all the officers of the state were obliged to provide him with rehabilitation and support: Dumpty v King (1795) 42 Ov LR 66. A person is allowed to be as unbalanced in their opinions as they desire, and, returning to the instant case, it is the nature of things that, no matter what opinion a Methodist priest holds, the Zionist Federation of Great Britain will disagree. The Zionist Federation can form their own display with a more accurate replica of the separation wall if they are so desirous of a strictly factual exhibition. The courts are not here to have their time wasted with mere disagreements of opinion. Especially not this close to lunchtime.
  10. The claimant’s third argument, namely that he is under a lot of pressure from his members to have the exhibition closed down so could I please do him a favour just this once milord, is considerably stronger in my view. It is now gone 12 noon, and over three hours since I breakfasted. If I find for the defendant, I will have to deal with consequential orders, and orders for costs, and applications for permission to appeal.
  11. Whereas, if I find for Mr Charney and order the closure of the exhibition, he has nobly informed me that he will not seek costs, and that I will not need to spend time arranging for the court’s order to be executed as he has a band of volunteers from the Sussex and North West Friends of Israel groups ready and in place to dismantle the exhibition straight away, as a helpful act of public service.
  12. The balance of my convenience therefore strongly favours a finding for Mr Charney – or in jus simplex est as Blackstone would have put it – and therefore Rev Wafer of the Hinde Street Methodist Church must discontinue her wall forthwith.

Order given accordingly*

*as imagined by Gabriel Webber in a personal capacity