UK cop 88.
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The British Jewish community expressed consternation Thursday after learning that a Muslim police officer had been excused from guarding the Israeli Embassy in London during the Lebanon war.
London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Ian Blair ordered an "urgent investigation" upon hearing of the incident, a move which was welcomed by local Jewish leaders.
Cop refuses to guard Israeli embassy
"It's a worrying development that someone can make the case successfully that they shouldn't obey certain orders or undertake certain activities," said Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews. "Police officers should discharge their duties irrespective of religion or ethnicity."
Blair's decision was prompted by a report in The Sun that Constable Alexander Omar Basha, who worked in the Diplomatic Protection Group, was relieved from duty at the embassy this summer because of moral objections to the Israeli bombing of Lebanon.
Basha's wife is Lebanese and his father is Syrian, said Supt. Dal Babu, chairman of the Association of Muslim Police.
He added that Basha "is now working normal DPG (Diplomatic Protection Group) duties, and clearly if an issue happens at the Israeli Embassy he will deal with it."
Following the report Thursday, Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson issued a statement stressing, "This is not about political correctness. I want to make it clear that this decision was taken on the basis of risk and safety."
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.
"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."
Stephenson did not say what risks were discerned in this case.
"The question we'd like to ask is from whom is this risk supposed to have come?" said Benjamin, who noted his organization has been in contact with the police. The possibility that the officer would have faced a "backlash" from fellow Muslims, according to Benjamin, "is a rather sad indictment of the situation."
He added that it was "essential" that the multi-cultural city of London have a "diverse" police force. Currently the force has officer associations of Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Catholic and Christian police.
Benjamin and other London Jewish officials stressed that the community has extremely good relations with the police and that officers have been very responsive to complaints of anti-Semitism and other Jewish concerns.
Israeli Embassy spokesman Lior Ben-Dor said the embassy also had "full confidence in the ability, professionalism and the devotion [of the police] to continue protecting the embassy as they have done until now."
An embassy statement noted that "the task of protecting the embassy and its official representatives has proved a difficult one" and that embassy officials were sure the police would "find a satisfactory solution to this particular problem."
Benjamin said that the incident had caused an "outcry" throughout London "and rightly so."
Lord Greville Janner, a former head of the Board of Deputies, told a British TV station that if "somebody can say, 'I don't like this because of my own political beliefs or religion' it is a mistake. If this grows it could harm the system."
The Sun quoted a former Metropolitan Police commander, John O'Connor, as saying, "This is the beginning of the end for British policing. If they can allow this, surely they'll have to accept a Jewish officer not wanting to work at an Islamic national embassy? Will Catholic cops be let off working at Protestant churches? Where will it end? This decision is going to allow officers to act in a discriminating and racist way."
He added, "The Metropolitan Police are setting a precedent they will come to bitterly regret. Top brass granted his wish as they were probably frightened of being accused of racism. But what they've done is an insult to the Jewish community."
But Peter Herbert, a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, which scrutinizes the department's work, 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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.