I have cancelled Saturday’s walk of defiance in central London. Here’s why

Jews are in danger and need protection around Palestine marches


Placards, equating Netanyahu with Hitler, at the anti-Israel marches (Photo:The Times)

April 26, 2024 15:41

The Campaign Against Antisemitism has received two assurances, one from the Metropolitan Police Service and the other from the organisers of the marches. The police say that these marches are policed in a way that is safe for Jews, while the organisers say that Jews would be warmly welcomed in their midst.

Given that these marches are always organised during Shabbat, there has been precious little proof of this, until the incident involving me on April 13.

As has become well-known, I was told by different police officers that since I was quite “openly Jewish” I must leave or face arrest. Marchers, meanwhile, saw that I was Jewish and shouted abuse at me.

When the police officers said that they were trying to protect me, they were probably being honest. And when they told me it was my Jewishness that was the problem, their honesty gave the lie to Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley’s claims that Jews are safe in central London.

In other words, Jews are in danger and need protection around these marches, and the threat is so bad and the police protection is so inadequate that Jews passing by have to be told to leave.

That is reinforced by the fact that two weeks on, the Met is still not investigating any of the abuse captured on film. It is further reinforced by the shambolic handling of the entire matter, which has seen the Met apologise and then apologise again for its apologies.

There are those who say that the incident was my fault, that I provoked it. Their supposed proof is my choice of route, that I had security with me and that the incident was filmed.

As to my choice of route, my critics say the police sergeant who called me “openly Jewish” wanted simply to escort me on my way. In truth, he was proposing to escort me right through a large confrontation happening further up the road between marchers and counter-protesters, which was also not the direction I wanted to go in. Instead, a police inspector offered to escort me across the road in the direction I was going, and I instantly accepted.

Secondly, I receive no shortage of threats from the far-right, far-left and Islamist extremists that Campaign Against Antisemitism takes action against. It does not take a genius to work out why I have security with me when out in public.

Finally, as for the filming, I did not have a film crew with me. But I was right next to a march and people were filming the march, including a news crew. When the police pulled me aside, people – including some of those who were walking with me – started filming on their phones. I imagine that happens often when police talk to people.

None of this changes what happened.

Ultimately to those – mostly outside of the Jewish community – who say that I provoked the incident, I respond: Provoked what? Provoked a police officer to reasonably worry that my being openly Jewish might antagonise racists marching down London’s streets? Provoked the Met into revealing how it really views these marches, and its real concerns about Jews being anywhere near them?

What happened to me was the inevitable conclusion of six months of Met policy to appease the marchers by letting them have free rein. The cost has been the takeover of swathes of central London every weekend, curtailing the rights of Jewish Londoners, unacceptable risk to frontline police officers, and what must now be approaching £50m of extra policing costs.

Each of these is a scandal.

Weekend after weekend, for over six months, we have seen miles-long march routes closed off for hours in the middle of the day, and our iconic statues and even war memorials used as props. Our beleaguered retailers had to close their doors in the run-up to Christmas as marchers paraded down Oxford Street and Carnaby Street. The marchers did not even relent on Armistice Day. Every march covered a new route, leaving Londoners guessing which part of town they had to avoid this time.

During all of this, the rights of Jewish Londoners have been trampled. I have experienced this twice now, first when our van was directed by police to shut off images of the hostages a few months ago because it might provoke Hamas-sympathisers on the streets, and again a fortnight ago.

According to our polling, 69 per cent of Jews now hide their identity in public and 90 per cent avoid city centres when these protests are taking place. And while more than six-in-ten British Jews have either personally experienced or witnessed an antisemitic incident since 7 October or know somebody who has, only 16 per cent believe that the police treat antisemitic hate crime like other forms of hate crime. Two-thirds believe that the police apply a double standard. In recent months, antisemitic crime soared by 1,350 per cent, according to the Met, but far too few suspects await trial.

The frontline police officers like those I encountered are trying to make the right decisions in impossible circumstances. In the early days of these marches, they quickly discovered that they faced attack. As the Met’s leadership informally legalised – by social media post – everything from the shouting of antisemitic slogans to open calls for jihad and intifada on our streets, on the occasions when Met officers did intervene, they often found themselves attacked with fists or fireworks. Officers were hospitalised. The Prime Minister’s intervention, urging the Met to clamp down on extremism and genocidal rhetoric, was expressly rebuffed by Sir Mark.

Finally, there is the cost. The Met, which has been struggling to reform itself in the wake of horrific scandals like the murder of Sarah Everard, managed to secure £50m in additional funding following a negotiation with the Mayor of London for those reforms. That looks to be remarkably similar to the amount that the Met appears to have spent on providing police at these marches for the last six months, with the costs being paid by the taxpayer and police being pulled from duties all over the country and bussed into London. Even these cost figures do not necessarily include those incurred by other police forces accommodating marches and protests in other cities around the country.

My encounter with the Met on 13th April made front-page news and finally started a real national debate about policing in relation to antisemitism.

We hoped that the next step in this debate might be for Jews to walk together in central London, wherever they want, given the insistence that they are safe to do so. But while the Met told us of its desire to protect Jews walking in the area, we still have to be sure that they can. Due to the thousands of people intending to join and then walk where they please – things we used to take for granted in London as Jewish people – we are not confident that people would be safe.

Additionally, our monitoring has identified hostile actors who seem to have intended to come to any meeting locations that we announced. The risk to the safety of those who wished to walk openly as Jews in London as part of this initiative has therefore become too great.

In recent days, we have met with the Home Secretary and the Minister for Policing to propose concrete measures which can force the police to change their approach to the weekly marches. This situation cannot endure much longer and firm action is needed urgently.

Over the course of more than six months, we have become all too used to seeing antisemitic chants and placards at these marches, glorification of terrorism, and even violence, including attacks on police which have hospitalised officers. Our volunteers and members of the public have exposed, week after week, how widely extremist views are held among participants on these marches.

A change is needed, and that change must come at the top of the Metropolitan Police Service. We all know it, which is why over 10,000 people have signed our petition at calling for the departure of Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley.

The Jewish community cannot wait much longer for London to be made safe for us again.

April 26, 2024 15:41

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