Gaza marches: Board of Deputies to demand update to law on public protests

The 1986 Public Order Act is ‘clearly failing to control the stirring up of racial hatred’


Marie van der Zyl criticised 'a concentrated campaign intended to bring central London to a standstill' (Photo: AFP)

The Board of Deputies is to lobby the government to update the law to restrict the anti-Israel marches through London that have polarised public opinion for months. 

In a statement released following a “forthright, but constructive” meeting with Metropolitan Police chief Sir Mark Rowley, Board president Marie van der Zyl said the 1986 Public Order Act was not suitable to prevent demonstrations from inciting racial hatred.

Jewish communal leaders will now demand a parliamentary review into the act, which governs public processions and assemblies. 

Van der Zyl said: "Almost 40 years on, it is time for a comprehensive review of the Public Order Act, to allow it to reflect the realities of the 21st Century.

"The Act currently allows for major restrictions on single marches specifically if it is determined that it will cause a serious public disorder; it was not designed to consider a concentrated campaign intended to bring central London to a standstill on weekends with repeated marches for months on end.

"The Act was also meant, among other things, to 'control the stirring up of racial hatred', but it is clearly failing to do this in 2024. This is a matter I shall be speaking to ministers about in the coming period."

Anti-Israel marches calling for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza have taken place in central London regularly since October 7.

In a statement, the Board said van der Zyl had met Sir Mark alongside Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, Community Security Trust chief executive Mark Gardner, Lord John Mann, the government's advisor on antisemitism, and Russell Langer, director of public affairs at the Jewish Leadership Council.

The group discussed the “urgent need” for “more exacting policing” and enhanced guidance for the police commanders present.

Van der Zyl emphasised that there could be absolutely no context in which the use of swastikas at such gatherings was acceptable.

Earlier this month, a Met officer sparked outrage when he told a Jewish woman that swastikas “need to be taken in context” at a pro-Palestine rally.

Speaking to pro-Israel activist Emily Schrader, the policeman admitted he did not have an “in-depth knowledge of signs and symbols” such as the Nazi insignia.

At the time, the Met said: “This video clip is a short excerpt of what was a 10-minute conversation with an officer.

“During the full conversation, the officer establishes that the person the woman was concerned about had already been arrested for a public order offence in relation to a placard.”

Tensions between the community and London’s police force have risen after a Jewish activist was described by an officer as “openly Jewish”, threatened with arrest and prevented from crossing a road during a Palestine rally earlier this month.

Gideon Falter, who leads the Campaign Against Antisemitism, was filmed in a tense standoff with an officer while wearing a kippah and carrying a tallit bag in central London on 13 April. He claimed that he had been attending synagogue prior to the altercation.

Earlier this week, the Community Security Trust said Jewish leaders had since met with Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley and other senior officers to discuss community concerns.

Sir Mark has apologised in person to community leaders, while nearly 10,000 people have signed a petition calling for his resignation over the incident

Rishi Sunak has since said that Scotland Yard must regain the confidence of the public by policing protests properly.

He told the Met Police: “Don’t just manage marches, police them.”

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