Police should apologise after an officer told me that swastikas ‘need to be taken in context’

Woman who challenged a policeman during an anti-Israel march in London has complained to the Met


A woman has complained to the Met after she was told by a policeman patrolling an anti-Israel march that the question of whether or not holding up a swastika was an offence depended “on context”.

“A swastika does not depend on context,” American documentary maker Jocelyn Weiss told the JC after a video of her challenging the Met officer about a protester carrying a swastika went viral.

Over the course of a ten-minute conversation on Saturday afternoon in central London, Weiss tried to appeal to the officer, explaining that a swastika was antisemitic. The officer said swastikas were not illegal in certain contexts and refused to leave his post.

The Met has since said that they arrested the protester, one of two arrests made under section 5 of the Public Order Act for causing harassment, alarm and distress at the anti-Israel march on Saturday.

Shadow foreign secretary David Lammy criticised the officer on LBC:  “It doesn’t need context. It’s an outrageous symbol to use on a protest, and we’ve got to bear down hard on those that have used it.

“Of course the man should have been arrested but it does seem to me that the officer should have known this isn’t about context. It’s about vile antisemitism on the streets of London making people feel unsafe. It’s a hate symbol and it’s got to be treated as such.”

Weiss, 30, said: “Like Elyon Levy, I was a competitor in speech and debate – I know how to challenge people, but I couldn’t believe how he [the officer] kept digging that hole.”

Weiss had been at a counter-demo on Saturday where anti-Hamas demonstrators waved Israeli flags and signs that said “Hamas is terrorist” towards a large crowd of anti-Israel protesters. She had not wanted to draw attention to herself, and so had left her useful “rape is resistance” sign at home. In the anti-Israel crowd, she saw numerous offensive banners, including one with Nazi symbols. 

Weiss was astonished by the police officer’s comments when she complained about the swastika. “I couldn't believe it happened, I am still in shock,” she said.

The American has lived in London for a year and a half and prefers the UK capital city to her previous hometowns of Boston and New York. “It’s safe in London, it’s a beautiful city with a thriving Jewish community. This incident doesn’t do the city justice [...] it’s not this lawless city that it’s depicted as.”

Weiss describes herself as a “left-leaning freelance documentary maker and researcher” and said she has been left feeling like a “political football”, noting that people have used her video to further their political aims.

She has considered printing “leaflets that say swastikas are bad and see if they respond to them.”

Weiss objects to the idea that antisemitism needs to be contextualized. She said: “It’s like this Claudine Gay bullsh*t.

“I'm not a fan of Bibi [Netanyahu] but he shouldn’t be depicted with a Hitler moustache and a swastika. I saw Sunak and Starmer both depicted with horns – it’s blatant antisemitic imagery.”

“It's not about Israel, it’s about swastikas and swastikas are bad.”

Weiss thinks "people have no literacy on this issue” and there is a “lack of bias training” in the UK about antisemitism.

In the viral clip, Weiss affirms: “Why does a swastika need context? Why is a swastika not immediately antisemitism? Why does it need context? This is what I'm confused about. This isn't even about Israel. In what context is a swastika not antisemitic and disruptive to public order?”

In the video the Met officer states: “I don't have an in-depth knowledge of signs and symbols. I know the swastika was used by the Nazi party during their inception and the period of them being in power in Germany in the 1930s and 40s, I'm aware of that.”

She replies: “I just can't believe this conversation is actually happening.”

The officer responds: “What exactly are you getting confused about?”

She states: “I'm confused about in what context a swastika is not antisemitic. This is what I want to know.”

The officer says: “I suppose to some... I don't know how everybody would feel about that sign. Now if you came up to me and you felt mass alarm and distress about a symbol that someone was...”

Weiss interrupts and says: “I am extremely distressed and I am very alarmed. I offered to take you to people who have those signs and are still walking around.”

At this point, the police officer tells her he is "not going to leave here [because] this is our responsibility”.

Weiss says she was told by other officers that “it was not their job to arrest people with swastikas”.

The police officer says, “I apologise that that has happened. I cannot... I’m here working... and it is not my responsibility, unfortunately, [not] my role to walk down the road. Now if you walk down the road, now if you walk down the road and you see somebody, then we can send some officers with you back.”

As the video continued circulating on social media, the Met released a statement: “This video clip is a short excerpt of a 10-minute conversation with an officer. During the full conversation, the officer established that the person the woman was concerned about had already been arrested for a public order offence in relation to a placard.

“The officer then offered to arrange for other officers to attend and accompany the woman to identify any other persons she was concerned about amongst the protestors, but after turning to speak to his supervisor, she had unfortunately left.”

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive