Being Jewish ‘should never be seen as provocative’, says Home Office

Being Jewish ‘should never be seen as provocative’, says Home Office

Being Jewish “should never be seen as provocative”, the government has said after a row over the policing of a pro-Palestine march.

In a video released by Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), the charity’s chief executive, Gideon Falter, who was wearing a kippah skull cap, was told by a Met officer at a pro-Palestine march last Saturday: “You are quite openly Jewish, this is a pro-Palestinian march. I’m not accusing you of anything but I’m worried about the reaction to your presence.”

He later said Falter’s presence was “antagonising” and that he would be escorted out of the area for “causing a breach of peace”.

In another clip released by the CAA on Friday night, Falter was told by the same officer he could not cross the road while the march was ongoing, with his faith being “part of the factor”.

On Friday, the Met issued two statements. The first said the officer’s “poor” choice of words was “hugely regrettable”. It also said: “In recent weeks we’ve seen a new trend emerge, with those opposed to the main protests appearing along the route to express their views.

“The fact that those who do this often film themselves while doing so suggests they must know that their presence is provocative.”

The CAA called this statement “abject victim-blaming”.

The Met retracted that statement and issued a new one hours later that apologised and said “being Jewish is not a provocation”.

On Saturday a spokesperson for the Home Office said: “We welcome the Met police’s apology, and recognise the complexities of policing fast-moving public protests, but simply being Jewish – or of any other race or religion – should never be seen as provocative.

“Anyone of any religion should be free to go about their lives and feel safe doing so.”

It is understood the home secretary, James Cleverly, has written to the Met. The Home Office offered no details about Cleverly’s letter, saying it was a private communication.

On Saturday evening, Falter called for the Met’s commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, to resign or be sacked over the matter.

In a statement, Falter said Rowley had failed to curtail the marches, allowing “countless antisemitic hate crimes and terrorist offences” to be committed “in broad daylight on our streets”.

He added: “Racists, extremists and terrorist sympathisers have watched the excuses and inertia of the Met under his command and been emboldened by his inaction at precisely the moment when he should be signalling a renewed determination to crack down on this criminality.

“What the Met under Sir Mark has done to the Jewish community over the course of six months is utterly unforgivable and it is time for him to go. Enough is enough.”

In comments filmed after the incident, Falter had claimed the marches were “no-go zones for Jews”.

He said: “Despite being told repeatedly that London is safe for Jews when these marches are taking place, my interactions with police officers last Saturday show that the Met believes that being openly Jewish will antagonise the anti-Israel marchers and that Jews need protection.”

Marches organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign have drawn tens and hundreds of thousands of people to central London to show solidarity with the Palestinian people since October. Gaza’s health ministry said more than 34,000 people in the city had been killed by Israeli strikes since 7 October.

The protests have been largely peaceful. The media platform openDemocracy reported that 36 people who attended pro-Palestine rallies last year had been charged with an offence, and that the arrest rate at these marches was lower than at the most recent Glastonbury festival.

A group of Holocaust survivors and the children of those who survived it said they disagreed with Falter’s comments.

In a statement, the group, who have been an active presence at pro-Palestine marches, said: “We experienced nothing but warmth and solidarity from the pro-Palestine demonstrators and not a hint of antisemitism.

“Our group was ‘openly Jewish’ in that we all wore placards saying that, as descendants of Holocaust survivors, we oppose the ongoing genocide in Gaza.

“Every major pro-Palestine demonstration in London has included a large Jewish bloc, which has received nothing but support and warmth from their fellow demonstrators. Claims that these protests are no-go zones for Jews are completely untrue.”