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Minister ‘deeply concerned’ by Met protest row

In World
April 20, 2024

The policing minister has said he is “deeply concerned” after a Met Police officer described an antisemitism campaigner as “openly Jewish” during a pro-Palestine march.

Gideon Falter was wearing a kippah skull-cap when he was stopped in the Aldwych area of London and threatened with arrest on 13 April.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism chief executive was told by police his presence was causing a “breach of peace”. The Met has since apologised.

Chris Philp said he would meet with Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley to discuss his concerns.

He said: “No-one should be told their religion is provocative, nor an innocent person threatened with arrest solely because of someone else’s anticipated unreasonable reaction.”

Scotland Yard has apologised twice for the officer’s phrase.

An initial apology from the Met on Friday was withdrawn after it was criticised as victim-blaming, and the Met issued a second statement saying that “being Jewish is not a provocation” and apologised again.

It said: “Jewish Londoners must be able to feel safe in this city.”

In a video clip shot at the march, the police officer said: “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.”

Earlier on Saturday, a Home Office spokesperson said the government recognised “the complexities of policing fast-moving public protests”, but added being Jewish or of any other religion should not be seen as “provocative”.

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

It is understood that James Cleverly, the home secretary, has written to both the Met and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan about what happened.

A spokesperson for Mr Khan said: “Everybody must feel safe going about in London wherever they please.

“The way the original incident was dealt with by the Met was concerning and the original response put out by them was insensitive and wrong.

“The Met have an extremely difficult job – particularly so when it comes to operational decisions taken while policing marches – but in the end the Met must have the confidence of the communities they serve and it is right that they have apologised for the way the incident was handled and their original public response.”

Protesters in London

Crowds protested in London on Saturday [PA Media]

Tens of thousands of pro-Palestine protesters had gathered in London to call for a ceasefire and to urge the UK government to stop all arms sales to Israel.

Mr Falter said he had been walking in the capital after attending synagogue and was not there to counter-protest.

In the clip, another officer said to him: “There’s a unit of people here now.

“You will be escorted out of this area so you can go about your business, go where you want freely, or if you choose to remain here because you are causing a breach of peace with all these other people, you will be arrested.”

Mr Falter said afterwards: “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, which the police cannot guarantee.

“Instead of addressing that threat of antisemitic violence, the Met’s policy instead seems to be that law-abiding Jewish Londoners should not be in the parts of London where these marches are taking place.

“In other words, that they are no-go zones for Jews.”

The Met has faced criticism for its handling of a series of pro-Palestinian demonstrations since the renewal of hostilities in Gaza last October.

Last month, the prime minister said the public wanted to see officers “not merely manage these protests, but police them”, while his former home secretary, Suella Braverman, said the Jewish community had been “let down by the authorities”, during a Commons debate in February.

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