In the backdrop of Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas, Britain’s streets have been marred by the incendiary chants of protesters calling for an intifada and the eradication of Israel, casting a shadow over the Metropolitan Police’s commitment to maintaining public order. The images that unfolded across London, bearing witness to the unchecked proliferation of vitriolic slogans and pamphlets praising Hamas, send a chilling signal that challenges the very foundations of British law and civility.
The Metropolitan Police’s apparent reticence to clamp down on these manifestations of hate is not merely a disquieting oversight but represents a broader failure to uphold the societal compact that safeguards all communities, including the Jewish populace of Britain. The spectre of a multitude traversing the streets, their voices crescendoing into calls for destruction, should be unequivocally classified as incitement to racial hatred. This is not about the silencing of dissent or the quashing of free expression; it is about drawing a line—a line that demarcates lawful protest from the promotion of terrorism and racial enmity.
Peter Bleksley, a former Met detective, has lambasted the force for failing to act decisively, deeming it ‘appalling’—a sentiment that is echoed by the dismay of Conservative MP Simon Clarke, who identifies the scenes as ones of ‘hatred and bigotry.’ These characterisations resonate with a public sentiment that finds such displays abhorrent and deeply un-British. Indeed, when the Home Secretary labels such marches as ‘hate marches,’ one expects a robust and immediate response from law enforcement, not the hesitant, measured reactions we have observed.
The laxity of the Metropolitan Police is all the more disconcerting when one considers the profound significance of the locations desecrated by such protests. The streets of London—encompassing historical sites like the Cenotaph and Trafalgar Square—are emblematic of Britain’s commitment to democratic values and must not become stages for extremist propaganda.
With pamphlets circulating freely in the vicinity of Parliament Square, extolling the ‘extraordinary heroism’ of Hamas militants, it is obvious that the attendees are endorsing a narrative that glorifies terrorism. As if weren’t bad enough to hear echoes of “Khaybar” invoked as a rallying cry for antisemitic violence, and to antisemitic symbols on placards, it has now been revealed that a Met Police adviser, lawyer Attiq Malik, led “From the River to the Sea” chants at pro-Palestine protest in 2021. One does indeed wonder what sort of “advice” he has been feeding the Met over the years.
While the Metropolitan Police grapple with the semantics of legality regarding slogans such as “from the River to the Sea,” they inadvertently wade into a morass of moral uncertainty. The need for clarity and firmness from the police is urgent. It is not only a matter of adhering to the letter of the law but upholding the spirit of British decency. In navigating the complexities of what constitutes free versus hate speech, the Metropolitan Police must also consider the overriding ethical obligations that define our society.
The Met’s statement—that the use of certain chants in a protest setting might not constitute an offence—reflects a troubling equivocation. The imperative should not lie in assessing the potential offensiveness of a slogan but in recognising the intrinsic harm in calls that insidiously incite violence against a group of people.
The demand for action is clear: it is incumbent upon the Metropolitan Police to harness their full authority and legal capacity to counteract the scourge of antisemitism and extremism. In doing so, they will not only protect the Jewish community but also preserve the sanctity of British values and public spaces. Anything short of this robust response would be a disservice to the nation, undermining the collective security and the shared values that we hold dear.
At a juncture where the lessons of history weigh heavily upon us, the Metropolitan Police must reaffirm their commitment to those principles that underpin our democratic society. It is a commitment that demands vigilance, decisiveness, and an unwavering stand against the forces of hate that seek to disrupt British society and harm the Jewish community.
Steve Winston is the Managing Director of the National Jewish Assembly.