Anger at the way the Metropolitan Police has handled protests in the capital since Hamas’s attack on Israel was brought to the steps of New Scotland Yard on Wednesday.
Hundreds of campaigners who held a rally outside the force’s central London headquarters declared the organisation needs to rethink its policing policy regarding potential hate crimes and public order offences as the conflict in Israel and Gaza continues.
It comes after Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley differed with ministers this week over how to police pro-Palestine protesters shouting “jihad” after a rally on Saturday in central London.
On Wednesday the campaigners outside Scotland Yard, who held banners which read “Act Against Hate Before It’s Too Late” and “Zero Tolerance For Anti-Semites”, claimed there have been too few arrests, lax policing, and excuses posted on social media for why certain chants and signs and phrases are not seen as hate crimes.
This is happening at a time of when the Met is having to deal with “an unprecedented 1,350% surge in antisemitic hate crimes” since Hamas’s mass slaughter of civilians on October 7 and the Jewish community in London is feeling unsafe, according to the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA).
Gideon Falter, the CAA chief executive, said the police must take tougher action to clamp down on issues including genocidal chants, antisemitic signs, calls for Jihad against the Jewish state – particularly as a “March for Palestine” and other demonstrations are planned for this weekend.
He described the tensions at last Saturday’s as “an exhibition of Jew-hate as rarely seen before on the streets of London” and accused the police of being “practically invisible, as they have been throughout the past two-and-a-half weeks”.
He told the crowd on Wednesday: “We are here to say thank you to the police for all the years of protection but we cannot endure another one of these marches – another national march for Palestine is due to course through our streets.
“Are we supposed to sit here week after week watching the law being flouted and avoiding the centre of town, watching people march through our home town calling for violence against us?
“When it is time to act, the police can act and we cannot possibly tolerate a situation in which the desires of a law-breaking mob are prioritised over the rights of law-abiding citizens.”
Ex-Labour MP, Lord Ian Austin, said: “Hearing these chants on the streets of London is completely unacceptable and incitement must be dealt with.”
He added: “It is obviously difficult for a thousand police to deal with 100,000 people on a demonstration.
“The new commissioner is a good guy. I know he takes these issues seriously. The last thing we need is a row between the Met and ministers.
“If there are gaps in the law, we have the King’s Speech coming up and the Government must give the police any powers they need to deal with this.”
Author Hen Mazzig told the crowd that, like others in Britain, “today I do not feel as safe as I did before all this started” while Tim Gutmann of Christian Action Against Anti Semitism said “we were incensed that chants celebrating” what had taken place in Israel had been heard of the streets of London.
The Metropolitan Police later said that two people, a man and a woman who were in separate cars, were each arrested for a racially aggravated public order offence after racist abuse was allegedly directed at a group protesting outside New Scotland Yard. They are both in custody.
This week, Prime minister Rishi Sunak signalled that police are unlikely to be given more powers to address chants deemed to be extremist after comments at last Saturday’s rally.
That is despite suggestions from the Metropolitan Police chief that laws may need to be redrawn, amid concerns about gaps in current anti-extremism legislation.
Officers had said no offences were identified in the footage from the demonstration in central London over the weekend.
Addressing MPs, Rishi Sunak said: “But we do believe, at the moment, the police do have the powers to arrest those who are inciting violence or racial hatred, there is no place on our streets for that type of behaviour and we will work extensively to clarify the guidance to officers on the ground so they are aware fully about the powers and tools that are available to them to make sure these people feel the force of the law.”
After meeting Home Secretary Suella Braverman this week, Sir Mark said: “We are absolutely ruthless in tackling anybody who puts their foot over the legal line. We’re accountable for the law. We can’t enforce taste or decency, but we can enforce the law.”
He added: “The conversation finished really around the line of the law. It’s our job to enforce to that line. It’s Parliament’s job to draw that line. And the thought that maybe events at the moment … maybe some of the lines aren’t quite in the right place.”
Sir Mark went on: “The law that we’ve designed around hate crime and terrorism over recent decades hasn’t taken full account of the ability in extremist groups to steer around those laws and propagating the truly toxic messages through social media.
“Those lines probably need redrawing.”