The Archbishop of Canterbury called on Britain to “clean up our doorstep” and get rid of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism at a weekend rally in Whitehall.
The Most Rev Justin Welby said: “There will be children thinking about going to school in the UK tomorrow who dread going because they will be spat at, shouted at, hated, because they’re Muslim, because they’re Jewish. They’ll have to go without their uniforms because it identifies them too clearly. And that is in our streets.
“Years ago, I said to someone in a flooded street where the water had gone down, leaving all the filth and mess: ‘Where do we start?’.
Earlier he had quoted Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu in saying: “I will destroy my enemies by making them my friends.”
After controversy around rallies in London and other cities, the Together for Humanity rally was an attempt at a more harmonious event. Its flyers promised: “No flags, no placards, just people.”
A scrupulously balanced group of speakers addressed the crowd, which numbered several hundred at the start and steadily increased.
The event was hosted by Brendan Cox, the widower of murdered MP Jo Cox, who invited MPs from the three main parties to speak – the Liberal Democrat Layla Moran, the first MP of Palestinian descent, the Labour MP Stella Creasy and the Tory MP Tobias Ellwood. Celebrities including Jemima Khan and Rob Rinder looked on.
Mr Ellwood said: “Our message must be different from other public rallies – more nuanced, more unified and more profound, a non-partisan collective call, that we must not be bystanders, we cannot ignore what we are witnessing, because in today’s digital world it has lifted the fog of war. Everything is seen in real time.
“You can be supportive of the state and people of Israel and the Jewish faith here in Israel, but be critical of Israel’s use of its military might.
“And you can be supportive of a two-state solution and the plight of the Palestinians, but be critical of Hamas that has lost any claim to represent ordinary Palestinians.”
Religious leaders Imam Monawar Hussain and Rabbi David Mason, along with Mr Welby, addressed the event. All stopped short of offering specific political solutions.
The most moving speech came from Magen Inon, a teacher who lost both his parents in the Hamas terrorist attacks on Oct 7 and appeared alongside Hamze Awawde, a Palestinian peace activist.
“On Oct 7, both my parents were murdered by Hamas terrorists who attacked their village in the southern part of Israel,” said Mr Inon.
“The house was directly hit by a shoulder rocket and the house burned down with my parents in it. We pray they did not suffer in their last moments. My only consolation is they died together, inseparable in life and death.
“Extremists who call for more violence are hijacking our pain. They are feeding off one another, and will never be able to quench their bloodlust. The only possible revenge of my parents is to set aside fear and hate and hope a better future is possible.”
Mr Awawde spoke of rejecting the legacy of hate, and the two embraced on stage to the warmest applause of the afternoon. Some members of the crowd wiped tears from their eyes.
True to the plan behind the march, they did not brandish placards or banners.
“There have been so many hate marches,” said Diane Langleben, a retired healthcare professional from London. “I thought it was important for people to say: ‘Enough’. This crowd shows you there are good people from all sides.
“It’s important to show we are not going to be defeated by terrorists. It’s good to be with people who are not only Jews. It’s good to be with a cross-section.”
When the speeches were over, Mr Cox led a minute’s silence. It started to rain. A singer tried to get a singsong going, with limited success. The rain came down harder and colder. “I thought with an archbishop, a rabbi and an imam, we’d be covered,” joked Mr Cox, apologising for the weather.
Away to one side of the crowd, a few yards further down Whitehall, a little copse of Ukrainian flags stood aloft in the gathering gloom.