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Former EastEnders star told not to leave theatre because of pro-Palestinian protests

A crowd of about 150 protesters gathered outside the Houses of Parliament on Saturday
A crowd of about 150 protesters gathered outside the Houses of Parliament on Saturday - Jamie Lorriman/Jamie Lorriman

Actress Tracy-Ann Oberman has revealed she was advised against leaving a London theatre because of pro-Palestinian protests taking place outside.

The star, who is playing Shylock in a West End production of The Merchant Of Venice, is Jewish and has been a vocal campaigner against anti-Semitism.

On Saturday evening – a day after Rishi Sunak’s speech pledging to combat extremism – she said she had been told not to leave the Criterion Theatre due to the protests.

The Met made 12 arrests at nearby Trafalgar Square: one for the theft of an Israeli flag; one for assaulting an emergency worker; one for being drunk and disorderly; and nine for failing to comply with the section 35 dispersal order.

The former EastEnders star, 57 said in a tweet directed at the Prime Minister and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer: “Another Saturday post matinee and I have been asked not to step out the theatre because of all the demonstrations and marches going on.

“London 2024 - ridiculous isn’t it.”

Pro-Palestinian activists have called for Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer to be charged with aiding and abetting genocide just hours after the Prime Minister warned that democracy was being targeted by extremists.

A crowd of about 150 protesters made their way to the Houses of Parliament on Saturday and were heard chanting: “From the river, to the sea”.

About 30 officers watched on in central London as the protesters repeatedly shouted what the Campaign Against Antisemitism has previously described as “genocidal language”.

When The Telegraph asked one police officer why the chant was allowed, he said: “It depends on the context.”

The protest, organised by the fringe Palestinian Pulse organisation, was accompanied by a drum, trombone and trumpet band.

At one point, the protesters’ chant appeared to be directed towards the Prime Minister’s comments from Friday, as they shouted: “In our thousands and our millions, we are all Palestinians. We won’t be intimidated”.

Protesters in Westminster
Protesters in Westminster acrry placards attacking Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak's stance on the war in Gaza - Tayfun Salci / Avalon
'I am not an extremist, just stop killing children' reads one woman's placard
'I am not an extremist, just stop killing children' reads one woman's placard - Tayfun Salci / Avalon
Vuk Valcic / Avalon
Protesters demand immediate aid into Gaza and call on Sunak to resign - Vuk Valcic / Avalon

One protester held aloft a piece of cardboard saying: “Rishi you are the extremists, not us”. They then began chanting: “Rishi Sunak, resign.”

The demonstration was organised just days after George Galloway was voted in as MP in Thursday’s by-election in the former Labour stronghold of Rochdale.

A group of six police officers was positioned to guard Westminster Pier, not far from where protesters were filmed throwing flour.

One placard referred to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, as “Satanyahu” and another accused the British government of being “complicit” in the deaths of “30,000 innocent Palestinians” in Gaza.

The central London protest was one of a number held across the country.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) singled out Barclays bank for its day of action, assembling at nearly 50 locations, including the branch on Tottenham Court Road in central London.

Protesters marched from Mornington Crescent to the Barclays branch, accompanied by the controversial “from the river to the sea” chant and flanked by a mass of police officers.

The central London protest was one of a number held across the country
The central London protest was one of a number held across the country - Jamie Lorriman/Jamie Lorriman

At the Barclays branch on Tottenham Court Road, the police ordered protesters to move across the road, citing Section 14 of the Public Order Act.

Among those was Peter Frankental, from Chingford, who carried a sign that read: “Aaron Bushnell: an act of bravery and courage that will not be forgotten”, referencing the member of the US Air Force who died after setting himself on fire outside the Israeli embassy in Washington in protest at the conflict in Gaza.

Asked whether he would condone a similar action outside the Houses of Parliament, he said: “Yes, certainly, it’s a supreme act for somebody to take their life in that way for what they believe in.

“Very few people would be prepared to do that and it communicates a strong message.”

Luca Salice, 67, co-chair of the Camden Palestine Solidarity Campaign, dismissed the Prime Minister’s rhetoric around extremists as an election ploy and said protesters were actually grateful for the police.

“Rishi Sunak is losing an election. He is scrambling”, Mr Salice said, adding: “I don’t think our protests are extremist. I don’t see how being in favour of human lives is extremist.”

Mr Salice, an Italian who now lives in Camden, added: “There could be one or two extremists who come into the protests. I can’t say that is impossible and luckily we have the police here, who are working with us.

“They are helping us organise this protest and making sure they are safe. And whenever they see the odd person who may do something wrong, it is up to them to arrest them.”

Mr Sunak warned that there had been a “shocking increase” in extremist activity in Britain in the wake of Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism has said that weekly pro-Palestinian marches “made our capital city a no-go zone for Jews, and repel law-abiding Londoners”.

The PSC targeted Barclays branches in Croydon, Hammersmith, Haringey, Harrow, Newham, Redbridge, Southwark, Streatham, Tower Hamlets, Willesden and Wimbledon.

It comes after the Home Secretary James Cleverly said pro-Palestinian protesters had “made their point” and questioned: “What are these protests genuinely hoping to achieve?”

The group has called for a boycott of the British bank because it claims Barclays holds “substantial financial ties” with arms companies supplying weapons to Israel.

The protesters later moved on from the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Winston Churchill, where they passed by an anti-World Health Organization rally being led by Piers Corbyn, before turning up along Whitehall and past the Cenotaph.

They walked up the other side of Whitehall to Downing Street, passing by a rally of 30 Pakistanis supporting the country’s jailed former president Imran Khan.

Shadowed by 40 Met officers and with 13 police vans parked along the middle of Whitehall, the protesters chanted: “Rishi Sunak you’re a liar, we demand a ceasefire”. One protester wore a white and black striped prison uniform and a Keir Starmer cutout face mask.

Protesters climbed the platform around Nelson’s Column and continued chanting, with others gathering around the statue’s base.

At 4.50pm, three young girls not older than 10 years old took to the megaphone and started chanting: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”.

The crowd joined in and the trio were cheered.

Police issued a section 35 dispersal order at 5pm and started breaking up the protest at Nelson’s Column with at least 60 officers.

It came after Maytal Abramovich, a 44-year-old Israeli tourist from Jerusalem, started waving the Israel flag in a one-woman counter protest on the pavement on the road opposite Nelson’s Column.

As she told The Telegraph that if Hamas wanted peace “they could have had it”, a pro-Palestinian protester grabbed the flag from her hands and disappeared into the crowd of demonstrators.

Police made no attempt to get her flag back to her. “As you can see we’re trying to deal with quite a lot,” one officer said.

Mrs Abramovich confronted the protesters, and one shouted at her: “You’ve been killing people for 70 years” and one white woman said “you’re European, you look like me, Palestine is the Middle East, not Europe” in an apparent denial of her Jewishness.

“Our greeting is shalom, shabat shalom, it means peace,” Mrs Abramovich said.

There were at least five arrests made for breaching the dispersal order, and at least 100 uniformed officers were at the scene.

A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “These protests are why a staggering 90 per cent of British Jews say that they would avoid travelling to a city centre if a major anti-Israel demonstration was taking place there, according to our polling. Our urban centres have become no-go zones for Jews.

“It has now reached a point where a Jewish actress starring in an adaptation of a Shakespearean play about antisemitism is being told to stay indoors for her own safety. Which other demonstrations are having this kind of effect?

‘‘On Friday night, the Prime Minister made a speech demanding that the police finally take firm action against surging antisemitism and extremism in our country. If Britain is to remain a bastion of tolerance and decency, the authorities must restore order on our streets.”