Police and ministers trying to 'demonise' pro-Palestine marches, organisers say

Protesters at a 'National March For Palestine' in London on November 25 (AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters at a 'National March For Palestine' in London on November 25 (AFP via Getty Images)

Organisers of pro-Palestinian marches through London have accused ministers and police of trying to "demonise" their protests as they told MPs that only a "tiny minority" of participants had committed potential hate or terror offences.

Chris Nineham, the vice-chairman of the campaign group Stop the War, told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on Wednesday that five marches in the capital since the start of the war in Israel and Gaza had all taken place with minimal disorder.

He insisted that there had only been a "tiny minority" of people with "placards or flags" that could be "construed" as inciting hatred or supporting banned terrorist organisations and that they had been told by stewards to remove them.

But he said that despite this and "very few" arrests on the marches themselves, politicians, police and others had sought to misrepresent the protesters.

"There is a tendency to focus on incidents to give impression that there is something wrong with protests," Mr Nineham told the committee. "Overall, they have been remarkably peaceful, remarkably united, and relatively peaceful.

"There’s a tiny minority of people who have had placards that we challenge. Anyone who holds placards or flags or anything that could be construed as liable to inciting hatred or [supporting] of proscribed organisations are talked to and removed."

He added: "Despite a record police operation, the fact that there have been so few arrests on the demonstrations for these or for any other issues attests to the fact that we are talking about a very, very tiny minority who are doing these things.

"The fact that this issue has been so prominent in terms of the demonstrations shows that there is an operation to paint the bulk of the individuals with a handful of individuals. Our demonstrations are not about race or religion and have been very diverse, very inclusive, with a huge number of Jewish people on them."

Protesters take part in a 'National March For Palestine' in London on November 25 (AFP via Getty Images)
Protesters take part in a 'National March For Palestine' in London on November 25 (AFP via Getty Images)

Ben Jamal, from the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, said there had been "one or two incidents of people with Hamas flags" and a small number of other cases involving headbands and paraglider headbands, giving a "tiny handful" of incidents that might have involved glorifying terrorism.

He claimed that despite this, an impression had been created that the marches had been full of people chanting “jihad” and engaging in other aggressive behaviour, whereas the reality was that the protests had been peaceful and diverse.

He added that he and others used the chant "from the river to the sea" – which committee chairwoman Dame Diana Johnson said was viewed by others as anti-semitic – but insisted that it was a slogan purely supporting the rights of Palestinians and not denying the rights of others.

But in a subsequent evidence session before the committee, Gideon Falter, the chairman of the Campaign for Anti-Semitism, accused police of failing to take enough action over crimes committed by marches.

People during a pro-Palestinian protest in London on November 11 (PA)
People during a pro-Palestinian protest in London on November 11 (PA)

He said examples included chants calling for "jihad" and another chant referring to a battle when Jewish people had been massacred and placards showing the Star of David thrown in the bin and the slogan "keep the world clean", as well as the “genocidal” chant “from the river to the sea”.

“There is a  real sense of great disappointment and betrayal within the Jewish community because of the fact that week after week we are seeing tens even hundreds of thousands of people coursing through the capital and on display within those marches you have people clearly glorifying terrorism, displaying placards that would not have been out of place in 1930s Germany, and apparently no reaction from people surrounding them to that,” Mr Falter told MPs.

"The sense from the Jewish community that something has changed in this country is really palpable. We just want the law to be enforced. If that means bringing in more police officers then we need to have more police officers."

Mr Falter said that although there were "gaps in the law" he believed that police could already act more robustly using public order legislation in particular and said that the presence of people on the pro-Palestinian marches wearing masks was an indication of their problematic nature.

"A bunch of people who turned up masked up, with anti-semitic placards, people inciting hatred and glorifying terrorism and other people marching happily past them, that’s not what a peaceful march is," he said.