Rishi Sunak appeals for 'tolerance and respect' ahead of Gaza march and counter protest in London

Rishi Sunak appeals for 'tolerance and respect' ahead of Gaza march and counter protest in London

Rishi Sunak appealed for “tolerance and respect” ahead of a pro-Gaza march and counter demonstration in central London on Saturday.

The Prime Minister stressed that the police had to “strike the right balance” between allowing people to “express their democratic views” while also keeping the capital safe.

Police are braced for thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters and counter demonstrators descending on central London on Saturday, as organisers called for the largest political rally in “UK history”.

Metropolitan Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley and senior officers held meetings with Jewish community groups after supporters were encouraged to attend the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s “Stop Arming Israel” march.

The Prime Minister’s official spokeswoman said: “The Met are operationally independent and rightly so and it’s for them to manage these events and make sure that they are striking the right balance between ensuring that people are safe and can express their democratic views freely ,but at the same time it’s also vitally important that London remains a safe and welcoming environment for everyone.

“The police have a difficult job to do and they continue to do that..we see that each weekend.

“The Prime Minister would just continue to always reinforce the importance of maintaining the UK’s values which are of tolerance and respect, and being welcome to all communities.

“But at the same time it’s vital that they keep people safe and prevent disorder and rightly take the strongest possible action where we see criminality or demonstrations of hate, which we have sadly seen at some of these events in previous weeks.”

Tensions are running high since antisemitism campaigner Gideon Falter was threatened with arrest as he repeatedly tried to cross a pro-Gaza march in Aldwych two weeks ago.

An officer told Mr Falter, who had been wearing a kippah, that his “openly Jewish” appearance risked antagonising marchers calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

An edited video of the encounter posted to social media sparked anger and calls for Sir Mark to resign.

A longer version of the 13-minute exchange shows an officer repeatedly offering to escort Mr Falter away from crowds and across the road through a different route.

Mr Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, had claimed parts of London have become “no-go zones for Jews” and planned to turn up on Saturday with more than 1,500 allies. However on Friday the CAA announced its protest had been cancelled amid safety concerns.

However a pro-Israel Group Enough is Enough demonstration is still due to go ahead, the Metropolitan Police said.

Mr Falter met Home Secretary James Cleverly on Thursday night to discuss what more the Met and London mayor Sadiq Khan should be doing to ensure Jewish people are safe in the capital.

Shortly afterwards Mr Cleverly posted on X, formerly Twitter: “It will never be right for anyone of any religion to feel the need to stay away from anywhere in the public realm.”

Metropolitan Police officers stand in between pro-Palestine protesters and demonstrators with Israeli flags in March (AFP via Getty Images)
Metropolitan Police officers stand in between pro-Palestine protesters and demonstrators with Israeli flags in March (AFP via Getty Images)

Around 1,000 officers will police the PSC’s rally from Parliament Square to Hyde Park at midday demanding the British government stops arm sales to Israel in “the biggest demonstration for Palestine in UK history”.

The Metropolitan Police said the protest will set off at 12.30pm on a route via Whitehall, Piccadilly and Park Lane before ending in Hyde Park where speeches will take place.

A static demonstration by the pro-Israel Enough is Enough group will take place in Pall Mall, at the same time as and along the route of the PSC march, the Met said. Similar events have taken place alongside three previous PSC marches.

London protests have been held since Hamas’s murderous October 7 attack on southern Israel in which about 1,200 people were killed and 250 kidnapped, before the Israelis retaliated with months of attacks on the Gaza Strip, killing and wounding thousands.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner Ade Adelekan said: “We recognise the conflict between Israel and Hamas is continuing to be an issue of concern for many Londoners.

“As we have done over the past six months, we will continue to police without fear or favour, intervening swiftly where we see criminal behaviour, while also ensuring that disruption to Londoners is minimised.

“My team and I have met with the organisers to manage the continued impact of these demonstrations.

“Our officers will be supported by officers from other forces and I am once again thankful for their support.”

Earlier this week, Sir Mark defended how officers handled Mr Falter, describing their actions as “professional”.

Although words exchanged were “clumsy and offensive”, no one involved would be sanctioned, he said.

Sir Mark added: “The public would be horrified if we said: well, it’s obvious if those two groups come together, there’s going to be a massive fight. We’ll stand back and wait till it happens and we’ll pick up the pieces afterwards.”

Ben Jamal, director of PSC, accused Mr Falter of attending the march with a film crew to “provoke a confrontation”.

But Baroness Louise Casey, who led a scathing review of the Met after Sarah Everard’s murder by a serving officer, said her “heart sank”.

She told The Times: “Can it get any worse if you’re Jewish and live in London? A Jewish man is told he can’t walk down the street and I thought, ‘Oh my God’.”

Protesters in central London (AP)
Protesters in central London (AP)

Mr Falter said since the incident he had suffered “victim-blaming”, adding: “Some individuals have also been wheeled out to suggest that I provoked the crowd, or that there is somehow more to the story than it appears from the footage.

“These tactics are desperate, but they reveal the Met’s priorities.”

Jewish safety group, The Community Security Trust, said it would continue to push for a reduction in the number of pro-Palestine rallies permitted.

The Metropolitan Police revealed costs of policing Gaza-related protests in London has reached over £32.2 million and required 35,000 officer shifts and more than 5,200 rest days to be cancelled.