Sadiq Khan has said he has no power to ban the upcoming Al-Quds Day March through central London, after more than 3,500 people signed a petition calling for him to do so.
Organised by a pro-Israel grassroots group, the petitioners said that by not banning the annual event, the London mayor’s commitment to fight anti-Semitism was being “called into question”.
The rally, which “unites for the freedom of the oppressed in Palestine and beyond,” is jointly organised by the Islamic Human Rights Commission, and is due to take place on Sunday 18 June, but has attracted controversy in the past, as protesters have been seen waving the flags of Hamas and Hezbollah.
Jewish community groups have long protested a legal loophole allowing protesters to wave the Hezbollah flag, because the group has both an armed wing – which is proscribed as a terror organisation – and a political wing, which is not.
This week’s online petition, originating from North West Friends of Israel, says: “After the terrible recent terrorist events in Manchester and London this display of extremism has no place on the streets of the UK.”
It adds: “Allowing this march to go ahead will send a worrying message to the UK’s Jewish community and call into question the commitment of the Mayor of London to eradicate extremism and anti-Semitism.”
In response to enquiries from community members, Sharon Vieira-Poole, from the Information Team at the Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime (MOPAC), said Khan had personally discussed the march with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner.
Vieira-Poole said the police have operational independence, but added: “They have to operate within the law and the protesters have a right to march, as long as they do so within the law.”
She said the Police had put in-place “a comprehensive investigative plan to work with the organisers and monitor activity during the march,” but that “over the last three years no hate crimes have been reported from the march itself”.
She added that the Mayor “has personally discussed the policing of this event with the Commissioner, who appreciates the impact of this event on local communities”.
Later, a City Hall spokeswoman confirmed that Khan could not ban the march, even if he wanted to. “Protesters have the right to march as long as they do so within the law,” she said. “The Mayor does not have the power to ban a march in London.”
She added that Khan “has ensured that the Met fully appreciates the potential impact of this march on London’s communities and is monitoring the situation closely”.
A spokesman for the Community Security Trust (CST) said: “We have long argued that it is deeply unacceptable for Hezbollah flags to be flown here in the UK, especially on this annual outpouring of hatred.
“Hezbollah itself makes no distinction between its political and military wings and the flag includes an assault rifle, so there is no mistaking what is going on here.”