The flag of Hezbollah has again been openly marched through the streets of London this afternoon – but only after prominent lawyer Mark Lewis delayed the event by blocking the road in his wheelchair.
More than 1,000 people rallied beneath the gun-emblazoned flag of the Lebanese terrorist group outside the Saudi Embassy, hearing speakers including Rev Stephen Sizer, who once shared a social media post pointing the finger at Israel for 9/11.
At the same time and separated by police, hundreds gathered at the other end of Curzon Street for a counter-demo les by the Zionist Federation.
It had been anticipated that the Al Quds supporters would begin their march past some of London’s most iconic landmarks at around 5pm, with the event advertised to conclude at 6pm.
But by that time they hadn’t even yet set off, the one-man stand by Lewis, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, contributing to the delay.
- READ MORE – Mark Lewis: Police saw my wheelchair as a greater threat than a machine gun
Lewis told Jewish News: “It wasn’t just me. My other half Mandy Blumenthal stayed with me. I knew that I couldn’t stand up and be counted but I could sit down.”
“These people were supporting terrorists. We had to object and not give them a free pass. These are our streets. The Government were allowing them a free rein, we had to stop them. I thought I’d challenge the Police to see if they had a legal basis to stop me exercising my freedom to protest. They said they had an order blocking the street. I asked to see it. They looked flummoxed.”
When marchers did eventually set off, chants of ‘from the river to the sea’ – seen as a call for the elimination of Israel – rang out as the protest past the Ritz Hotel. Marchers were also heard to taunt pro-Israel demonstrators, saying they would see them ‘same time’ next year.
Earlier, at counter-demo, speaker after speaker demanded the government finally take action to fully ban Hezbollah, when currently it draws a distinction between the political and military wings.
Currently only the later is banned – a legal loophole which enables the flag to be openly displayed as the group has just one flag.
Among those calling for action was counter-extremist and broadcaster Maajid Nawaz, who recalled the time “I would have been on the other side speaking at that rally”. He said he had to think carefully before attending the event, pointing to the difference between the flag of Hezbollah with its gun and that of Israel “with a symbol of your identity”.
But he told the crowds: “I thought how would I feel if people raised the KKK or Nazi flag or any flag that wanted to remove me. I realised if we don’t draw a line in the sand and if I’m not here today, what chance of anyone in wider society convincing you this is your home?
“If this kind of provocation is allowed to happen every year in the streets there will be a far-right backlash. We must stand together in solidarity against terrorism wherever we see it. I shall contine to stand with you.”
Amid chants of “terrorist flags off our streets” and “take it down”, Hendon MP Matthew Offord said: “We shouldn’t have to be here on the streets of London protesting a terrorist flag.”
He added: “Hezbollah should be proscribed in its entirety under the Terrorism Act. There are not two wings – Hezbollah says so.” Pointing out that the government had failed to take action despite calls from the London mayor and both Labour and Tory MPs following last year’s event, he asked: “If they don’t hear it from us today, when will they hear it?”
The call for action was echoed by ZF chair Paul Charney, while director Arieh Miller, pointing across the road, stressed “that is not a victimless flag”.
Names of victims of Hezbollah terror in Israel and elsewhere were held aloft on placards.
Gideon Falter of the Campaign against Antisemitism – whose petition for full proscription has garner 14,000 supporters – said the group has Jews worldwide in its sights and pointed out that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has claimed funds would dry up if the loophole was closed.
“If people want to show support for Hezbollah they should be prepared to go to prison for it. Sajid Javid, do not repeat the mistakes of Amber Rudd and Theresa May. Sajid Javid, listen to the people. It’s time for this to be the last Al Quds day.”
Addresses also came from North West and Sussex Friends of Israel, with the latter’s Simon Cobbs saying: “We are quick to attack Labour when they fail our community but we have to ask where is our government on this issue. They’ve had ample opportunity to take action.”
The counter-demo was also attended by the JLC’s Jonathan Goldstein, while, in a message read out, new Board of Deputies President Marie Van der Zyl describes the parade as “an annual opportunity to demonise the only Jewish state. It only adds to the hate that fuels the conflict.
“If they cared about the Palestinians they would tear down those flags and march instead to the Iranian and Syrian embassies.”
She also praised the Jewish News’ campaign for a full ban on Hezbollah as “courageous and consistent”.
This newspaper has in previous years launched petitions on the issue and ran a weekly countdown to this year’s parade, stressing the time the government had to make a change before Hezbollah flags would again fly with impunity.
A ComRes poll for Jewish News also showed four times as many Brits would support a ban as oppose it.