An estimated 1,500 people took to the streets of rainy central London on Sunday afternoon to proudly state their support for Israel.
The rally, organised by the Zionist Federation of UK and Ireland (ZF UK), took place outside the Israel Embassy in Kensington. A croaky Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely addressed the crowd, telling them she had lost her voice in recent days while “loudly standing up for Israel”. The envoy thanked British Jews for their support and said “Israel sees you and hears you and thanks you.”
Other speakers included ZF chairman Paul Charney, Board of Deputies president Marie van der Zyl and JLC chairman Jonathan Goldstein.
While the good-natured crowd sung Hatikvah and God Save The Queen, a counter demonstration gradually grew in numbers down the street. Around 50 people, mostly young men, arrived by 2.45pm, attempting to drown out the singing of Shalom Aleinu and Od Avenu Chai with screams of “Allahu Akbar” and “Free Palestine.”
A minority of pro-Israel supporters attempted to engage the counter demonstration with chants of “Tell no lies, tell the truth. Gays in Gaza thrown off roofs”, “1, 2, 3, 4, we want peace, you want war” and “Free Gaza from Hamas.”
The anti-Israel crowd grew increasingly hostile as the event drew to a close, facing up to police, who were in attendance in huge numbers, and chanting: “F*** Israel” and “What do we think of Israel? S***. What do we think of s***? Israel.”
Controversially, far-right activist Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson, was spotted among the crowd. The former leader of the English Defence League held a banner stating “Free Gaza from Hamas”.
A JLC spokesperson said: “Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, or Tommy Robinson as he likes to be called, was not invited today. Nor was he in any way welcome. We do not want his ‘support’ and we ask him to stay away from future events. Today is about supporting Israel, not spreading hate.”
A Board of Deputies spokesperson added: “Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, and supporters of of far-right extremist organisations like the English Defence League are not welcome at our community’s events. Their message of hate and division must be confronted and defeated. We utterly reject their bigotry.”
The event was hastily organised in the wake of a 600 percent rise in antisemitism linked to the recent 11-day conflict with Hamas, according to the Community Security Trust.
Speaking ahead of the event, Charney said: “Perhaps now more than ever, it is crucial that British Zionists vote with their feet and come out in force. We are also seeing an unprecedented rise in antisemitism, and by attending this rally we are all reiterating that we will not be cowed by it. We hope that our friends in Israel see this act of solidarity and know that they are not alone with many supporters in London.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.