A day after anti-Israel protesters gathered for the eighth week in a row in London demanding a full ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, tens of thousands of supporters of the Jewish state took to the streets in the capital on Sunday to protest rising antisemitism.
Organizers said the crowd numbered about 60,000—the largest demonstration against antisemitism in London since the 1936, anti-fascist “Battle of Cable Street.” London’s Metropolitan Police said about 50,000 people attended—some 5,000 more than it said took part in the previous day’s demonstration in support of Palestinians.
As the United Kingdom has witnessed a surge in antisemitism since Hamas’s Oct. 7 terror attacks on Israel, demonstrators waved Israeli and British flags. Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson was one of several former and current senior UK officials. Many attendees brandished posters declaring “Zero tolerance for antisemitism,” as packed crowds marched towards the Houses of Parliament, defying temperatures in the 40s and a steady drizzle of rain.
“With regard to the poisonous spread of antisemitism, what should the response of the British people be? Number one, call it out when you see it. Number two, call it by what it really is—Jew-hatred. Number three, be vigilant and report every incident. Number four, we must arrest every single perpetrator and bring every single one of them to justice,” Sir Ephraim Mirvis, the UK and Commonwealth chief rabbi, told the audience.
Mirvis added that Jews “will not be intimidated” and urged British Jewry to focus on teaching children to pursue peace and kindness.
He also cautioned against drawing conclusions from social media and emphasized the importance of historical facts.
‘No-go zone for Jews’
The chief rabbi referred directly to the motto “They shall not pass,” which was associated with the 1936 Cable Street “battle” in which hundreds of thousands of Londoners rallied to block a planned march by Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists through an East London neighborhood with a large Jewish community.
Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, noted that the rally followed weeks of anti-Israel protests that made London a “no-go zone for Jews.”
Sunday’s march attracted Israel supporters from a range of backgrounds who were keen to take a stand against rising threats against Jews.
“I’m here because ignoring antisemitism is not an option,” Jason, a 20-year-old law student, told JNS. “We have seen people take to the streets of Britain to call for the destruction of Israel and to celebrate terrorism. This is a disgrace.”
Jason, who did not provide his last name, told JNS that he knows that marches can’t change antisemitic hearts and minds. “But I hope it will provide decent people across Britain with some sense of hope amidst the darkness of hatred and violence,” he said.
Simon Ziegler, 56, a London-based tech entrepreneur, told JNS that he is “alarmed at current antisemitism,” which he said has spiked massively since Oct 7.”
“My family have been in England since Oliver Cromwell readmitted Jews in the 1600s, and have shed blood for the UK in wars,” he told JNS. “But we’re again being othered, harassed and treated as outcasts.”
Sunday’s was the first protest Ziegler ever attended, and he did so, he said, “because I feel it is essential for me to be here because we are the canary in the coal mine.”
Emily, a 26-year-old teacher, told JNS that she has many Jewish friends and colleagues, but isn’t Jewish herself. “I don’t usually pay much attention to the news, but I was horrified when I read about the details of the Oct. 7 attack and shocked when I saw videos of people in the UK denying or making excuses for it,” she said.
The teacher, who withheld her last name, told JNS that she was marching “to show my solidarity with British Jews and to call for the immediate release of all the hostages held by terror groups in Gaza.”
Alex Hobson, a longtime Anglican chaplain to the Royal Air Force, told JNS that he “strongly felt the need to stand up and be counted—to stand against the shocking hatred that has been exposed in British society these last few weeks and to say that we can never afford to be complacent about any kind of racism but, given the history, especially antisemitism.”
“As a Christian, I felt it was especially important, given how Christianity has sometimes been used to fuel antisemitism,” he said. “The march itself was such a joyous experience. It was delightful that it was all about love and solidarity, not wishing ill to anyone.”
March follows spate of antisemitic incidents
Before the march set off from outside the Royal Courts of Justice in Westminster, London police arrested the anti-Islam activist Tommy Robinson, whom organizers had told not to attend. Police said Robinson refused to leave after he was warned that his presence could cause “harassment, alarm and distress to others.”
High-profile rally attendees included television presenters Vanessa Feltz, Rob Rinder and Rachel Riley; actors Eddie Marsan and Maureen Lipman; comedian David Baddiel and historian Simon Sebag Montefiore.
On Monday, Feltz, a former BBC presenter, slammed the national broadcaster’s decision to bar staff from attending the rally, labeling it a “fundamental, basic anti-Jewish feeling.”
In addition to the chief rabbi, those who addressed the crowd included Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick; Shadow Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology and vice chair of Labour Friends of Israel Peter Kyle; actress Tracy-Ann Oberman; and the Iran-born Israeli singer Rita Yahan-Farouz (who goes by “Rita”).
The march came as the Community Security Trust reported at least 1,324 antisemitic incidents across Britain in the 40 days between Oct. 7 and Nov. 15, or more than 33 daily incidents of Jew-hatred.
A Campaign Against Antisemitism poll revealed that 69% of British Jews are less likely to show visible signs of their faith, and fewer than 20% believe that the police treat antisemitism like other hate crimes.
The survey of 3,744 British Jews, which was conducted from Nov. 12 to Nov. 17, suggests that almost half have considered leaving the United Kingdom due to the rise in antisemitism since Oct. 7. That 40-day period marked the highest-ever total in antisemitic incidents since the CST began recording incidents in 1984. In 2022, there were 217 incidents (about one-sixth of the 2023 number) reported in that same period.
Organizers said some 1,000 police officers, as well as volunteer CST security guards, ensured that the event went on safely. But after organizers had led a prayer for the safe return of hostages in Gaza, and after they had sung the Israeli and British national anthems, some attendees faced hostilities on their way home.
A man called pro-Israel attendees of the rally “a bunch of killers, a bunch of child-molesters” and “donkeys.” British Transport Police are currently searching for that individual, who also shouted “Free Palestine.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews, which is the largest communal representative body in the United Kingdom, faced initial criticism for declining to promote the rally. But on Saturday evening, it published a statement encouraging supporters to attend.