British police last week forced a Jewish nonprofit to turn off digital screens on vans that were displaying images of Israeli children kidnapped by Hamas.
The Campaign Against Antisemitism was told that the projected images were “breaching the peace.” Gideon Falter, chief executive of the nonprofit, wrote that he was physically prevented from communicating with the van drivers.
It was “one of the most disturbing experiences in nine years at Campaign Against Antisemitism,” he said.
Falter explained that the nonprofit’s billboard vans had been driving around Central London when anti-Israel protesters forced the vehicles to stop across from the Houses of Parliament in Westminster. Video footage shows protesters shouting: “One, two, three, four, occupation no more! Five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a terrorist state!” while blocking a van.
Police at the scene told the nonprofit’s volunteers to turn off the billboard displays of the hostages and to “clear out of Central London. Otherwise, there would be a breach of the peace,” Falter said.
“The police told us we couldn’t show the billboard for our own safety,” he wrote. “Not only that, they asked me to step across the road with them for my safety.”
“Who are the police protecting here,” the nonprofit wrote. “Those standing up to terrorists, or those who sympathize with them?”
London’s Metropolitan Police stated, “We absolutely understand why the Campaign Against Antisemitism is raising awareness and calling for the release of all hostages. Having watched the video shared this evening, we can understand why the intervention of officers was seen as preventing that protest and why it has caused such frustration and upset.”
It continued, “We have no wish to limit freedom of expression or to prevent people from exercising their right to protest in whatever lawful way they see fit. However, we do have a responsibility for public safety and there will be occasions where we try to avoid groups with strongly-opposing views coming into immediate contact with each other.”
Campaign Against Antisemitism said the police’s response “does not hold water.”
“If you want to protect Jews, instead of telling us to go home and hide the faces of children kidnapped by a proscribed terrorist organization, whose founding charter calls for our annihilation, try letting us exercise our right to call for their safe return and arrest the protesters breaching the peace and intimidating our people,” the NGO wrote. “That’s how you ‘tackle hate crime.’”
Gary Mond, chairman of the National Jewish Assembly, told JNS that he agrees with Falter.
“The impression this creates among the Jewish community in the U.K. is that cracks are developing in the ability of the police to fully protect Jewish citizens from going about their lawful business,” Mond said.
“This frightening issue has to be addressed by the home secretary,” he added. “The government has promised to look after British Jews, and it needs to keep that promise.”