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Paul Vallely: Policing marches is difficult enough

26 April 2024

Politicians are not helping by aiding mischief-makers, declares Paul Vallely

Alamy

Police separate pro-Palestine and pro-Israel protesters in London this month

Police separate pro-Palestine and pro-Israel protesters in London this month

THE Metropolitan Police found themselves in the firing line again this week after one of their officers told a protester that, since he was “openly Jewish” — he was wearing a kippah and clutching a prayer shawl — he could not walk through the middle of a march by pro-Palestinian demonstrators. The man, Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, released an edited video of the encounter, announcing that central London was a now a “police-enforced Jew-free zone”. Press and politicians rallied to his support.

One Sunday newspaper gave Mr Falter almost a whole page to set out his version of the incident. The next day, another paper announced: “PM appalled by Jewish man’s ordeal”. The former Home Secretary Suella Braverman seized the opportunity to repeat her call for London’s police chief, Sir Mark Rowley, to resign.

But all was not as it initially seemed. Sky News then released a full 13-minute video of the incident, which told a more nuanced story. It suggested that Mr Falter was not a guileless worshipper, walking home from synagogue, but a militant activist accompanied by gum-chewing heavies in dark glasses. In the longer video, a policeman accuses Mr Falter of having walked into the road, against the flow of the marchers, to provoke a confrontation.

When Mr Falter denied this, the officer accused him of being disingenuous, saying: “I can already see what your mindset is, sir.” The policeman then demonstrated immense patience with Mr Falter’s circular protestations, declining to arrest him for breach of the peace, and offering to escort him to the other side of the street by another route.

Yet, when all this was pointed out to Ms Braverman, she ignored it, and carried on insisting that the police had a pro-Palestinian bias, and insisting that London was now a “no-go” area for Jews.

That notion was contradicted by the 500 protesters marching under the banner “Jews for Gaza”. Several off them, along with a Jewish police officer, posted accounts on social media contradicting Mr Falter’s account.

“Throughout his interactions with the police we were standing only a few yards away from him, yet we experienced nothing but warmth and solidarity from the pro-Palestine demonstrators and not a hint of antisemitism,” they posted. “Our group was ‘openly Jewish’ . . . we all wore placards saying that, as descendants of Holocaust survivors, we oppose the ongoing genocide in Gaza.”

The police have an intractable job here. Plagued as they are by provocateurs and mischief-makers on both sides, they must try simultaneously to protect the right to protest while maintaining the public peace.

They are discharging their duties with considerable skill, according to Lord Mann, the Government’s Independent Adviser on Antisemitism, whose more judicious approach has led to his being blocked on social media by Mr Falter’s Campaign Against Antisemitism.

Lord Mann this week dismissed as “absurd” the idea that the Met Commissioner should resign as “dangerous for the country and very dangerous for the Jewish community”. More measures to build confidence and trust are needed, and this is best done by the police, in the words of the Jewish Community Security Trust, “with the professionalism that everyone expects” and “without it making the headlines”. Politicians should take note.

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