UK PM: Election of Oct. 7-denying Galloway 'beyond alarming'

Amid anti-Israel protests, Sunak says extremists deliberately undermining UK democracy

PM says regular Saturday pro-Palestinian demonstrations have descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence, vows to back up police when they take action

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addresses the media at Downing Street in London, March 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addresses the media at Downing Street in London, March 1, 2024. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Following weeks of simmering tension in the UK over the Gaza conflict, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Friday said that the “time has come” to battle extremist forces as he warned “democracy itself is a target.”

In an unusual address from outside his Downing Street home, Sunak said that “in recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality.”

Regular marches protesting Israel’s military response to Hamas’s October 7 attacks have seen dozens arrested for antisemitic chanting and banners, inviting support for Hamas, a banned terror organization, and assaulting emergency workers.

Right-wing counter-protesters were also arrested when they descended on London for Remembrance Day events in November.

“Islamist extremists and far-right groups are spreading a poison. That poison is extremism,” said Sunak.

Matters came to a head last week when the Speaker of the House of Commons said he bucked procedure during a debate due to concerns about the safety of MPs.

Pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protesters wave Palestinian flags and chant slogans during a demonstration in central London on January 6, 2024, calling for a ceasefire in the war in Gaza (HENRY NICHOLLS / AFP)

Sunak said that the protests, a regular occurrence on Saturdays in the capital, “had descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence.”

Sunak said that people had the right to protest and demand the protection of civilian life in Gaza, but could not use that cause to justify the support of Hamas, a proscribed group, and said he wanted police to “not merely manage these protests, but police them.”

He added that “Islamist extremists and the far-right feed off and embolden each other” and were “two sides of the same extremist coin.” He said that people in the country on visas would have their right to be in Britain removed if they “choose to spew hate.”

“Now our democracy itself is a target. Council meetings and local events have been stormed.

“MPs do not feel safe in their home. Long-standing parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns,” he added.

Police detain a protester during a pro-Palestinian demonstration, in London, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali

“I fear that our great achievement in building the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy is being deliberately undermined,” Sunak said.

The prime minister said that “police have a tough job in policing the protests” but that “we must draw a line.”

“I say this to the police, we will back up when you take action,” he added.

Sunak’s speech came as left-wing firebrand George Galloway was elected to the UK parliament after tapping into anger over the Israel-Hamas war in a chaotic by-election marred by allegations of antisemitism.

Sunak said it was “beyond alarming” that voters had elected a candidate “who dismisses the horror of what happened on October 7, and who glorifies Hezbollah.”

The government will soon unveil a “new, robust framework” to tackle extremism, which will include backing for the counter-radicalization Prevent program and a demand for universities to stop extremist activity on campus, he explained.

“It is not enough to live side-by-side, we must live together, united by shared values and a shared commitment to this country,” said Sunak.

“The time has now come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division,” he added.

British lawmakers this week have been given funding for new security provisions after some faced threats for expressing support for Israel in its war with Hamas.

The Gaza war began on October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel to kill nearly 1,200 people, mainly civilians, and took over 250 hostages.

Vowing to dismantle the Palestinian terror group and release the hostages, Israel launched a ground offensive in Gaza.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says that more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed so far. The figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed more than 13,000 Hamas operatives in addition to another 1,000 killed inside Israel on October 7.

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