London’s top cop defends officer who stopped man for being ‘openly Jewish’

After meeting Jewish community, Mark Rowley says he ‘completely understands’ behavior of policeman who prevented activist from entering pro-Palestinian march because of his kippa

Left: Gideon Falter, chair of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (Courtesy Natan Lilienfeld) and (right) Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley in London, November 9, 2023. (James Manning/PA via AP, File)
Left: Gideon Falter, chair of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (Courtesy Natan Lilienfeld) and (right) Metropolitan Police Commissioner Mark Rowley in London, November 9, 2023. (James Manning/PA via AP, File)

London Police Commissioner Mark Rowley on Monday praised the conduct of an officer who told a Jewish man he could not walk through a pro-Palestinian protest because he looked “openly Jewish.”

Speaking to the Guardian, Rowley said the officer, who prevented the activist Gideon Falter from crossing the street because he was wearing a kippa, would not be disciplined.

“The sergeant at the scene clearly assessed that there was a risk of confrontation and was trying to help Mr. Falter find a different route. I completely understand why the sergeant made this assessment. A couple of turns of phrase were clumsy and offensive … and we’ve apologized for that,” Rowley said, referring to the “openly Jewish” remark and a subsequent comment by Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist that suggested being Jewish is a provocation.

“The wider actions and intent of the officer were professional and in the best tradition of British police trying to prevent disorder.”

Rowley told the Guardian the officer correctly feared an altercation would ensue should Falter walk through the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel protest in central London.

“The public would be horrified if we said: ‘well, it’s obvious if those two groups come together, there’s going to be a massive fight. We’ll stand back and wait till it happens and we’ll pick up the pieces afterwards,’” he said.

A screenshot from video released by the Campaign Against Antisemitism shows a London Metropolitan Police officer threatening the CAA’s Gideon Falter with arrest because his presence is “antagonizing” to pro-Palestinian demonstrators at an anti-Israel march in London, April 13, 2024. (X video screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The commissioner added that none of the critics of the London police have pointed to laws that would allow them to behave differently than they have until now since weekly pro-Palestinian protests ensued following the terror group Hamas’s October 7 massacre, when nearly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed, and 253 were kidnapped.

He also said that pro-Palestinian protesters have been prevented from entering Jewish areas of the city to prevent altercations, therefore making claims that the marches make the city unsafe for Jews “not logical.”

When asked whether he still has confidence in Rowley, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he does “on the basis that he works to rebuild the confidence and trust of not just the Jewish community, but the wider public.”

The commissioner commented on the remark: “The prime minister can choose his own words.”

Gideon Falter, left, speaks to a chief police inspector at a Campaign Against Antisemitism rally in this undated photo taken in London. The photo was not taken on Saturday, April 13, when Falter was told to leave a central London neighborhood where an anti-Israel demonstration was taking place. (Courtesy of the CAA)

In the interview, Rowley added that the police in London are often put in situations designed to make them look biased against certain groups.

“There are very clearly some situations where officers are being set up with an absolute intention to intimidate officers and create a sort of fakery to try and prove police are not operating neutrally without fear or favor,” he said, stressing that he was not referring to the Gideon Falter incident.

The commissioner did mention an incident where an officer was photographed after a protester put a sticker of a Palestinian flag on him for a short time, leading to death threats at the officer and his wife.

Pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activists and supporters wave flags as they gather for a protest in Trafalgar Square in central London on March 30, 2024, calling for a ceasefire in the Israel/Hamas conflict. (BENJAMIN CREMEL / AFP)

“What’s disappointing is that credible and significant commentators leap on top of that and magnify it, while we’re doing fact-checking,” he said.

Following the criticism of police conduct, Rowley met with senior members of the London Jewish community on Monday, as well as London Mayor Sadiq Khan and British Home Secretary James Cleverly, who together are responsible for law and order in the city.

The meetings came as London police struggle to manage tensions sparked by the Israel-Hamas war, with Jewish residents saying they feel threatened by repeated pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel marches through the streets of the UK capital.

After the meeting with Jewish community leaders, Community Service Trust, a British charity that fights antisemitism, released a statement commending police conduct since October 7, but saying that more action must be taken, such as “reducing the number of protests, moving them to less disruptive locations and acting firmly and consistently” against demonstrators who commit offenses.

Though the pro-Palestinian marches have been largely peaceful, a British counterterrorism official said last month the protests have made the streets of London “a no-go zone for Jews every weekend.”

Demonstrations have also featured people glorifying Hamas, and antisemitic incidents and chants.

British Jews say they have been subject to verbal abuse by some pro-Palestinian supporters since October 7, and there have been recorded incidents of physical violence as well.

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