LONDON — Britain’s interior minister has accused the country’s largest police force of being more lenient toward pro-Palestinian demonstrators than other groups, deepening a political feud sparked by the Israel-Hamas war.
In a highly unusual attack on the police, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said London’s Metropolitan Police force was ignoring lawbreaking by “pro-Palestinian mobs.” She described demonstrators calling for a ceasefire in Gaza as “hate marchers.”
Many of the previous demonstrations featured people glorifying Hamas, calls to destroy Israel, and antisemitic incidents.
Pro-Palestinian protests have been held in London and other British cities every weekend since the war began on October 7, when 3,000 Hamas terrorists stormed into Israel, killing some 1,400 people, taking at least 240 captives, and launching a war through which Israel vowed to destroy the Gaza terror group.
The government has criticized organizers for planning a march this Saturday because it is Armistice Day, the anniversary of the end of World War I, when many in Britain pause to remember the victims of war.
The march is a day before the main Remembrance Sunday commemorations, when King Charles III, senior politicians, diplomats, military leaders and veterans attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph war memorial in central London. The planned route does not pass close to the monument, which is steps from Parliament.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has criticized planned protests on Remembrance weekend as “provocative and disrespectful.” But after summoning police chief Mark Rowley for talks on Wednesday, Sunak said the government backed “the right to peacefully protest. And the test of that freedom is whether our commitment to it can survive the discomfort and frustration of those who seek to use it, even if we disagree with them.”
That appeared to end the dispute, but Braverman escalated it dramatically with an article in Thursday’s edition of the Times of London newspaper. She accused the police of acting more leniently toward pro-Palestinian demonstrators and Black Lives Matter supporters than to right-wing protesters or soccer hooligans.
Braverman said, “There is a perception that senior police officers play favorites when it comes to protesters,” and called demonstrations calling for a ceasefire in Gaza “an assertion of primacy by certain groups,” particularly Islamic extremists.
“Terrorists have been valorized, Israel has been demonized as Nazis and Jews have been threatened with further massacres,” she said.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken part in demonstrations every Saturday since the war began organized by left-wing groups and Muslim organizations. There also have been large rallies supporting Israel and demanding Hamas free the hostages it seized in its October 7 onslaught.
Police say there have been almost 200 arrests across London related to the Israel-Hamas war since October 7, including 98 for suspected antisemitic offenses and 21 for alleged anti-Muslim offenses.
Protests can be banned in Britain only if there is a risk of serious disorder. Police said that threshold has not been met, though they are worried that “breakaway groups intent on fueling disorder” may show up, including far-right activists.
Sunak faced some calls to sack Braverman over the comments.
The main opposition Labour party’s home affairs spokeswoman, Yvette Cooper, said Braverman was “out of control” and “encouraging extremists on all sides.”
Tom Winsor, a former police watchdog chief, said the home secretary’s claim that the police were softer on left-wing groups went too far and was contrary to the principle of police independence.
“By applying pressure to the commissioner of the Met in this way, I think that crosses the line,” Winsor told BBC radio.
Downing Street insisted it had full confidence in Braverman but said it was investigating how her comments in an opinion piece in The Times were published without its consent, as required by the ministerial code.
“The content was not agreed with Number 10,” a spokesman for Sunak told reporters, referring to his Downing Street residence.
According to people familiar with the matter, her earlier speech was sent to Sunak’s office, which requested changes that were not made.
The home secretary is responsible for law and order and immigration policy, including the government’s stalled plan to send asylum-seekers who arrive in Britain in boats on a one-way trip to Rwanda.
Braverman is a divisive figure who has become a favorite of the party’s populist authoritarian wing by advocating ever-tougher curbs on migration and a war on human rights protections, liberal social values and what she has called the “tofu-eating wokerati.”
Critics say Braverman is trying to position herself for a party leadership contest that could come if the Conservatives lose power in an election that is expected next year. Opinion polls for months have put the party 15 to 20 points behind Labour.
They have called on Sunak to fire her, saying failing to do so shows weakness on his part.
Countries around the world have grappled with how to handle the strong emotions stirred by Hamas’s massacre and the subsequent war inside Gaza as Israel aims to dismantle the terror group. France’s interior minister on October 12 issued an order to local authorities nationwide to ban pro-Palestinian protests, citing risks to public order. France’s highest administrative authority overturned the blanket ban a week later and said decisions should be made locally based on risks to public order.
Since then, France has seen several pro-Palestinian protests, some authorized and peaceful, some banned and quickly dispersed by police.