UK Jews to far-right leader: Stay away from march against antisemitism

Ahead of expected mass protest in London, Jewish leaders say Tommy Robinson and supporters ‘not allies of the Jewish community’; Jewish journalists at BBC prohibited from attending

Large crowds of pro-Israel demonstrators gather in Trafalgar Square, London, October 22, 2023, demanding the release of all hostages abducted from Israel to Gaza by Hamas terrorists. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Large crowds of pro-Israel demonstrators gather in Trafalgar Square, London, October 22, 2023, demanding the release of all hostages abducted from Israel to Gaza by Hamas terrorists. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

Ahead of what could be the largest British gathering against antisemitism in nearly 90 years, Jewish community leaders have told far-right leader Stephen Yaxley-Lennon to stay away, The Guardian reported Friday.

The London demonstration on Sunday, organized by the Campaign Against Antisemitism, is expected to bring crowds of about 40,000, including a significant presence of non-Jews.

The founder of the English Defense League, who goes by the name Tommy Robinson, was quoted as saying that he supports the aims of the march.

But organizers deny sharing a mindset with the far-right. “Contrary to what Tommy Robinson appears to believe, the drunken far-right thugs who came to ‘protect the Cenotaph’ on Armistice Day, some of whom shouted ‘sieg heil’ or hospitalized police officers, are not allies of the Jewish community and are not welcome at our solidarity march,” The Guardian quoted a spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism as saying.

“We look forward to seeing those who genuinely support our community and invite all of our allies to join us and march shoulder to shoulder in solidarity with British Jews,” the spokesperson added.

Robinson, a former soccer hooligan, set up the EDL to protest against Islamic demonstrations in his hometown of Luton, but it soon attracted a far-right crowd as it became a nationwide movement. He has long campaigned against what he says are crimes committed by Muslim migrants.

British far-right activist Tommy Robinson speaks during a rally in Parliament Square in London, March 29, 2019. (AP Photo/ Frank Augstein)

Meanwhile, Jewish journalists at the BBC say the corporation’s rules prohibit them from marching this weekend.

Multiple journalists at the BBC who sought permission to march in the London demonstration told the British press they were referred to the company’s “impartiality rules.”

According to those rules, editorial, current affairs and some other staff “should not participate in public demonstrations or gatherings about controversial issues.”

Jewish journalists who pressed back have argued that protesting against discrimination should not be considered a political or controversial issue. They told their supervisors that “racism is racism,” The Telegraph reported, and that if the BBC disapproves of racism, its employees should be allowed to demonstrate against it.

“The BBC is clear that antisemitism is abhorrent,” a BBC spokesman said in a statement. “We have established guidance around marches, which explains that different considerations apply depending on what you do for the BBC.”

“Corporately, we have not issued any staff communication on any specific march this weekend, but this does not mean discussions which consider the guidance have not taken place between colleagues,” the spokesman added.

Protesters gather with placards and Palestinian flags during the ‘London Rally For Palestine’ in Trafalgar Square, central London on November 4, 2023. (Justin Tallis/AFP)

The march is being billed as the biggest demonstration of British Jews since the 1936 Battle of Cable Street, during which anti-fascist Jews united with neighbors in the East End to block the entrance of the British Union of Fascists. Approximately a quarter-million people — a mix of Jews, Irish dock workers, the local working class and communists — gathered then to prevent the fascists’ government-sanctioned march through a Jewish neighborhood in London.

Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, told The Jewish Chronicle: “We have witnessed mass criminality, including glorification of terrorism, support for banned terrorist organizations such as Hamas, and incitement to racial or religious hatred against Jews. The sad truth is that Jews do not feel safe in our capital city.”

A larger pro-Palestinian protest that could draw 100,000 people is planned for Saturday in London. An even larger one, estimated at around 300,000, took place in the British capital two weekends ago.

Like other countries across Europe, Britain has seen a sharp spike in antisemitic incidents since Hamas’s murderous rampage on Israeli communities on October 7, which sparked the current war in the Gaza Strip. Some incidents have taken place at pro-Palestinian protests worldwide, at which rally-goers have chanted antisemitic phrases.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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