Being Jewish ‘never provocative’, says government after comment by Met officer

Campaign Against Antisemitism posted the video. Credit: PA Media

Being Jewish “should never be seen as provocative”, the government has said after the Metropolitan Police apologised when an officer used the term "openly Jewish" to describe an antisemitism campaigner.

The force apologised on Friday after the officer used the term to an antisemitism campaigner who was threatened with arrest near the march on April 13.

A video clip showed an officer telling Campaign Against Antisemitism chief executive Gideon Falter: “You are quite openly Jewish, this is a pro-Palestinian march. I’m not accusing you of anything but I’m worried about the reaction to your presence.”

Mr Falter had been wearing a kippah skull cap when he was prevented from crossing the road near the demonstration in the Aldwych area of London.

A Home Office spokesperson said people of any religion "should be free to go about their lives and feel safe doing so".

Issuing an initial apology on behalf of the Metropolitan Police, Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist said the officer's use of the phrase was "hugely regrettable", but suggested Mr Falter's presence had been "provocative" and the release of the footage would "further dent the confidence of many Jewish Londoners".

A spokesperson for London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the Met’s handling of the incident was “concerning” and its original apology had been “insensitive and wrong”.

The first apology from the Met on Friday suggested opponents of the marches “must know that their presence is provocative” and they are “increasing the likelihood of an altercation” by lining the route to object.

The first apology posted by the Metropolitan Police Credit: PA

But the force subsequently issued another statement apologising for the “further offence” caused by its first apology.

It said: “Being Jewish is not a provocation. Jewish Londoners must be able to feel safe in this city.”

The Home Office spokesperson said: “We welcome the Met Police’s apology, and recognise the complexities of policing fast-moving public protests, but simply being Jewish – or of any other race or religion – should never be seen as provocative.

“Anyone of any religion should be free to go about their lives and feel safe doing so.”

It is understood that James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, has written to both the Met and London Mayor Sadiq Khan about the incident.

People take part in a pro-Palestine march in central London on April 13 Credit: PA

A spokesperson for Mr Khan said: “Everybody must feel safe going about in London wherever they please.

“The way the original incident was dealt with by the Met was concerning and the original response put out by them was insensitive and wrong.

“The Met have an extremely difficult job – particularly so when it comes to operational decisions taken while policing marches – but in the end the Met must have the confidence of the communities they serve and it is right that they have apologised for the way the incident was handled and their original public response.”

Mr Falter said he had been walking in the capital after attending synagogue and was not there to counter-protest.

In the clip, another officer said to him: “There’s a unit of people here now.

“You will be escorted out of this area so you can go about your business, go where you want freely, or if you choose to remain here because you are causing a breach of peace with all these other people, you will be arrested.”

The officer said that Mr Falter’s presence was “antagonising”.

Mr Falter said afterwards: “Despite being told repeatedly that London is safe for Jews when these marches are taking place, my interactions with police officers last Saturday show that the Met believes that being openly Jewish will antagonise the anti-Israel marchers and that Jews need protection, which the police cannot guarantee.

“Instead of addressing that threat of antisemitic violence, the Met’s policy instead seems to be that law-abiding Jewish Londoners should not be in the parts of London where these marches are taking place.

“In other words, that they are no-go zones for Jews.”

Pro-Israel supporters and pro-Palestine supporters hold opposing demonstrations in Tottenham Court Road, in central London Credit: Yui Mok/PA

Mr Falter said he will be walking in London on April 27, when another pro-Palestinian march is planned to take place between Parliament Square and Hyde Park, adding that no part of the city should be unsafe.

On Saturday, two rival protests took place alongside each other in Tottenham Court Road, central London – one pro-Israel and one pro-Palestine.

The Met has faced criticism for its handling of a series of pro-Palestinian demonstrations since the renewal of hostilities in Gaza last October.

Last month, the prime minister said the public wanted to see officers “not merely manage these protests, but police them”, while his former home secretary, Suella Braverman, said the Jewish community had been “let down by the authorities”, during a Commons debate in February.

Want a quick and expert briefing on the biggest news stories? Listen to our latest podcasts to find out What You Need To Know...