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British Jews are “fearful” and UK society is showing a lack of “moral clarity” about the importance of Jewish lives in the wake of Hamas’s attack on Israel last month, the deputy prime minister has said.
Oliver Dowden warned on Sunday that he harboured concerns about pro-Palestinian protests after fireworks were set off during a demonstration in central London on Saturday and four police officers were injured.
Such “intimidation” was “not acceptable”, the MP for the Home Counties seat of Hertsmere told Sky News. “I represent a large Jewish community. That community are fearful right now.”
Dowden said he was “disappointed” that “if you look at the moral indignation and the clarity that we saw after the murder of George Floyd in the United States with the Black Lives Matter movement, we haven’t seen across civic society the same kind of moral clarity showing that Jewish lives matter”.
The difference in the response to the two episodes was a “cause of hurt to the Jewish community”, he said, adding that antisemitism was “racism full stop” and the “same abhorrence that we show to other forms of racism, we should show towards antisemitism”.
Dowden’s comments come a month after Hamas fighters launched a surprise rampage through southern Israel, killing 1,400 people and taking more than 240 others hostage, according to Israeli officials. Israel has since launched its first ground offensive in Gaza in almost a decade. Gazan health officials say more than 9,488 Palestinians have been killed in the war.
The deputy prime minister said he wanted to send a “very clear signal” that Jewish people were safe in the UK, as he highlighted issues at British universities. “There are children who do not feel safe on campus,” he said, urging the police to “take very robust action” against incidents of intimidation.
Dowden also said he had “grave concerns” about a pro-Palestinian march due to take place on Armistice Day next Saturday. While stressing that police had operational independence, he urged forces to consider how the planned protest would sit alongside “acts of solemn remembrance”.
He told the BBC he had “worries” about “the level of violence and instability we may see with those marches”.
He added that there had been “hateful conduct” at pro-Palestinian marches to date, and called on attendees to ask themselves whether they were “lending support” to such behaviour.
Dowden’s intervention came after Tom Tugendhat, security minister, said that Remembrance Day was a “day of grief” for military veterans and not an “appropriate” time for a demonstration.
Tugendhat wrote last week to Sir Mark Rowley, Metropolitan Police chief, Sadiq Khan, Labour mayor of London, and Westminster council urging them to step in to prevent the protest on November 11.
Blocking a protest in central London would require the police to make a recommendation to Khan, which would then be passed to home secretary Suella Braverman for a final decision, according to government officials.
John Healey, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, insisted the right to free speech and the right to protest must be taken into account when deciding whether the demonstration should go ahead.
However, he told the BBC: “It’s totally unacceptable if any protest starts to disrespect or interfere with remembrance services, or indeed the two minute silence on Saturday, but this will be a matter for the police to decide.”
Healey highlighted that the planned protest was due to take place in “different parts of London” away from the Cenotaph, the focus of ceremonial remembrance events next weekend.
He also hit back against Braverman’s claims that pro-Palestinian protests were “hate marches”, telling Times Radio that he disagreed with the label because it would make policing such demonstrations harder.
Palestinian rights campaigners have said that while the planned protest would take place on the anniversary of the armistice at the end of the first world war, it would not overlap with the main events planned for Remembrance Sunday the following day.