Pro-Israel rally for JC May 2021
Hundreds of British Jews took part in a mostly good-natured demonstration of solidarity with Israel on Sunday afternoon, standing in pouring rain and waving flags as speaker after speaker pledged support for the right of self-defence for the Jewish state.
But there were a couple of sour notes: one Muslim supporter was given a hard time by CST volunteers, he said, and to the distress of some — including the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council — the extreme right-winger, Tommy Robinson, (Steven Yaxley-Lennon) turned up and was seen shaking hands with people around him, while holding a “Free Gaza from Hamas” banner.
Both the Board and the JLC condemned Robinson’s appearance: the JLC, posting on Twitter, said: “Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, or Tommy Robinson as he likes to be called, was not invited today. Nor was he in any way welcome. We do not want his ‘support’ and we ask him to stay away from future events. Today is about supporting Israel, not spreading hate”.
But the denunciation was shrugged off by Robinson, who said they were “the politically pathetic, weak, cowardly leadership of the Jewish community…their response to my presence shows how out of touch they are with their own people”.
An attempt by a relatively small number of pro-Palestinian supporters to disrupt the rally was swiftly squashed by a heavy police presence. There were said to have been around 40 people who made their way into the main crowd of around 1500, but when one man unfurled a Palestinian flag, police moved in and he was taken away, hands secured behind his back.
Besides the Israeli flags making a sea of blue and white in Kensington High Street in central London, there were other flags on display — from Portugal, India and the Netherlands. The appearance of the Israeli ambassador, Tzipi Hotovely, who said she had almost lost her voice through many media appearances in defence of Israel’s actions, was greeted with chants of “Tzipi, Tzipi” by some in the crowd.
First to speak was the newly re-elected president of the Board of Deputies, Marie van den Zyl, who said she had asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate the “disgusting antisemitic abuse” voiced at the recent central London rally in support of the Palestinians, in which participants had been filmed chanting “death to Jews”. She said that a campaign by “Chris Williamson, that well-known Jew baiter”, appeared to be “a concentrated effort to hound Jewish teachers out of classrooms around the country”.
Many of the speakers maintained there was no difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. Jonathan Goldstein, chair of the Jewish Leadership Council, declared: “If you drive 200 miles to go down the Finchley Road taunting abuse at Jews, you are an antisemite” — adding” “We will not be intimidated by racist scum”.
Two strong non-Jewish supporters of Israel added their words of support — the former Labour MP and chair of Labour Friends of Israel, Joan Ryan, and the Conservative MP and former minister, Theresa Villiers. And there was an unscheduled appearance from the Bury South MP, Christian Wakeford. Political analyst Jonathan Spyer spoke about the context of the fighting, while Rabbi Andrew Shaw of Mizrachi UK issued some wry “apologies” — “I am sorry there are no more dead Jews, I am sorry that Hamas hides behind children”.
The event was chaired by the Zionist Federation’s Paul Charney. It took place under the joint auspices of the ZF, the World Zionist Organisation, We Believe In Israel, and several local Zionist organisation.