Protesters hold flares during a pro Palestinian demonstration in London, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Palestinian rally, London

‘It is the latest phase in an Islamist posing of the question of power on the streets of a major European city.’

By Jonathan Spyer, MEF

In London for a short visit this week, I decided to take a look at the latest demonstration organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) against what it refers to as the ‘genocide in Gaza.’ The weekly mass demonstrations in the British capital in support of the Palestinian side in the Gaza war have acquired significance beyond the specific context of British foreign policy.

As a middle-sized European power, the UK has little influence on Middle East events in general and no influence at all on Israeli or Hamas decision-making. Demands for a ‘ceasefire now’ on the streets of London will therefore produce nothing on the ground in the Middle East.

The demonstrations are significant, however, in that they showcase the arrival in British public life of a new political force: namely, a mass, Islamist-led street presence that seeks to enforce its will on the public space and intimidate its opponents.

Already in late February, the presence of an Islamist mob outside parliament forced the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, to change parliamentary procedure out of a concern for the physical safety of MPs in a debate on calls for a ceasefire in Gaza.

According to a report in the Guardian, opposition leader Keir Starmer “warned Hoyle that Labour MPs’ security was at risk” should they be seen to be abstaining or opposing a motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. Contrary to convention, and with ‘hundreds of protesters congregating outside parliament,’ the speaker permitted a Labour amendment softening the language of a Scottish National Party motion calling for a ceasefire, enabling Labour members to vote for the motion and thus avoid the hostile attentions of the mob.

Hoyle later justified his decision in the following terms: “The details of the things that have been brought to me are absolutely frightening on all members of this House on all sides. I have a duty of care, and I say that, and if my mistake is looking after members, then I am guilty.”

A notable precedent was thus established. Dan Hodges, a journalist with the mass circulation Mail on Sunday newspaper, later tweeted that he had spoken “to an MP yesterday who told me he had weighed up his own physical safety when deciding on how to vote on yesterday’s Gaza motion. We have crossed a line now. We are not a properly functioning democracy if this is a factor in how our elected representatives act.”

The Speaker’s decision came in the wake of a series of attacks and threats against MPs by Islamists in recent years. In 2021, a Conservative MP, David Amess, was stabbed to death in his constituency office by an Islamist assassin. A decade earlier, Labour MP Stephen Timms narrowly survived a similar stabbing attack by a female Islamist assailant.

Conservative MP and former minister of state for immigration Robert Jenrick, in a statement in Parliament, summed up the current situation in the following terms: “The real issue is that this House appears cowed by threats of violence and intimidation. The mother of parliaments appears weakened and diminished as a result. We have allowed our streets to be dominated by Islamist extremists, and British Jews and others to be too intimidated to walk through central London, week after week.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said, more succinctly, on February 29 that there was a “growing consensus that mob rule is replacing democratic rule.”

The Organizers of Weekly Marchers Have Ties to Hamas

Regarding the mob in question, the weekly demonstrations for Gaza, which have temporarily taken over central London regularly, attract upwards of 250,000 participants. The PSC is the main organizer, but a flyer handed to me as I approached the area where the march was due to set off on March 9 contained the logos of five other organizations identified as backing the protests. These were the Friends of al-Aqsa (FOA), the Stop the War Coalition, the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), the Palestinian Forum in Britain, and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

Of these, two have clear links to or are supportive of Hamas. The Muslim Association of Britain was co-founded by Mohammed Kathem Sawalha, a former senior Hamas military operative in the West Bank, now resident in Britain. The MAB is a Muslim Brotherhood-associated group. Its leaders include Azzam Tamimi, described by the Daily Telegraph as Hamas’s ‘special envoy’ in the UK.

Friends of al-Aqsa, meanwhile, was founded by Ismail Patel, who has visited Hamas-controlled Gaza and met with then-leader Ismail Haniyeh. It is listed by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, which publishes declassified materials from Israel’s intelligence bodies, as ‘harboring an intense hatred for Israel, campaigning for its elimination, denying its Jewish character, and supporting Hamas.”

The Stop the War Coalition is an organization established by the British radical left. The PSC, while lacking the openly Islamist credentials of MAB and Friends of al-Aqsa, has held visits to Hamas-controlled Gaza, where its leaders have met with senior Hamas officials. Since October 7, leading activists of the movement have expressed their support for the Palestinian “resistance.”

At the demonstration on March 9, this combination of Islamist and far-left affiliations was very apparent. The organizers claimed that 400,000 people attended the march, which proceeded from Hyde Park Corner to the US Embassy in central London. A young man I spoke to said he was concerned that the march would be smaller than usual because “it’s nearly Ramadan.”

While his fears proved unfounded, they accurately reflected the demographic at the march. I would estimate that roughly 50% of the demonstrators were visibly Muslim, with many women in hijabs and some men dressed in a way that identified them as Salafi Islamists. The other 50% appeared to be white British leftists who were visibly older. There were banners of various far-left organizations and labor unions. A few Irish flags and a banner representing a supporters’ group of the Glasgow Celtic Football Club (whose hardcore supporters are associated with Irish Republicanism) were seen.

But the energy of the march, the chanting and singing, all came from the Muslim contingent. Some of the chants were in Arabic, which would have passed the leftist elements by. I heard calls for Filastin Arabiye! (an Arab Palestine) and a chant of Dammi Falestini! (My Blood is Palestinian), referencing a recent hit song by Libyan-born, Gaza-raised singer Mohammed Assaf. I saw placards calling to “dismantle Zionism.”

One protester was wearing body armor and carrying a riot shield, along with a combat helmet adorned with a Palestinian flag. In another section of the march, a young female demonstrator wearing a black-and-white keffiyeh led a group of mainly hijabbed young women in a chant of “It is right to rebel – US, UK: go to hell!”

For Arab nationalists and Islamists, the Palestinian cause has long served as a kind of sounding board through which broader ambitions are expressed. In the demonstrations in London, this cause appears to be playing this familiar role once again. The flags at the demonstration were Palestinian, that is, the flag originally designed by Sir Mark Sykes as the banner of the Arab revolt against the Ottomans.

But the underlying meaning of these marches is something else; it is the latest phase in an Islamist posing of the question of power on the streets of a major European city. Whose will can be enforced? Whose rules must be obeyed? Who must bow before the threat of a superior force? These are the questions currently being asked via the mechanism of the Islamist mob that has emerged as a significant force in British public life in the period following October 7, 2023. The issue is thus rather stark.

This mob will either be dispersed or it may safely be assumed that it will continue to act to threaten and negate the will of elected representatives, thus eroding democratic governance in the UK.

Bring Purim Joy to Israeli Victims of War and Terror

Join us in providing Israeli victims of war and terror with much needed comfort, blessing and holiday joy.

Families have been destroyed by the horrific Hamas massacre of October 7th and ongoing terror and rockets attacks. There are so many orphans that need our love, compassion and support!

Brighten their Purim holiday by sending Purim food baskets, yummy treats, personal notes and toys for the children.