Downing Street has expressed concerns over the chant “from the river to the sea,” describing it as “deeply offensive” to many, amid growing controversy surrounding the rhetoric used in recent pro-Palestinian demonstrations.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it is a matter for the police to decide on the appropriate response when confronted with the use of such chants during public demonstrations.
However, he stressed: “I can understand how the use of that language and others will be of significant concern to many.”
His comments come after some pro-Palestinian protesters chanted “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” during recent demonstrations in London, despite controversy around the slogan’s meaning.
Labour MP Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) also used the phrase during a speech at a pro-Palestine rally at the weekend as Labour’s divisions over the conflict in Israel and Gaza continue to deepen.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has previously branded the slogan antisemitic and claimed that it is “widely understood” to call for the destruction of Israel but pro-Palestinian protesters have contested this definition.
Asked in a briefing with reporters about the chant, the PM’s spokesman said: “We understand clearly this is a deeply offensive chant to many.
“And again, I think people need to be responsible with their use of language.
“Obviously it’s up to the police to make an operational decision about the use of that language if they see fit to do so, but I can understand how the use of that language and others will be of significant concern to many.”
He added: “Right now, communities across Britain, Jewish communities across Britain, need to be reassured that police and indeed the wider Government, national and local are protecting them because these will be deeply concerning times after a traumatic terror event.”
Education minister Robert Halfon, who is Jewish, told Times Radio that hearing the phrase being chanted was “horrific” and “scary”, adding: “It’s frightening for Jewish people in England at the moment, you know.
“I really welcome that the Prime Minister has done everything possible to support those of the Jewish faith, but it is frightening when you hear those chants … when you hear cries of jihad every week in central London.
“It is frightening.
“When you hear that Jewish schools have to close their doors, when you hear of students, I am the universities minister as well, I get messages from Jewish chaplaincy service in higher education that Jewish students are having Palestinian flags draped over their cars or doors knocked on of the Jewish chaplain with people knocking on doors saying ‘we know where you live’.
“Antisemitism has gone up enormously even in my area of higher education.
“The Community Security Trust suggested it has gone up by over 400% since October 7.”
On what action Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer should take after Mr McDonald used the phrase, Mr Halfon told LBC: “Well, I’m absolutely not going to get involved in what goes on in the Labour Party.
“I’m proud that the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, my boss the Education Secretary are doing everything possible to support Jewish people at this very awful time.
“The one thing I would say that it’s incumbent on everyone, especially those in politics, not to chant slogans that are known antisemitic slogans, and I think I’d leave it at that.”
Asked if he agreed with Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, who said there is a problem with rising antisemitism in London, Mr Halfon said: “Yes, I do. I think it’s a fearful time for Jews in the UK.”
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