Home secretary James Cleverly has insisted the police are now making “significant arrests” of those responsible for antisemitic hate crimes at pro-Palestinian rallies.
But he has admitted these arrests and prosecutions need to be better publicised to help calm widespread fears within the community about safety on our streets.
In a joint interview with Jewish News and Kan Israel Radio after he visited Golders Green to meet with communal leaders, Cleverly said he was only too aware how the climate in this country after the 7 October Hamas terror attack in Israel had left “Jewish communities feeling really, really under threat”.
But the former foreign secretary confirmed that the government and police were now working at “identifying and dealing with provocateurs” at the now weekly demonstrations who he said possessed “real evil intent”.
Dangerous ringleaders needed to be detached from those marchers who were joining pro-Palestine rallies out of “an understandable desire for peace in Israel and Gaza”, the home secretary added.
In a marked contrast to the often confrontational style of his predecessor Suella Braverman, the current home secretary stressed how he had enjoyed a lengthy working relationship with Sir Mark Rowley, the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.
Cleverly, 55, who replaced Braverman in his current role November, also refused to accept that the streets of London were now unsafe to walk in.
He also used the interview to praise the “very, very professional” approach of the Community Security Trust in making sure the Jewish community in this country was protected.
In a wide-ranging interview, Cleverly addressed concerns that the government had continued to ignore widespread calls for them to proscribe Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in this country.
The minister stressed a decision on whether to ban the group was being “constantly reviewed” but said any final move would only take place if it was backed as part of a “cross government collective agreement.”
During the interview, Cleverly was repeatedly pressed over concerns within the Jewish community here about the alleged failure of police to tackle repeated incidents of threatening hate speech, antisemitic or pro-Hamas placards being displayed by a minority of those attending Palestine demos in the aftermath of the October 7th massacre.
“An observation I have is that there’s probably a relatively small number of people who are genuinely pursuing a kind of really evil intent,” says Cleverly of those taking part in the demos.
“And unfortunately, there is a larger group of people, perhaps idealistically or naively being drawn into the slipstream of those individuals.
“I know the police and certainly the government are working at identifying and dealing with those provocateurs, those people who are driven by antisemitism, driven by hatred, and finding a way of detaching them from people who have understandable desire for peace in Gaza and Israel, and the eastern Mediterranean more broadly, who are scared and worried.
“Making sure that the good people aren’t swept up and radicalised by bad people.”
But the Army Reserve Officer and Braintree MP since 2015 also stressed the Metropolitan Police had made a “significant number of arrests” in relation to incidents at demos, but added:”We need to be better at publicising the fact that people are being arrested and being prosecuted.
“Not always, at the time of the protests themselves, it’ds that’s not always easy or the possible, but that there have been a significant number of arrests.”
He continued:”There have been a number of people charged and people who will be prosecuted including people who are wearing Hamas style headbands and the people who had those paraglider T-shirts.
“The police are taking action and as part of the reassurance we need to be better at letting people know that the police are taking action. ”
Reflecting on his move from the foreign secretary role into the Home Office, Cleverly said:”Sadly I am dealing with a lot of the same challenges and problems.
“One of the biggest events in career in foreign affairs was the brutal terrorist attack perpetrated by Hamas against Israel.
“I went to I went to visit Israel just a few days later.
“Then, of course, coming across to the job of Home Secretary, the repercussions of that terrorist attack the repercussions of Israel’s actions in Gaza are now having an impact in the UK as well.”
Cleverly said he was well aware and “saddened” by concerns raised by the community about feeling unsafe to venture into London’s West End on days the Palestine demos took place.
He was told that some visitors from Israel were openly asking family and friends ahead of their arrival whether the streets would be safe enough to walk in.
Cleverly, a former co-chairman of the Tory Party and one-time Education Secretary, said that despite the obvious issues around the demonstrations, the streets of London, in his opinion “are safe.”
But he had no illusions about the problems that were arising from extremist activity amongst a minority who attend Gaza demonstrations.
“I’m determined to do something about that,” he said. “One of the first meetings I had when I was appointed Home Secretary was with Mark Rowley, the Commissioner the Metropolitan Police, someone I know very well I’ve worked with for over a decade.”
He said he “made my expectation of the Metropolitan Police absolutely clear” stressing that they should “do everything they can to take action, where antisemitic activity is being seen.
“To respond and be seen to respond. so that everybody, including the Jewish community, feel safe in London.
Cleverly said he was someone who respected the right to protest but he believes “that is not an unbounded right.”
He continued: “You can’t just say and do anything you’d like.
“It’s got to be within the realms of legality and we have seen people overstep that mark and we are determined to continue taking action so that everybody, including the Jewish community feel safe and comfortable, enjoying what the capital city has to offer.”
But the home secretary was also realistic, and accepted there was now a need to make all communities in this country feel safe to be here.
Along with his meetings with the CST, the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council, such as last Friday’s in Golders Green, Cleverly said he had also met with Muslim communal leaders to hear their concerns and also provide reassurance.
“But we know this is going to be long term work,” he said. “It’s not about quick fixes.
“It’s about having the resilience to keep working on this and make sure that all communities in the UK are safe and just as importantly, feel safe.”
He added:”Regular engagement with authoritative voices from respective communities really matters. Making sure that everybody feels that they are safe, that they are protected by the police and by others is absolutely key.”
Cleverly also addressed concerns, made by some communal leaders, that by not proscribing Iran’s IRGC, the community was being left at risk, both here in the UK and elsewhere in the world.
The Lewisham born politician insisted:”We are already taking very strong action against the IRGC. They are sanctioned in their entirety, individuals within that organisation are also sanctioned.
“We are also constantly reviewing which organisations we sanction, which organisations we proscribe. That is why Hizb ut-Tahrir who were previously not, have now been. I was very pleased to do so.
“This proves that just because we haven’t done something yet doesn’t mean we won’t do it.”
But Cleverly reiterated that proscription needed to be a “collective” decision that was “cross government.”
As well as meeting with communal leaders, Cleverly took part in a walkabout in Golders Green ahead of Shabbat last Friday.
Also at the meeting where local MP Mike Freer, and councillor Dean Cohen, along with other senior figures in the community.
He said he was pleased to see that “in a part of London with a significant Jewish community and there are people out about the shopping smiling.”
As someone born in London, and continuing to work in the capital, Cleverly was still keen to talk up the city’s positives, rather than focus exclusively on its problems. But in testing times, he accepted unfortunately that “the bad news travels quicker than the good news.”
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.