A sit-in staged by more than 500 pro-Palestinian inside London’s Liverpool Street train station left Jewish passengers “intimidated”and seeking new routes of transport after it was allowed to continue on Tuesday evening.
The protest, organised by the Sisters Uncut grassroots campaign group, was organised on the pretext of calling for a ceasefire to Israel’s response to Hamas in Gaza, but featured frequent chants of “From the river to the sea” from the assembled crowd of activists.
Speeches were given by activists inside Liverpool Street station from the hardline Palestinian Youth Movement, and by members of the far-left International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper said the protest would have “been of concern to many people” and revealed he would be meeting with British Transport Police officers later this week to discuss the failure to break up the protest.
British Transport Police assistant chief constable Sean O’Callaghan said: “BTP became aware earlier in the day that a protest may occur in the station and ensured sufficient officers were at the station to respond to any incidents.
“Despite some claims being made in social media, at no time was Liverpool Street Station locked down or services disrupted.
“BTP officers worked with railway colleagues to ensure the safety of all concerned and allowed passengers to continue to travel as normal on the trains.”
Holocaust Educational Trust chief executive Karen Pollock was among those to raise concerns about the impact of the sit-up, writing on X, formerly known as Twitter: “It should not be difficult to understand or recognise that this is an intimidating atmosphere for Jewish people on their way home from work. Many have had to turn back.
“Chants of ‘From the river to the sea’ are calling for the destruction of Israel, the only Jewish state.”
The Liverpool Street protest was the latest in succession of pro-Palestine demos, that have sparked concern among many in the Jewish community.
After another mass protest in central London last week, organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, attracted around 150,000, Suella Braverman, the home secretary went as far as branding the demos “hate marches.”
Braverman said: “We’ve seen now tens of thousands of people take to the streets following the massacre of Jewish people, the single largest loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust, chanting for the erasure of Israel from the map,” the hardline minister said.
“To my mind there is only one way to describe those marches, they are hate marches.”
Five people were charged, and nine arrested after being arrested at the demonstrations in central London on Saturday, while about 100 people had been arrested intotal at protests since the Hamas attack on Israel three weeks ago.
But the home secretary’s comments immediately sparked criticism, with some pointing out that it was incorrect to suggest all at the demos were supportive of the extremist, anti-Israel positions.
Labour shadow minister Sir Chris Bryant was among those to suggest that Braverman’s comments actually make it “more difficult for police to do their job properly.”
Britain’s most senior police officer said last Sunday he would support a review into the legal definition of extremism in response to criticism of the way his officers handled pro-Palestinian protests in London.
Sir Mark Rowley, head of London’s Metropolitan Police force, said his officers would “ruthlessly” arrest anyone who commits a hate crime, but there could only be prosecutions when the law is broken.
“There is scope to be much sharper in how we deal with extremism within this country,” he told Sky News. “The law was never designed to deal with extremism, there’s a lot to do with terrorism and hate crime but we don’t have a body of law that deals with extremism and that is creating a gap.”
In 2021, Rowley had co-written a report sent to the UK government that had pointed out flaws in existing law in relation to policing demonstrations.
Ministers are now reviewing the legal definition of extremism in a move designed to counter hate crimes, including antisemitism, government officials say.
Reports also suggest the government is also examining potential changes to terrorism legislation.
Asked about calls for clarity on the definition of extremism, Downing Street said the government would look at any gaps in the law that might exist. “It’s important that frontline officers feel they have certainty and clarity,” the spokesman added, but he also insisted that the police did have powers to act.
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