Chants of “1,2,3,4, occupation no more” and “Terrorist flags off our streets” battled it out between Quds Day marchers and a counter protest organized by pro-Israel activists outside the Saudi Arabian Embassy in London on Sunday afternoon.
Quds Day was initiated by the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 to oppose Zionism and the existence of Israel. It has often been the rallying point for frankly antisemitic demonstrations.
This year’s protest was notable for the high number of far-right activists present, who at one point were roadblocked onto a separate street by the police in order to separate them from the main march.
The Saudi embassy was said to be chosen as the starting point by march organizers, the Islamic Human Rights Commission, on the basis that “Riyadh’s growing support for the Zionist regime… has had the effect of isolating the Palestinians and giving Israel the green light to accelerate its injustices.”
The march and counter-protest took place peacefully, with Quds Day marchers singing a uniquely British take on the “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” chant that included the additional added line “We’ll be sitting in Al-Quds, we’ll have a cup of tea.”
One participant at the protest, who wished to remain anonymous, felt that it was important to be there for “humanity – one way or another people are dying. I want to make a difference.”
The “Stand Against Hate, Stand Against Hezbollah” counter-protest organized by the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland included Israeli music blasted over a large sound system and featured speeches from a range of speakers, including counter-extremist activist and radio talk show host Maajid Nawaz.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post following the march, Arieh Miller, executive director of the Zionist Federation, said he was pleased that people had come to “stand against hatred in all forms, including antisemitism, Islamophobia, and to say no to Hezbollah.”
Concerns in the build-up to the protest had been two-fold.
The first was that as with previous years, Hezbollah flags would be freely flown, as the result of a legal loophole proscribing the Lebanese group’s military wing, but not its political wing. Hezbollah flags were widely visible again this year, as were placards with statements such as “We are all Hezbollah.”
One demonstrator said the sizable number of anti-Saudi Arabia signs at the protest reflected the widely-held belief that “the majority of Arabs have given up on Palestine.”
In advance of the march, a spokesperson for London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “Antisemitism or hate crime of any kind has no place in our city or in our society.
“Sadiq has written to the home secretary to raise his deep concerns about the support shown for Hezbollah at the annual Al-Quds Day march. He has called on him to urgently reconsider his predecessor’s decision not to take action to stop this.”
The second area of concern focused on fear from all sides that far-right extremists would attempt to infiltrate the Zionist Federation’s counter-protest. A federation representative told the Post after the protest that no such infiltration had occurred.
Many of the far-right activists in attendance chanted “Free Tommy [Robinson],” in reference to the founder of the far-right group the English Defense League who was jailed last week for 13 months for contempt of court.
In a statement issued in advance of the protest, the Islamic Human Rights Commission said, “Zionist and far-right extremists have again called a rival rally on the same day in order to seek to disrupt the Al-Quds Day demonstration.
“Al-Quds Day has been a fixture in the capital for over 30 years. The annual event is a general show of solidarity drawing in people of all faiths and political persuasions.”
The Metropolitan Police stated that there had been one arrest at the demonstrations for possession of a noxious substance.