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22 April 2024

Prime Minister calls on police chief to rebuild trust among Jewish community

22 April 2024

Britain’s biggest police force needs to rebuild the trust of the Jewish community after an antisemitism campaigner was threatened with arrest at a pro-Palestine demonstration, the Prime Minister has said.

Rishi Sunak told journalists that he shared public shock and anger over exchanges between Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA), and officers policing the protest in central London on April 13.

But he said he has confidence in the head of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Mark Rowley, if the commissioner works to rebuild the confidence and trust of the Jewish community and the wider public.

Sir Mark has faced calls to resign from Mr Falter and former home secretary Suella Braverman, who has made no secret of her critical views of how the Metropolitan Police has dealt with protests.

He is due to meet with Mayor of London Sadiq Khan on Monday to discuss “community relations”, and is also expected to meet Home Secretary James Cleverly.

The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference: “I share the shock and the anger that many are feeling when they saw the clips over the weekend.

“And you know what I would say about Mark Rowley and the police, they do have a difficult job, of course I appreciate that.

“But what happened was clearly wrong. And it’s right that they’ve apologised for that.

“And yes, I do have confidence in him, but that’s on the basis that he works to rebuild the confidence and trust of not just the Jewish community, but the wider public, particularly people in London but more broadly.

“And you regain that trust and that confidence by making it clear that the police are not tolerating behaviour that we would all collectively deem unacceptable when we see it because it undermines our values.

“And I think that is critical. And I know the Home Secretary will be meeting the commissioner later today.”

Sky News published a 13-minute video of the exchanges between Mr Falter and police officers, including one in which an officer described Mr Falter, who was wearing a kippah, as “openly Jewish”.

The force has apologised twice over the incident on April 13, issuing one initial statement and then apologising for its first apology which had suggested opponents of pro-Palestinian marches “must know that their presence is provocative”.

The footage of the exchange shows Mr Falter telling police he wants to cross a road to reach Kingsway in central London as crowds of pro-Palestine protesters pass.

He tells one officer: “The Metropolitan Police says that these marches are completely safe for Jews, there is no problem whatsoever.

“You are telling me that I cannot walk to the other pavement. That I have to be escorted by you.”

The officer said: “I am telling you that I will help you by escorting you over there and that way you will be completely safe just as we promised, so we are keeping our word.”

Both the mayor and the Home Secretary have the power to dismiss the commissioner, but sources from both the Government and the mayoralty have said his job is not under threat.

Deputy foreign secretary Andrew Mitchell said Mr Cleverly would hold Sir Mark to account, but stopped short of calling for the Commissioner to resign.

He told Sky News: “I think the police do an incredibly difficult job on these occasions, so I am not criticising the bobby on the beat who was policing the demonstration.

“But I think there are strategic issues… how we ensure that Jewish people, people of any faith at all, can go about their business in London and not be impeded in the way that he was and not be stopped from walking through the streets of London because of the demonstrations that were taking place.

Historically, the Jewish community has always had a very good relationship with the police and I think it's really important that we do so going forward

“That’s a strategic issue and it needs to be resolved by the police.”

Meanwhile, Mr Falter said he would turn up at the next pro-Palestinian march and encouraged other Jews and allies to join him.

His campaign has launched a “walk together” initiative to follow the route of the march and “force the police to make sure that these things are safe for Jewish people”.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “We’ve been gaslit, essentially, for months now by the Met, because the Met keeps saying ‘these things are safe, nothing to worry about, they’re brilliantly policed’, and the reality is that’s not true and it’s so badly policed, that if you are a Jew on the sideline of this thing, they have to threaten you with arrest to get rid of you.”

A spokesman for Mr Khan said the Met “must have the confidence of the communities they serve and it is right that they have apologised for the way the incident was handled and their original public response”.

Sir Mark himself has reiterated the force’s apology and acknowledged that some officers’ actions had increased “concerns”.

Ahead of a meeting with Sir Mark this week, Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said she is not yet calling for the Commissioner’s resignation, but some serious incidents are causing the Jewish community to have a “complete loss of confidence in the police”.

She told Times Radio: “Historically, the Jewish community has always had a very good relationship with the police and I think it’s really important that we do so going forward.

“And the responsible thing to do is to put our concerns, and they have been widely, widely publicised. And it’s up to the police now to be able to tell us what they’re going to be able to do.

“And if the police feel that they need more legislation, then that’s also a matter for the Government and the Home Secretary.”

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