02 March 2024

Pro-Palestine protesters deny extremism and thank police as they target Barclays

02 March 2024

Pro-Palestine protests continued across England and Wales on Saturday following Rishi Sunak’s warning that demonstrations and democracy itself were being targeted by extremists.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign singled out Barclays bank for its day of action, assembling at nearly 50 locations including the branch on Tottenham Court Road in central London.

Protesters marched from Mornington Crescent to the Barclays branch, accompanied by the controversial “from the river to the sea” chant and flanked by a mass of police officers.

Luca Salice, 67, co-chair of the Camden Palestine Solidarity Campaign, dismissed the Prime Minister’s rhetoric around extremists as an election ploy and said protesters were actually grateful for the police.

“Rishi Sunak is losing an election. He is scrambling”, Mr Salice said, adding: “I don’t think our protests are extremist. I don’t see how being in favour of human lives is extremist.”

Mr Salice, an Italian who now lives in Camden, added: “There could be one or two extremists who come into the protests. I can’t say that is impossible and luckily we have the police here, who are working with us.

“They are helping us organise this protest and making sure they are safe. And whenever they see the odd person who may do something wrong, it is up to them to arrest them.”

Speaking at a lectern outside Downing Street on Friday evening, Mr Sunak urged protesters to prevent extremists from infiltrating their ranks and warned of more stringent policing.

The Tory leader said: “I want to speak directly to those who choose to continue to protest: don’t let the extremists hijack your marches.

“You have a chance in the coming weeks to show that you can protest decently, peacefully and with empathy for your fellow citizens.”

Paul Woof, 64, from Dulwich, who attended the protest with a sign that read: “Do I look like an extremist?”, called on politicians to witness the protests first hand.

He said: “These people ought to go on a march and see the sort of people who are on these marches, a lot of whom are Jewish.

“It’s astonishing the rhetoric”, he said, adding: “They know it isn’t true. They are talking to their grassroots faithful to try and stir up division in this country.”

In his Friday address, Mr Sunak said demonstrators should be able to “march and protest with passion” but “cannot call for violent jihad” or “call for the eradication of a state or any kind of hatred or antisemitism”.

“I say this to the police, we will back you when you take action,” he said, confirming that senior police chiefs would be expected to police rather than simply manage pro-Palestine protests.

At the Barclays branch on Tottenham Court Road, the police ordered protesters to move across the road citing Section 14 of the Public Order Act.

Amongst those was Peter Frankental, from Chingford, who carried a sign which read: “Aaron Bushnell: an act of bravery and courage that will not be forgotten”, referencing the member of the US Air Force who died after setting himself on fire outside of the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC in protest at the conflict in Gaza.

Asked whether he would condone a similar action outside the Houses of Parliament, he said: “Yes, certainly, it’s a supreme act for somebody to take their life in that way for what they believe in.

“Very few people would be prepared to do that and it communicates a strong message.”

In London, PSC targeted Barclays branches in Croydon, Hammersmith, Haringey, Harrow, Newham, Redbridge, Southwark, Streatham, Tower Hamlets, Willesden, and Wimbledon.

It comes after the Home Secretary James Cleverly said pro-Palestinian protesters had “made their point” and questioned: “What are these protests genuinely hoping to achieve?”

PSC has called for a boycott of the British bank because it claims Barclays holds “substantial financial ties” with arms companies supplying weapons to Israel.

Barclays has been contacted for comment.

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