Jewish Londoners Slam Government Advisor’s ‘No-Go Zone’ Claim About Pro-Palestine Marches

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Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 09/03/2024 - 4:10am in

Many Jewish Londoners have slapped down a Government advisor’s claim that London is now a “no-go zone for Jews” during the weekly pro-Palestine marches. 

Calling for tougher action against the Palestine protests, Government anti-extremism tsar Robin Simcox told the Telegraph: “We will not have become an authoritarian state if London is no longer permitted to be turned into a no-go zone for Jews every weekend... All these things and more have become normalised in the UK."

His comments dominated the paper’s Friday front page and led the BBC's agenda. 

BBC Radio 4 reported that Simcox – a self-described ‘neoconservative’ – declined to appear on the show on Friday morning to answer questions about his claim.

Responding to his comments, Green London Assembly Member Zack Polanski, who is Jewish, replied: “I've been on plenty of Palestine marches – and spoken at them– and as a Jewish person have felt completely safe. Whilst I don't doubt there are fearful people in our Jewish communities, headlines like this which serve to stoke fear and tension, are utterly irresponsible.”

Polanski told Byline Times that he has worked closely with Jewish organisations such as Na'mod, which marches for a ceasefire and Palestinian human rights.

“[They] are bringing Jewish voices against the occupation together and have been excellent in demonstrating the growing Jewish movement that is utterly horrified by what we're seeing unfold in Gaza,” he said.

“I've been and spoken at their rallies also and there's an absolute feeling of what else can we do now to make a ceasefire happen when politicians from the two old parties are looking away?

"It feels like stoking up stories of no-go zones are a huge distraction from our complicity in the collective punishment of the Palestinian people."

Simcox previously worked for the Henry Jackson Society think tank.

One of its founders, Matthew Jamison, wrote in 2017 that he was ashamed of his involvement and that it had allegedly become “a far-right, deeply anti-Muslim, racist... propaganda outfit to smear other cultures, religions and ethnic groups". Jamison and organisations, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, have claimed that the HJS has “relentlessly demonise[s] Muslims and Islam" – a claim the group denies. 

Another Jewish Londoner, Rachell Penn, said she was “so sick to death of this idea that Jews think in a singular way”. 

“From ultra orthodox to secular, and from right-wing to left-wing, we have so many different views, yet are patronised in the media as being incapable of different views.

"I march with  the Jewish bloc some weeks, and the very warm welcome it gets week in and week out is heart-warming. This is how peace will be achieved, not this culture war bullsh*t. Once again Jews are being used as a political football by politicians."

Ben Samuel, a Jewish Londoner from Edgware, has been in central London regularly to take part in the marches. He has marched with the Jewish bloc, in all weathers. 

While he says he’s witnessed a change in London since the 7 October attacks, and rising fears over security, he has felt safe at the marches. 

“I have monitored the situation closely by talking with Jewish neighbours and those at my synagogue," he told Byline Times. "In fact, synagogue has been a no-go zone for my black Jewish friend… The police presence has made the situation intolerable.”

He said another Jewish friend has felt uncomfortable at the atmosphere within her synagogue since October.

“At the end of [a] service the decision was made to sing Hatikvah, the national anthem of Israel," he added. "Just the whole atmosphere made her uncomfortable so she bravely [spoke] at the Bimah (pulpit), acknowledging Palestine in her talk. It's the first time I've ever heard the P word in that communal setting."

Samuel says he has been taken off door duty for his synagogue since October – he believes it may have been triggered by his pro-Palestine views. 

And while he has witnessed antisemitism and protest signs which “crassly reference the Holocaust”, media portrayals of the Palestine demonstrations do not present “the full picture”.

“I think it's vital that voices like mine are represented in the media reports,” he added. Samuel will continue to join the Jewish Bloc at the pro-ceasefire protests. 

Green activist Lesley Grahame, based in Norwich, said: “I once hid my matzos in a shopping trolley in case anyone associated me with the massacres. Nobody did. I support the ceasefire marches in Norwich and London. Yes, it's uncomfortable, but nothing to the life/death/grief/terror in the remains of Gaza.”

Matthew Butcher, a Jewish Londoner and progressive activist, said: “I am [Jewish] and it's just extraordinarily irresponsible for the Government advisor to say this. I'll be in central London feeling just fine I'd say.”

Non-profit policy worker James Ingram argued that Jews appeared to be “useful” to Simcox’s worldview and this his comments were "damaging and exclusionary”.

However, another Jewish London, Nicole Lampert, said she and her Jewish family were fearful on Saturdays “when there are people with antisemitic placards and people singing for the destruction of the only Jewish state”.

“I note there are no calls for peace or the return of the hostages on these demos (apart from the Jewish bloc),” she added. 

“Jewish people were already at a low level of fear before all of this because of the multiple threats against us. We don’t have security guards outside our schools, nurseries and synagogues for fun but because of all the death threats – and we’ve seen in France, Belgium etc. how these attacks will be carried out. That also has to be taken into account."

Writer Tanya Gold said the claim that London was a “no-go zone” was “absurd”, but added that certain parts of the marches – “anywhere where hostage posters are repeatedly defaced – feel threatening to Jews who are not anti-Zionist: i.e., most of us”.

Gold said that, while the marches haven’t erupted into violence and probably won't, “the demonisation of Israel – and with it, Jews who don't denounce Israel – feels appallingly familiar. In the mediaeval period, Jews were god-killers, demonic beings, and inhuman. You can hear very clear echoes of that language now. That is what terrifies us, and I think that fear is rational.”

Responding to Byline Times’ call for views on Simcox's comments, Francis Freeman claimed that some Jewish friends “no longer go on the marches because of the increase in antisemitic hate”.

Another Jewish respondent, Rebecca Trenner, added: “I don't go into [central] London on Saturdays because I feel threatened. I won't take my children to central London on protest days – many friends agree.”

Rabbi Zvi Solomons, who lives in Reading and often comes to London, said he has faced antisemitic behaviour (though not necessarily on the marches). He told Byline Times: “I am street savvy and have had two or three occasions when a young man has approached me from behind, in a menacing manner, whilst I’m walking down the road. They saw my kippa. I turned to avoid the situation becoming threatening to me."

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