Activists brandished placards making “sickening” comparisons between the Gaza conflict and the Holocaust as tens of thousands of pro-Palestine protesters marched through London on Saturday.
Several placards making the comparison, which many regard as anti-Semitic and offensive, were held aloft as protestors made their way from the City to Westminster.
One hand-drawn placard showed a star of David, symbol of the state of Israel, being used to push Palestinians into the sea, and around it were written the words ‘The Final Solution?’, an offensive reference to the Holocaust.
Another placard stated: “Israel’s Gaza Holocaust”, with one declaring: “Zionism = white supremacy.”
Others compared Israel’s bombing of Gaza to “genocide”, with one man holding a placard reading: “May Israeli genocidaires burn in hell.”
Jewish groups condemned the use of Holocaust and genocide comparisons as historically inaccurate and deliberately anti-Semitic.
Scotland Yard said that 13 arrests had been made by late afternoon, mostly for offensive placards, but some for other offences, including possession of drugs and obstruction.
Before the march had even begun, police arrested a man on suspicion of a racially aggravated public order offence, after officers identified a man with a placard making comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany.
The Metropolitan Police said it was investigating the wording of a number of similar signs on the march, including one showing a photograph of victims of the Holocaust alongside one of Palestinians killed in the current conflict.
In response to one such placard being brought to their attention, Scotland Yard said: “Thank you for making us aware of this, our public order crime team are investigating.”
In one potential flashpoint, police were filmed being asked to act over a banner showing naked Holocaust victims next to a photograph of naked Palestinian men in Gaza being detained by Israeli soldiers.
One officer appears to reply that the crowd “would swarm us” if police intervened.
As the march wound its way from Bank tube station in the City of London to Whitehall, sections of the crowd chanted “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” – regarded by many as being a call for the destruction of the state of Israel and its replacement with a Palestinian state – along with “Ceasefire now”.
There were also chants of “From London to Gaza, globalise the intifada!”, interpreted by some as a call for the violence against Israel to be widened and which some Jewish groups say is a deliberate attempt to intimidate members of their community.
Pro-Palestine activists argue the slogan is simply a call for people around the world to show solidarity with people in Gaza and the West Bank against what they regard as aggression by Israel.
People on the march also held signs reading “Free Palestine” and “End the siege”, while others chanted: “One, two, three, four, occupation no more, five, six, seven, eight, Israel is a terrorist state.”
By contrast, a group of Jewish people on the Embankment held up placards stating “This Jew wants a ceasefire now”, prompting some of the passing protesters to applaud.
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “Yet again we see anti-Semitic posters and rhetoric spewed on our streets at supposedly ‘peaceful marches’. Signs comparing Israel – the Jewish state – to the Nazis, signs referencing the ‘Final Solution’, the Nazi euphemism for the industrialised murder of six-million Jewish men, women and children, are alongside the now typical calls of ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ – a genocidal call for the eradication of Israel.
“These marches continue to make London a no-go zone for Jewish people, week after week. These offensive and sickening signs and slogans have no place on our streets.”
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “Comparisons between Israel and Nazis or the policies of the Jewish state and the Holocaust are clear breaches of the international definition of anti-Semitism.
“They show a woeful ignorance of history, insult the victims of the Holocaust and their descendants, diminish and trivialise the genocide of the Jews, and demonise the Jewish state. They are blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric and underscore just how unpeaceful these weekly anti-Israel demonstrations have been.
“It is shameful that those Londoners brave enough to enter the centre of town during these marches have to bear witness to openly racist signage on their streets.”
Among those leading the march in protest at the continued Israeli attacks on Gaza was the independent MP Claudia Webbe, who was expelled from the Labour Party in 2021 after being convicted of harassment of a woman who was having an affair with her then-partner.
The march is the latest in a series of weekly protests called by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, the Stop the War Coalition and other groups, with this one coming immediately after the UK abstained on a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza – a motion vetoed by the US.
People on the march said they were right to protest against Israel’s bombardment of Gaza.
Nadim Hussami, 44, a Lebanese-American, said that the Government should demand a ceasefire.
“They should ask for an immediate ceasefire and not veto or abstain from UN Security Council resolutions,” he said.
Jocelyn Cruywagen, from South Africa, said: “We were oppressed by white people, as black South Africans we had to fight for our freedoms, we are still not entirely free,” she said. “It takes so much time. The words of Mandela are, ‘if the Palestinians are not free, we cannot be free, the world cannot be free’.”
Kelly Hunter, 60, from London, said she felt “helpless” watching the news.
“I have come on every single one. I am a Londoner,” she added. “I feel helpless, I can’t sleep at night. I am watching this genocide. I will do everything I can in my power to march against it.”
Previous protests have also seen openly anti-Semitic placards and banners held by sections of the crowd, prompting criticism of the motives of some activists and a pledge by the police to crack down on any expressions of support for terror groups.
An exclusion zone was put in place prohibiting any protesters from assembling around the Israeli embassy.
There was also a heavy police presence along Whitehall with officers protecting key monuments and The Cenotaph as thousands of protesters filed passed towards Westminster.
At one point, a breakaway group of about 30 protesters was cut off by police on horseback as it targeted Canada House, the High Commission of Canada, just west of Trafalgar Square.
The group, which was shouting “Israel is a terror state”, was surrounded by officers and allowed to carry on its protest, but not enter the building.
As the protest reached Parliament, dozens of police officers positioned themselves around the statue of Winston Churchill.
A minute’s silence was held and Jeremy Corbyn, former Labour leader, and John McDonnell, former shadow chancellor, were among those speaking in support of a ceasefire.