The Electronic Intifada / June 1, 2021
Britain’s leading pro-Israel groups have come under fire after their demonstration on 23 May was attended by prominent far-right figure Tommy Robinson.
But The Electronic Intifada has established that there was a much wider problem that day outside the Israeli embassy in London.
Some protesters chanted violently anti-Palestinian slogans and the far-right presence went beyond Robinson. You can see evidence in our video.
She was cheered by the crowd, with chants of “Tzipi ! Tzipi !”
Organizers have been struggling to contain the fallout from the demonstration.
Robinson – whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon – has for more than a decade been a leading British anti-Muslim activist. He is the founder of Islamophobic group the English Defence League.
Other speakers from the platform (which was barely visible behind a massive security presence) included former MP and Labour Friends of Israel ex-chair Joan Ryan, Jewish Leadership Council chair Jonathan Goldstein and Conservative lawmakers Theresa Villiers and Christian Wakeford.
But while the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland have sought to distance themselves from Robinson, an investigation by The Electronic Intifada revealed a wider problem of far-right racism that day.
While the Board and the Federation have both publicly claimed to want “peace” and to “free Gaza from Hamas,” many young supporters at their protest were off-message.
A review of footage posted online shows an enthusiastic group of young Zionists chanting “may your village burn” – a violent anti-Palestinian slogan commonly used in Hebrew.
Such incitement is common among Jewish extremists in Israel and the occupied West Bank.
“After ‘Death to the Arabs,’ this is the next most popular chant of genocidal Jewish supremacists” in Israel, journalist and Israel expert David Sheen told The Electronic Intifada.
In another shocking video from the London demonstration, a group of Zionist youths taunt counter-protesters holding Palestinian flags and chanting “Free, free Palestine!” who were standing some distance away.
“They’re waving flags that have no nation!” one of the Zionists shouted over a megaphone, to the excitement of the young crowd. “There is no Palestine!”
“There’ll never be Palestine. It’s our country! It’s my fucking country!” he shouted.
Another young Zionist shouted at the counter-protesters wishing “Life to Rabbi Meir Kahane!” in Hebrew.
The founder of two US-designated terrorist groups – the Jewish Defense League in the US and its Israeli branch Kach – Meir Kahane was a violent extremist who openly campaigned for the expulsion of all Palestinians from what he termed the “Land of Israel” – historic Palestine between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
That was in sharp contrast to the Palestine solidarity demonstration in London of the previous day, which had flooded London’s Hyde Park with an estimated 200,000 people, The Morning Star reported.
Anti-Palestinian journalist Lee Harpin reported that some attendees had openly welcomed Robinson. One of them reportedly said: “Tommy was invited … he came, was polite, he was supportive. … We need all the friends we can get.”
Left-wing Jewish groups have condemned Robinson and the pro-Israel demonstration in general.
David Rosenberg of the Jewish Socialists’ Group accused the Board of Deputies and its president Marie van der Zyl of hypocrisy.
“Hotovely’s virulently Islamophobic views and her support for ethnic cleansing accord perfectly with Tommy Robinson’s views,” Rosenberg told The Morning Star.
Glyn Secker of Jews for Justice for Palestinians said there was “no word of criticism of Israel’s onslaught” on Gaza from the Board.
“They should not, therefore, be surprised that such extremism attracts to their demonstration the Tommy Robinsons of this world.”
In 2016, Robinson went on a trip to Israel and the occupied West Bank, as well as the Golan Heights – a part of Syria which Israel ethnically cleansed in 1967 and has militarily occupied ever since.
The main organizer of the demonstration – the Zionist Federation – and endorser the Board of Deputies of British Jews, tweeted afterwards saying that Robinson was “not welcome.”
But both the Board and the Federation themselves have a long history of lobbying for Israel and smearing Palestinians and their supporters as “anti-Semitic.”
The Zionist Federation and the Board of Deputies did not reply to requests for comments
The star speaker at the demonstration, Tzipi Hotovely, has more than a decade of anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim incitement and activism in Israel under her belt.
Hotovely has backed Israeli groups that call for the destruction of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, called for Palestinian villages to be destroyed, actively supported settler extremists in the West Bank and even claimed that there is “no Palestinian people.” She has also called for Israel to expand its borders into the neighboring Arab country of Jordan – an act of war.
As well as cheering Hotovely, people in the crowd welcomed Robinson and some even booed the Board of Deputies’ president, Marie van der Zyl as she prepared to give a speech.
In a video released soon after the demo, Robinson said that the Board of Deputies’ response “just shows how out of touch they are.” He said that he had received a warm welcome from many at the demonstration, and called the Board “the politically correct, apologetic, pathetic, weak, cowardly leadership of the Jewish community.”
He said this was the “same as in our community” – by which he seemed to mean white English people – “we all get pissed off at the people who lead us.”
He said he had been there to “show my solidarity with the Jewish people” and thanked everyone who welcomed him, saying he had a great time.
Robinson’s claim to be pro-Jewish is belied by his implicit statement that Jewish people are not part of “our community” – i.e. that Jews are not really English or British.
Such anti-Jewish ideology is common to both the Zionist movement and most forms of far-right fascist discourse today.
Other videos released on social media show that Robinson was literally embraced by some of those attending, with some posing for photos.
Robinson told Mcilvenna: “I’ve just come to say that the English people – the true English people – stand with you. We stand with Israel.”
Mcilvenna had apparently arrived separately from the former English Defence League leader. “Tommy turned up, which was a nice surprise,” he concluded in his video.
Mcilvenna describes himself as a “big supporter of Israel” and as “a Christian Zionist.”
In a recent video he interviewed Richard Landes, the professor at an Israeli university who coined the racist concept of “Pallywood” – the demonizing myth that Palestinians habitually lie to incriminate Israel.
Videos of the demo suggest that Robinson may have had a point about some British Zionists’ discontent with the Board of Deputies.
An archived live stream of the demostration by YouTuber “Subject Access” shows that the Board’s president Marie van der Zyl was booed when she took the microphone to speak.
The crowd mostly seemed to ignore her speech, talking among themselves and even heckling at some points. Awaiting her speech, one man shouted that the Board was “a waste of time.”
Hebrew translation by David Sheen.
Video by Tala Kaddoura.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada