Met Police chief faces calls to quit after force threatened to arrest 'openly Jewish' man

20 April 2024, 19:16 | Updated: 21 April 2024, 10:54

An antisemitism campaigner has called for the head of the Metropolitan Police to resign after he was called "openly Jewish" by an officer and threatened with arrest near a pro-Palestinian march in London.

Gideon Falter, the chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, said Jewish Londoners cannot have confidence in the Met under Sir Mark Rowley's leadership and accused the commissioner of "victim blaming" following the incident.

Mr Falter has already received two apologies from the police after releasing video footage showing exchanges he had with Scotland Yard officers when he tried to cross Aldwych in central London as the march passed by last Saturday.

Former home secretary Suella Braverman also called for Sir Mark to resign after the incident and what she described as "failure after failure by the Met" over the last six months.

In an article for The Daily Telegraph, she wrote that "after such a litany of failure and a wholesale refusal to change, the Met commissioner needs to accept responsibility. And he must go."

She added: "I've seen too much fear and even more favouritism in the policing of pro-Palestinian protests."

Other figures including Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden were highly critical of the Met but stopped short of saying Sir Mark should go.

Mr Dowden told The Sunday Telegraph that the force had been "disrespecting" Jews while Lord Walney, the government's adviser on political violence, accused the Met of displaying "institutional antisemitism".

'You are quite openly Jewish'

In the video, an officer appears to prevent Mr Falter from crossing the road and tells him: "You are quite openly Jewish. This is a pro-Palestinian march. I am not accusing you of anything, but I am worried about the reaction to your presence."

Mr Falter, who was wearing a yarmulke and said he was simply walking past after attending synagogue, was then threatened with arrest if he did not leave the area.

He told Sky News: "I felt it was disgraceful, I could not understand how the police were able to look at a Jew walking down the street and decide that person is the threat, that person needs to be got rid of, not all the people around who were shouting abuse, but because I was walking down the street being a Jew.

'He should either resign or be removed'

"It is a farce, this incident happened last Saturday, still on Friday they were issuing statements blaming us, it is victim blaming. They are saying you walked down the street and that was a provocation. You shared the video and that made everyone look bad.

"It is not like that came from someone junior, Mark Rowley sent his assistant commissioner to issue that statement, this is coming from the top. We've waited six months for the Met to take control of these crowds, take control of the streets, and make London safe for law-abiding Londoners, he has failed to do that.

"I think the time has come now for Mark Rowley to go, he should either resign or be removed by the mayor and the home secretary."

In response, Sir Mark said: "Every member of the Met is determined to ensure that London is a city in which everyone feels safe.

"We absolutely understand how vulnerable Jewish and Muslim Londoners feel since the terrorist attacks on Israel."

Admitting that "some of our actions have increased this concern," he added: "I personally reiterate our apology from earlier this week.

"Today, as with every other day, our officers will continue to police with courage, empathy and impartiality."

'Being Jewish... should never be seen as provocative'

Both the Home Office and Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, have said the police were right to apologise, and policing minister Chris Philp says he will meet with Sir Mark next week.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "We welcome the Met Police's apology, and recognise the complexities of policing fast-moving public protests, but simply being Jewish - or of any other race or religion - should never be seen as provocative.

"Anyone of any religion should be free to go about their lives and feel safe doing so."

In the first apology, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist maintained Mr Falter's presence could be "provocative", but in a second statement retracted that view.

"The use of the term 'openly Jewish' by one of our officers is hugely regrettable," the statement said.

"We know it will have caused offence to many. We reiterate our apology.

"We have reflected on the strength of the response to our previous statement. In an effort to make a point about the policing of protest we caused further offence. This was never our intention. We have removed the statement and we apologise.

"Being Jewish is not a provocation. Jewish Londoners must be able to feel safe in this city."