100,000 people march in London promoting Jewish message of peace – and there is very little sound
The hum was only a little louder than the rustling of winter coats and rhythm of feet along the pavement past old Fleet Street watering holes, less a march than a shuffle.
No flares were launched, no masks were worn. No vehicles were damaged and police acted as helpful hi-vis markers of the route, unburdened by the threat of violence.
The dozens of riot vans brought in from across the South East sat unused.
The 1,000 police on duty had an easy day’s overtime compared to the demonstrations of recent weeks.
“No, nothing at all. It’s been very calm,” one female officer told a protester who asked how her day was going.
One helped a bedraggled wayward jogger find his way out of the crowd and towards a less congested route.
More marshal than law enforcement
Another gave a child on his father’s shoulders a high-five, before getting a pat on the back and a thanks from a Jewish man wearing a Kippah.
Their role felt more marshal than law enforcement, with only two arrests made.
The biggest furore of the day was when Tommy Robinson appeared.
He was forced to leave by police, unwanted by the Jewish organisers of the event.
Boris Johnson, pictured above, received a much better reception, prompting cheers that broke the quiet when he arrived with wife Carrie and five-month-old Frank, chatting to demonstrators surrounding him.
”Since Oct 7, on the streets of London, we have heard chants for jihad, for intifada and from River to the Sea,” said Sir Ephraim Mirvis.
“But today we stand on the same streets of London and say with regard to our precious hostages: Bring Them Home.”
He headed up the mass of people moving through the Strand and towards Parliament Square.
There was an awkwardness to the crowd’s chants. Many, on their first march, preferred to keep quiet than to join in the singing, with tunes dying out in moments.
‘It’s a bit tame! What do we chant?’
Some picked up last-minute Israeli flags on wooden sticks for £5 from outside Tube stations while others braved the drizzle wearing theirs like capes.
“It’s a bit tame, isn’t it? What do we chant?” wondered Olivia, a Jewish woman in her late 20s, there with her boyfriend and their friend.
Elsewhere, a mother pushing her baby in the pram walked her golden cocker spaniel puppy alongside.
Only when calls of “bring them home” began echoing around the streets did the heft of tens of thousands of people in mourning become apparent.
Three twenty-something men using a small megaphone led a rendition of Am Yisrael Chai. As hundreds join in, one jokes that he “does weddings too”.
They carried a banner stating “Failure to condemn Hamas is anti-Semitic”.
Celebrities held an anti-Semitism banner at the march - Paul Grover for the Telegraph
Another sign saying “Give me antipasti, not anti-Semitism” became a prop for protesters to pose with, while a child was heard reading another out loud “Spread hummus, not hate”.
Jews were supported by non-Jews. Six-year-old Claudia held her mother Antonia’s hand as the family joined the rally because they were “appalled that anti-Semitism has returned to Britain’s streets”.
Mark Elliott-Smith, a priest at Our Lady of the Assumption Warwick Street, said: “I thought I had to be here and show solidarity. I’ve been on a few of the demonstrations. When I wrote something about it [anti-Semitism], I was called ‘a Nazi priest’.”
‘I’d feel safer in Israel than in Britain’
Rev Coles, bringing up the rear of the protest, said he had joined because many of his Jewish friends now feel frightened to walk down the street. “I find that intolerable,” he said.
Rueben and Natalie, a young, Jewish, married couple with family in Israel came out to march.
Natalie said that she would “feel safer in Israel, even as the bombs are falling, than in Britain”, her husband nodding wearily. His three brothers live there already.
“At least in Israel you feel like the state is looking after us, that the police are there to protect you, that the whole nation is with you,” he said. “It doesn’t feel like that here.”
The protest culminated with speeches from political and religious leaders.
Anti-Semitism ‘a stain on our country’
The crowd’s reception to the speakers was muted at first, but immigration minister Robert Jenrick won over the crowd in Parliament Square, telling the thousands packed around Parliament that anti-Semitism “is a stain on our country”.
“Your government will not rest until each and every one of [the hostages] is back in the loving embrace of their families. We stand with Israel,” he went on.
Peter Kyle, there as member of the shadow cabinet and vice chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, spoke after Mr Jenrick warmed the crowds up.
“After the most shameful period in my party’s history, I am enormously proud of the leadership Keir Starmer has shown in combating anti-Semitism and standing up for the British Jewish community,” he said.
It was this that drew the biggest cheer of the afternoon, before the crowd went quiet again as they began their journey home.
Gideon Falter, the chief executive of Campaign against Antisemitism which organised the march, said: “The voice of decency has been heard today.”