On Sunday 26th November 2023, we joined around 100,000 people in what has been described by mainstream media as the “largest gathering against antisemitism London had seen since the Battle of Cable Street in 1936”. Although billed as a ‘march’, it was more of a gentle stroll as we walked somberly through the streets of London, from the Royal Courts of Justice to Parliament Square.
A slightly solemn air offset a general feeling of camaraderie. Disappointingly, the faces of those attending did not represent the true diversity of London. Perhaps understandably, there were more elderly people than we’d seen on other marches we’d attended, maybe because those people have closer ties to the horrors of the Holocaust and its aftermath. But there were plenty of younger people and family groups too; one woman who walked beside us had travelled alone from Suffolk to show her support and make sure her voice was heard.
Some people were singing, sometimes in Hebrew so we didn’t understand the words, although the sound was melodic and poignantly reminiscent of our time spent in Tel Aviv last month. We were in Tel Aviv exactly 50 days earlier when Hamas committed the atrocities of 7th October, and life changed for so many people in Israel. We know that some of the friends we made in Tel Aviv were evacuated from towns near the border with Gaza and haven’t been able to go home. Indeed, some may not have homes to return to, due to the endless rocket attacks descending from the terrorist-run neighboring territory.
This march was organized to raise awareness of the rise in antisemitism in the United Kingdom which has increased exponentially since 7th October. Surely, few would fail to agree that antisemitism is unequivocally bigotry, discrimination and, in some cases, outright hatred of Jewish people. Considering that the 2021 UK census reported that fewer than 300,000 people in England and Wales identify as Jewish, it is a sad and startling fact that the number of people said to have marched to ‘Free Palestine’ only weeks before outnumbered the entire British Jewish community.
So many people in the UK have been mocked for being ‘woke’, for holding a belief that it is important to be alert and concerned about social injustice and discrimination. Generation Z is defined as being predominantly empathetic, compassionate and hyperaware of injustice; a generation that prides itself on calling out intolerance and prejudice wherever it arises. So, we must ask, where were all those people for this march?
Organizers and speakers alike made it very clear that this wasn’t about Israel per se, about Zionism or even the current war, although there is no doubt that the Hamas attack and subsequent events have hugely reignited latent antisemitism. There was no shrieking, preaching of hate or intimidation as experienced on the previous ‘Free Palestine’ march, although understandably some people were draped in Israeli and Union flags and some chanted ‘Bring Them Home’, referring to the hostages taken by Hamas.
We estimated that a sizable majority of the people attending this march were from the British Jewish community. In fact, it was with great sadness that we realized that, without those Jewish people, the march was very poorly attended indeed when compared with demonstrations to oppose LGBTQ+ oppression, support Black rights and ‘Free Palestine’.
The ‘woke’ are seemingly well-intentioned but need to be awakened to this hugely overlooked, yet long-established, discrimination called antisemitism; anything less is simply virtue signaling for a fashionable cause. It seems that Jewish people are never in vogue, even though, like other oppressed minorities, Jews DO count.
Tom Waterton-Smith and Julie Russell