In an answer to a groundswell of pro-Palestinian events in London since the start of Operation Protective Edge, some 1,500 people rallied outside the Israeli embassy Sunday in support of the Jewish state.
Organized by the Zionist Federation, the event was mostly peaceful, although as the rally dispersed, one man was assaulted by participants in a counter-demonstration that had been held nearby. He did not require hospital treatment, and no arrests were made.
Anat Koren, a long-time resident of London who publishes a Hebrew-language newsletter for expatriates, said she was delighted that as well as Israelis and Jewish supporters of Israel, Christian Zionists were in the ranks.
Police kept some 40 counter-demonstrators well away, and the whole atmosphere was very high-spirited, she said, adding however that the mood elsewhere in Europe was worrying.
“Things here might also very easily turn anti-Semitic, and it’s important to keep an eye on it. So that’s why it’s important for people to raise the Israeli flag in London in this way,” said Koren.
The previous day saw a much larger rally protesting Israel's bombing of Gaza, with at least 10,000 people marching through central London.
Organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, several roads were closed off as the demonstrators marched along a three-mile route from Downing Street to the Israeli embassy in Kensington.
Activists said the event attracted a far wider range of support than usual.
Aaron Dover, a 39-year-old Londoner and veteran of such events, who marched with the Jews For Justice For Palestinians group, said Saturday’s rally was “very ethnically diverse and a much more mixed crowd, not just the usual suspects”.
“There is now more outrage in non-Muslim community with people taking umbrage at Israel’s actions, he said.
“I didn’t see any nastiness, everyone was angry about the issues but it was a completely peaceful event,” added Dover, who was part of a Jewish contingent including J-Big, a group supporting the boycott of Israel, and Jews Against Zionism.
Adam Zomlot, 28, originally from Gaza, also said he was “amazed” by the range of people who turned up to march.
Describing a sea of people completely filling central London streets, he said, “There were many Muslims, and many English people, as well as Spanish and Italian. Tourists who happened to be in central London saw us and joined us too.”
He attributed the turn-out to how the current violence was being viewed on social media.
“The media now is not like before. Everyone has a phone and news is immediate. People see what is happening and understand.”
“There was a feeling of international solidarity on a scale I don’t feel I’ve ever witnessed before,” agreed Zoe Holman, a 31-year-old Australian journalist active in Middle East politics. “Usually at pro-Palestinian marches you see the same organizations, the same faces. This time there was a much greater cross-section of the population.”
She said there appeared to be a clear attempt by the organizers to keep the mood light.
“I was quite surprised by how upbeat and welcoming the atmosphere was.”
Other demonstrations have not passed off so successfully. In Paris, last week’s protest was banned after a previous rally ended with the attempted storming of two synagogues. Nonetheless, the march went ahead, and ended in violence after crowds threw stones and bottles at riot police who responded with tear gas.
In Belfast, there were minor clashes between rival protestors, with riot police also called in to separate the two sides.
In a previous rally also organized by the PSC, thousands of people turned up outside the Israeli embassy, London, on 11 July.
The last week has also seen protests against the BBC amid accusations by pro-Palestinian groups that their coverage of the Gaza conflict has been biased in favor of Israel.
Protests were held outside BBC headquarters in London and in Salford, in the north of England and an online petition criticizing their reporting has garnered 45,000 signatures.
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