Pro-Palestinian marches continue as organisers slam Rishi Sunak over 'extremists' claim

Prime Minister should look at his own MPs' behaviour, says campaigner, as Rochdale MP George Galloway calls comments 'despicable'

Local protests are planned this weekend with a national Pro-Palestinian march in central London on March 9. Photo: AFP
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Pro-Palestinian marches are set to continue in the UK as organisers hit back at Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s claim that the demonstrations have been hijacked by extremists.

In the wake of George Galloway’s shock win in the Rochdale by-election, Mr Sunak made a plea for unity against “extremists” while also urging the police to “take action” against anyone who could be expressing support for terrorist organisations on marches.

Mr Galloway, a divisive figure in British politics who was elected following a campaign that focused on the war in Gaza, has hit back at the Prime Minister, saying his comments were “despicable” and risk driving young Muslims on to the “rocks of extremism”.

Further local protests are planned this weekend before another national march, organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, takes place in central London on March 9.

Many of the actions this weekend are directed against Barclays Bank, which the campaign group alleges holds “substantial financial ties with arms companies supplying weapons and military technology to Israel”.

Speaking ahead of Saturday's protests, Ben Jamal, Palestine Solidarity Campaign director, responded to the Prime Minister's address by suggesting he “look in the mirror” and expel some senior MPs from his party.

“So Rishi Sunak wants to deal with 'extremists',” Mr Jamal said in message posted on social media platform X.

“Maybe he should start with politicians, political commentators and religious leaders who support a state, on trial for genocide, in its mass slaughter, and deliberate creation of famine. Not those protesting against it.”

In an address outside No 10 Downing Street on Friday, Mr Sunak said the UK's streets had been “hijacked” by people “hostile” to British values during protests in support of a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, which has raged for almost five months.

The Prime Minister had earlier met senior police chiefs to discuss the security situation for MPs as the Middle East conflict raises tensions among British communities, particularly those with a significant Muslim population.

“This week, I have met with senior police officers and made clear that it is the public's expectation that they will not merely manage these protests, but police them,” said Mr Sunak.

“And I say this to the police: we will back you when you take action.”

MPs have spoken of increased levels of intimidation from pro-Palestinian supporters, including having their homes targeted by protesters.

The meeting with senior officers was held after the Home Office announced a £31 million security package to protect MPs from threats, including providing elected politicians with a dedicated police contact to liaise with over safety issues.

Mr Galloway accused Mr Sunak of using Britain's Muslim population as a “whipping boy” and treating them as “second-class voters”.

“And that is what he was doing in Downing Street today, a despicable and dangerous thing,” he said on Friday.

He accused the UK government of “trying to conflate peaceful democratic protest in Britain with some kind of mob, with some kind of violence and intimidation.”

“It is all a very big lie and quite transparently so. But worse than a lie, it is dangerous.”

He argued that: “If you are saying to Muslims who vote that your vote will be delegitimised if you cast it the wrong way, and if you go out on a demonstration peacefully to demonstrate against what the ICJ [International Court of Justice] called a plausible case of genocide, then you will be called a terrorist, and new laws, new police approaches, will be conjured forth against you.

“If you do that, you are driving people away from the path of democracy and peaceful democratic protest.

“And there are many people on the rocks, siren voices that would like to draw, particularly young Muslims, on to those rocks – rocks of extremism, sectarian separatism, violence and so on.

“It is a very game the political leaders are playing.”

Updated: March 02, 2024, 1:05 PM