LONDON (AP) — Britain’s interior minister has accused the country’s largest police force of being more lenient toward pro-Palestinian demonstrators than other groups, deepening a political feud sparked by the Israel-Hamas war.
In a highly unusual attack on the police, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said London’s Metropolitan Police force was ignoring lawbreaking by “pro-Palestinian mobs.” She described demonstrators calling for a cease-fire in Gaza as “hate marchers.”
Pro-Palestinian protests have been held in London and other British cities every weekend since the war began more than a month ago. The government has criticized organizers for planning a march on Saturday because it is Armistice Day, the anniversary of the end of World War I, when many in Britain pause to remember the victims of war.
The march is a day before the main Remembrance Sunday commemorations, when King Charles III, senior politicians, diplomats, military leaders and veterans attend a wreath-laying ceremony at the Cenotaph war memorial in central London. The planned route does not pass close to the monument, which is steps from Parliament.
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has criticized planned protests on Remembrance weekend as “provocative and disrespectful.” But after summoning police chief Mark Rowley for talks on Wednesday, Sunak said the government backed “the right to peacefully protest. And the test of that freedom is whether our commitment to it can survive the discomfort and frustration of those who seek to use it, even if we disagree with them.”
That appeared to end the dispute, but Braverman escalated it dramatically with an article in Thursday’s edition of the Times of London newspaper. She accused the police of acting more leniently toward pro-Palestinian demonstrators and Black Lives Matter supporters than to right-wing protesters or soccer hooligans.
Braverman said “there is a perception that senior police officers play favorites when it comes to protesters,” and called demonstrations calling for a cease-fire in Gaza “an assertion of primacy by certain groups,” particularly Islamic extremists.
“Terrorists have been valorized, Israel has been demonized as Nazis and Jews have been threatened with further massacres,” she said.
Hundreds of thousands of people have taken part in demonstrations every Saturday since the war began organized by left-wing groups and Muslim organizations.
Police say there have been almost 200 arrests across London related to the conflict since Oct. 7, including 98 for suspected antisemitic offenses and 21 for alleged anti-Muslim offenses.
Protests can be banned in Britain only if there is a risk of serious disorder. Police said that threshold has not been met, though they are worried that “breakaway groups intent on fueling disorder” may show up, including far-right activists.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a member of the opposition Labour Party, said Braverman’s article was “irresponsible.”
“It stokes divisions, it is in danger of dividing societies,” he said.
The home secretary is responsible for law and order and immigration policy, including the government’s stalled plan to send asylum-seekers who arrive in Britain in boats on a one-way trip to Rwanda.
Braverman is a divisive figure who has become a favorite of the party’s populist authoritarian wing by advocating ever-tougher curbs on migration and a war on human rights protections, liberal social values and what she has called the “tofu-eating wokerati.”
Critics say Braverman is trying to position herself for a party leadership contest that could come if the Conservatives lose power in an election that is expected next year. Opinion polls for months have put the party 15 to 20 points behind Labour.
They have called on Sunak to fire her, saying failing to do so shows weakness on his part.