Jewish community officials are concerned that Britain’s anti-war movement increasingly is attracting extremist Islamic groups to its nationwide lobbies and events.
The disquiet was highlighted by a Sept. 27 rally in central London, one of a number of simultaneous worldwide protests against the war in Iraq and the U.S.-led reconstruction of the country.
Islamist banners and chanting were seen and heard clearly among the 20,000 or so protesters.
The London march was organized by the Stop the War Coalition, or SWC — a broad-based coalition of left-wing and anti-war groups, in conjunction with the Muslim Association of Britain and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
Though Iraq was the headline, placards at the rally — Britain’s first mass anti-war rally since the end of official hostilities in Iraq — called for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair to be tried for war crimes.
Bush and Blair — or “Bliar,” as the prime minister’s detractors have begun calling him — were the villains for most protesters. But Israel — and, some say, Jews in general — attracted the ire of the most extreme voices.
Banners called for “justice” for the Palestinians and an end to the Western presence in Iraq. Marchers carried a Hezbollah flag and green Islamist banners with bellicose anti-Jewish religious texts, while T-shirts showed a plane flying into Big Ben or carried a simple, radical message: “Jihad.”
Groups such as the London-based radical Islamist Al-Muhajiroun and Hizb ut-Tahrir — the latter has been banned in many Arab states — marched alongside members of the anti-nuclear group, trade unionists and left-wing lawmakers.
A spokesman for the Community Security Trust, the United Kingdom’s official Jewish security organization, said the attendance of Islamic extremists ultimately is detrimental to the organizers’ agenda — and alarms British Jews.
“We remain concerned that SWC rallies continue to attract extremist groups with whom they have little in common, and whose activities pose a threat to the Jewish community,” the trust spokesman told JTA.
A number of Jewish marchers — more might have attended had the rally not fallen on Rosh Hashanah — also criticized the presence of extremist organizations.
Richard Kuper of Jews Against the War called it “deeply worrying” to have Islamic extremist groups at the rally.
“As a Jew, it is extremely discomforting to discover that people there were calling for ‘Death to Israel’ or anything else anti-Semitic,” Kuper said. “I do not support the policy in Iraq and I feel the Sharon government is absolutely misguided, but it should be made clear what is and what is not legitimate protest. These chants and banners are not, and are unambiguously and simply repugnant.”
However, Kuper said that Jews who attended the march felt welcome.
“They even had a stall handing out apples and honey, and one of the speakers wished us ‘Happy new year’ from the stage,” he said.
Ghada Razuki, coordinator of the Stop the War Coalition, rejected complaints about the presence of extremist Islamic groups.
“We have very broad-based support and welcome any Muslim, Jewish, Christian or other faith group that wants to march with us,” she said. “We support the goal of ‘Freedom for Palestinians’ and so, no, we don’t have a problem with Hezbollah flags. They are a resistance movement opposed, like us, to the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine.”
“The only complaints I have heard are from the Zionists,” she added.
The Board of Deputies, which represents most British Jews, met with the SWC earlier this year to air concerns about the group’s association with Islamic bodies such as the Muslim Association of Britain, which makes strongly anti-Israel statements.
SWC representatives told the board that, though they support the Palestinians, the group’s main focus is Iraq.
Nonetheless, to coincide with the march, the SWC issued a set of playing cards featuring world leaders and politicians they consider enemies of peace. On the five of clubs, Sharon is vilified as a mass murderer.
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