Scotland Yard has said it cannot prevent a neo-Nazi protest taking place in the heart of one of London’s biggest Jewish areas, as community leaders and the local Conservative MP called on the Home Office to ban the rally.
A group of anti-Jewish demonstrators have signalled their intention to hold a rally on 4 July in Golders Green, an area of north London where Jewish residents make up 20% of the population.
The timing is particularly provocative as it takes place on a Saturday, the Jewish day of rest when most observant Jews will be walking to synagogue.
Police have no powers to ban a static demonstration and must safeguard the right to protest, a Met police spokesman said.
Ch Supt Adrian Usher, the officer in charge of policing in Barnet, said a plan for the policing operation was being formulated. “Officers are speaking to the organiser of the protest to understand what their plans are,” he said.
The Finchley and Golders Green MP, Mike Freer, told the Guardian he had asked the Home Office to ban the protest. “The rally is not about free speech but a deliberate attempt to provoke tension and antisemitism,” he said.
Jewish community groups, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the Community Security Trust and the London Jewish Forum, have also called for a ban, and more than 1,100 people have signed a Change.org petition to that effect.
A spokesman for the CST, a community body that monitors antisemitism, said it had been aware of the proposed demonstration for several weeks.
“By definition, this is attracting self-selecting antisemitic neo-Nazis who want to spend their Saturdays antagonising Jews,” a spokesman said. “If they come to Golders Green, then it will be an opportunity for Jews and non-Jews alike to stress their united values and their utter rejection of racism and antisemitism.”
The organisation said it would not be organising a counter-demonstration, but would support those who wished to hold one securely, with the cooperation of the police and local council.
Several Jewish groups have said they will organise counter-demonstrations, including leftwing Jewish collective Jewdas and the grassroots Campaign Against Antisemitism, with more than 200 people pledging attendance.
CST cautioned against a repeat of the “hype” surrounding a similar anti-Semitic demonstration touted by the neo-Nazi blogger Joshua Bonehill-Paine in Stamford Hill in the aftermath of the Paris attacks at a kosher supermarket. Bonehill has faced a number of criminal charges, including for alleged antisemitic harassment of MP Luciana Berger.
The Stamford Hill demonstration was eventually cancelled, but a handful of protesters did turn up in the north London suburb on 18 April, with little media attention.
“Jews now face two choices for 4 July. They can ignore the neo-Nazis, as in Stamford Hill, or they can protest,” the CST’s Mark Gardner said. “Whichever choice each individual takes, we hope that they will do so out of a feeling of pride and strength, rather than fear and intimidation.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said it “strongly condemns the offensive and unacceptable plan” for the protest.
It said it supported the right of the community to make a counter-protest and had made “firm representations to the home secretary and the Metropolitan police and look to them to prevent it happening or to move its location within the limits of the law.”