‘Israel should exist’: Boris Johnson condemns rise in anti-Semitism as he attends 100,000-strong march in London

26 November 2023, 19:51 | Updated: 26 November 2023, 21:02

Boris Johnson speaks to LBC

Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Boris Johnson has said a rise in anti-Semitism in the wake of the October 7 attacks has shown how "vital" it is that Israel exists.

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Speaking to LBC from a 100,000-strong march against anti-Semitism in central London on Sunday, the former prime minister said: "Anti-Semitism, sadly, is a virus that remains beneath the floorboards, always waiting to come out, to come to life again.

"Since October 7th, sadly, it has come to life. We have seen it on our streets. People should come out out and show their solidarity with Jewish people everywhere."

Johnson added: "What the last few weeks have really shown is whatever its faults, it’s vitally important that Israel exists."

Boris Johnson attended the March Against Antisemitism
Boris Johnson attended the March Against Antisemitism. Picture: Alamy

Organisers estimate 100,000 people marched through central London to demonstrate against anti-Semitism, including Vanessa Feltz and Rachel Riley.

The 90-minute march started at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London and was the biggest protest against anti-Semitism since 1936.

The former prime minister was joined by his wife Carrie and their young baby Baby Frank Alfred Odysseus.

Meanwhile, Jewish actress Maureen Lipman told the Mail: "It's been an amazing turnout. It's great to come and show support. We don't want to be here for why we are here, but we have to be here.

"As the Jewish community, we're in shock. There has been a terrible reckoning, it has frightened all of us."

Boris Johnson at today's march against anti-Semitism
Boris Johnson at today's march against anti-Semitism. Picture: Alamy
Hundreds of thousands of people turned out
Hundreds of thousands of people turned out. Picture: Getty

Tommy Robinson was arrested after being warned against attending by the march's organisers.

The English Defence League founder was escorted away by more than a dozen police officers after arguing with them for around 10 minutes.

There had been fears that Mr Robinson could disrupt the protest - organised by charity Campaign Against Antisemitism - after he was previously seen among the crowds of counter-protesters who clashed with police on Armistice Day.

Police confirmed a 40-year-old man had been arrested close to the Royal Courts of Justice, from where the demonstration began on Sunday afternoon.

In a statement, the Met said: "We have been in frequent contact with the organisers of the march in recent days.

"They have been clear about their concerns that the man's attendance, and that of those who were likely to accompany him, would cause fear for other participants.

"The same view has been voiced by others.

"As a result, he was spoken to and warned on more than one occasion that his continued presence in the area was likely to cause harassment, alarm and distress to others.

"He was directed to leave the area but refused to do so."

Read more: Half of British Jews 'considering leaving the UK' amid 'staggering' rise in anti-Semitism

Read more: BBC staff 'barred from joining march against anti-Semitism' over impartiality rules

At the end of the protest, a second man was arrested for shouting anti-Semitic abuse.

The Met said at 6pm: The March Against Antisemitism has concluded.

"As the crowds left along Whitehall, a man was heard to make antisemitic comments. He was arrested on suspicion of a racially aggravated public order offence.

"In total, there were two arrests during today’s operation."

It came one day after pro-Palestinian crowds also gathered in the capital to demand a ceasefire in Gaza.

A truce between Hamas and Israel is still holding, with the release of a third group of hostages and Palestinians from Israeli prisons coming late on Sunday.

Security minister Tom Tugendhat also joined celebrities including Tracy-Ann Oberman and Robert Rinder at the march.

Tracey-Ann Oberman (left) and Rachel Riley take part in a march against anti-Semitism
Tracey-Ann Oberman (left) and Rachel Riley take part in a march against anti-Semitism. Picture: Alamy

It comes after engagement manager for Campaign Against Antisemitism Binyomin Gilbert told LBC News a survey had found half of British Jews have considered leaving the UK amid a "staggering" rise in discrimination.

Nearly 70 per cent of Jews in the UK have also held back from showing visible signs of being Jewish, findings showed.

It follows a multi-pronged attack by Hamas on Israel on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking 240 hostage.

There have since been weekly pro-Palestine rallies in London, in which Campaign Against Antisemitism says there have been "genocidal chants, Hamas-style headbands, antisemitic placards and calls for jihad".

"We have seen a 1300% increase in anti-Semitism," Mr Gilbert said.

"And this is staggering. And in fact I can release to you today the results of a survey of British Jews, which has shown us that 69%, nearly 70% of British Jews are saying that they are now less likely to show visible signs of their duties.

"It also shows us that half of British Jews have considered whether they need to leave the UK due to anti-Semitism."

He said "there's a lot of fear and concern" for British Jews at the moment.

Addressing the pro-Palestine marches through the capital, Mr Gilbert said: "What we've seen is large scale marches week after week.

"In fact, there were protests happening before Israel had retaliated in the streets of London.

"And we have seen in those marches, calls for intifada, we've seen support for organisations that want Jews dead."

He went on: "When we have racists turn up at our rallies, we pull them out.

"When we have people turn up in our rallies who want to try and manipulate and politicise anti-Semitism and cast one minority group against another, we have been unequivocal."

He said he is confident there will not be violence but "positive displays of the Jewish community and its allies standing up and saying this is what British values mean".