'It's not about context, it’s about anti-Semitism': David Lammy says police should have known swastika is hate symbol

1 April 2024, 12:37 | Updated: 1 April 2024, 14:40

David Lammy: This isn't about context, this is about anti-Semitism

By Kit Heren

David Lammy has said that police should have known that a swastika is a hate symbol, irrespective of its context, after a row erupted on a pro-Palestine march in London.

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The shadow Foreign Secretary and LBC presenter said that a swastika is "clearly" a mark of "vile anti-Semitism", responding to an argument where a Met police officer said the Nazi symbol "needs to be taken in context".

"All of us know that the swastika is a vile, terrible, Nazi image that led to the attempted destruction of the Jewish people, and certainly the loss of life of millions and millions of people," David said on his LBC show on Monday.

"Not just Jewish people actually - black people were killed, disabled people were killed, gay men and women were murdered by the Nazis.

"And the idea that a swastika is something where you need context, when clearly it is something that is aimed at Jewish people, particularly with what is happening in Israel-Gaza now, is horrendous."

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David added: "It doesn’t need context - it’s an outrageous symbol to use on a protest, and we’ve got to bear down hard on those that have used it, it seems to me."

Police said that the video of the argument, between a woman and a police officer, was part of a longer conversation, and a man bearing a placard was detained.

David said: "Of course the man should have been arrested, but it does seem to me that the officer should have known - this isn’t about context, it’s about vile-anti-Semitism on the streets of London, making people feel unsafe.

"It’s a hate symbol and it’s got to be treated as such."

The row broke out after a woman told police that she saw the Nazi symbol being displayed on banners during a march in London over the weekend.

Nick Thomas-Symonds says police officer's 'swastikas need to be taken into context' remark is 'very concerning'

She claims she was told that displaying a swastika was "not necessarily anti-Semitic" nor "a disruption of public order".

The furious activist asked the police officer in what context a swastika could not be seen as anti-Semitic.

The officer replied: "I didn't say it was or it wasn't."

A second Met Police officer also interrupted to say: "A swastika on its own, I don't think is..."

Despite the concerning scenes, the Met Police have confirmed that no disciplinary proceedings have been launched into the officers.

The force also confirmed that the man who was carrying the placard was arrested.

During the interaction, the officer also explained: "There are various facets to the Public Order Act, okay. So what in this sphere we're working under things called Section 5 of the Public Order Act and Section 4A of the Public Order Act.

"They are some of the primary legislation we're using right.

"If you go away and look at that and it's all about if it's something likely to cause vast alarm and distress if it is written words or there's spoken words that are abusive."

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When pressed about how the swastika could be seen as not being anti-Semitic, the officer said: "I don't have an in depth knowledge of signs and symbols.

"I know the swastika was used by the Nazi party during their inception and the period of them being in power in Germany in 1934... I'm aware of that."

David's fellow shadow Nick Thomas-Symonds said the story was "very concerning" but that he sympathised with officers doing public order policing, which he said was "very difficult".

He told LBC's Matthew Wright: "I do have sympathy for bobbies on the front line... if someone's going to make very difficult decisions as to whether you intervene in something and make it worse, or whether you try to stand back.

The shadow minister without portfolio added: "When I was shadowing the home office... I went out on the front line with officers [and] met a lot of officers trying to do a very good job in very difficult circumstances

A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism labelled the interaction "absolutely gobsmacking".

They told MailOnline: "The very notion that a British police officer could imagine a context in which the Nazi swastika is an acceptable image to be displayed in public is distressing enough, but for him to be uncertain about its meaning in the context of a march oozing with anti-Semitic rhetoric and signage is an indictment of the Met.

"This is less the fault of a solitary officer than it is of Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley, who has bent over backwards to rationalise and 'contextualise' calls for violent Jihad and genocidal chanting. 

"If Sir Mark disagrees with this officer's assessment, he should come out and say so and explain what training he will provide to his officers to ensure that they are clear that Nazism is bad."

Susan Hall, Conservative candidate in May's London mayoral election, slammed the Met for the interaction.

Ms Hall said: Susan Hall: "Antisemitism is unacceptable in any context and the police need to be far more robust in rooting this out at protests.

"I am listening to Londoners who are telling me they do not feel safe, which is why I will put more police on the beat, bring back borough-based policing and give the police the backing to enforce the law and stop hate crimes at these protests."

Sadiq Khan has been approached for comment in relation to the footage - but has previously called for Londoners "to come together to stop hate crimes".

He added that police would "take a zero tolerance approach".

Palestine protest in Russel Square, London
Palestine protest in Russell Square, London. Picture: Alamy

A Met Police spokesperson said: "We’re aware of an online clip from today’s protest in central London showing an interaction between an officer and a woman during which there is an exchange over concern around protestors displaying offensive banners, including swastikas.

"The online clip is a short excerpt of what was a 10-minute conversation with the officer.

"During the full conversation, the officer establishes that the person the woman was concerned about had already been arrested for a public order offence in relation to a placard.

"The officer then offered to arrange for other officers to attend and accompany the woman to identify any other persons she was concerned about amongst the protestors, but after turning to speak to his supervisor, she then unfortunately left."