London’s Jews are fighting back against the bigots

The anti-Israel mob failed to cancel a film screening about the horrors of 7 October.

James Heartfield

Topics Politics UK

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On Thursday evening, over 1,500 members of London’s Jewish community and their allies chased off an anti-Israel protest outside the Phoenix cinema in East Finchley, north London.

The anti-Israel protest, organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, was prompted by the Phoenix’s decision to show a film from Seret, the UK-Israeli film festival. The film in question, Supernova: The Music Festival Massacre, documents the Hamas attack on 7 October last year, in which hundreds of music fans were slaughtered.

The protest had been building up a head of steam for several weeks. Earlier this month, a group called Artists for Palestine UK called for the Phoenix, and several Everyman cinemas, to boycott Seret, claiming that it was ‘co-sponsored by the Israeli government’ and thus part of Israel’s ‘broader art-washing strategy’. On Wednesday night, pro-Palestine protesters echoed these claims when they vandalised the Phoenix cinema and scrawled ‘say no to art-washing’ across its entrance.

It also emerged on Thursday that two of the Phoenix’s big-name patrons, directors Mike Leigh and Ken Loach, resigned from its board in a huff over its decision to show films from Seret.

It certainly looked like it was going to be a tough night for the Phoenix. Organisers of the protest against the screening urged the anti-Israel mob to ‘BRING NOISE! Drums, bells, pots and pans, whistles…’. But in the event, the protesters were drowned out by East Finchley’s Jewish community.

Local Jews and their allies were outraged by the attack on the Phoenix. And so that evening, they rallied to the defence of the cinema. By 6.30pm, the Phoenix’s defenders were already crammed on to the cinema side of the street. Opposite them, in an over-large police pen, three lonely anti-Israel protesters were left to rattle around by themselves.

As the number of the Phoenix’s defenders became too many to contain on the pavement, they started spilling over on to the street. When 40-or-so anti-Israel protesters walked up from the Underground, they were booed and barracked by East Finchley’s Jewish community.

The counter-protest’s numbers were bolstered by supporters from Enough is Enough and Our Fight UK, two groups campaigning against anti-Semitism. But it consisted mainly of local Jews. They were clearly fed up with being vilified and abused, and were determined to defend their community.

As the evening wore on, the numbers defending the cinema continued to grow. They were clearly in no mood to suffer insults from people whose boycott campaign, if successful, would only serve to protect Hamas’s reputation. After all, the anti-Israel protesters’ main objective was to stop people from seeing the truth about Hamas’s genocidal terrorism.

Some younger pro-Israel protesters crossed over to remonstrate with the increasingly sheepish picketers over their tacit support for Hamas. The five or six Palestine flags on show were outnumbered by scores of Star of David banners.

Defenders of the Phoenix came over to ask the protesters what they thought they were doing. In response, they started to chant, ‘We do not engage! We do not engage!’ It raised the question of why they had come out on a public protest in the first place.

Soon the Jewish defenders of the cinema took over the whole street, and the police were beginning to worry that they had lost control. A policewoman told me that they issued a Section 14 order to keep the Jewish protesters on the cinema side of the street, but they could not enforce it.

As the evening drew on, a senior officer could be seen talking to the head steward of the protesters, while the defenders of the Phoenix were shouting ‘We’ve got you surrounded’. It was at this point that the police made a corridor for the anti-Israel protesters to scuttle off to the Underground station.

As the anti-Israel protesters disappeared, the mood became jubilant as East Finchley’s Jewish community and their allies started dancing in the street. It marked a brief moment of respite in the battle against the rising tide of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment.

As everyone there on Thursday evening knew only too well, the fight goes on.

James Heartfield’s latest book is Britain’s Empires: A History, 1600-2020, published by Anthem Press.

Picture by: James Heartfield.

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Topics Politics UK


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