LONDON – After weeks of demonstrating outside the Manchester city center Kedem store, pro-Palestinian protesters have literally been given their marching orders by local police.
For the last five weeks the King Street premises of the Israeli cosmetics store in the most fashionable part of the city has been effectively blockaded by the demonstrators, who have often stopped or deterred would-be shoppers from gaining access to the store.
Several would-be shoppers complained of harassment and intimidation, but the police took little action to restrict or stop those involved.
As news spread of the problems outside the store, appeals went out to members of Manchester’s 35,000 plus Jewish community to counterdemonstrate, and by last week on most days – but especially at weekends – the King Street pavement was often blocked by the two competing groups of protesters and counterdemonstrators.
Those who responded to the calls to oppose the pro-Palestinian demonstrations were frequently subjected not only to the more usual shouted charges of Israelis being “murderers” and taunts about the Israelis killed in Gaza, but also to a barrage of blatantly anti-Semitic abuse, ranging from those involved claiming that they “loved Hitler” to others giving Nazi salutes and even claims that Jews had “killed Jesus.”
Pro-Israel counterdemonstrators were also subjected to chants of “Death to Jews.”
Police did what they could to keep the two opposing sides apart, but after repeated complaints from Manchester Jewish communal leaders and local Jewish MP Ivan Lewis to the police and to the Manchester City Council, the police decided to impose strict conditions on any future demonstrations, which were implemented on Monday.
From yesterday police banned the pro-Palestinian demonstrators from protesting directly outside the Kedem store and have imposed a limit of just 10 people who will have permission to stand some distance away on the corner of nearby Police Street and King Street at any future weekend protests. Anyone else present faces immediate arrest. However, the arrangements will not apply during weekdays, though the numbers involved have been far fewer than at weekends.
Lewis, who represents the nearby Bury South constituency, told the Manchester Jewish Telegraph that the decision would put a stop to the intimidation that had been used in a deliberate attempt to drive a Jewish-owned shop out of business.
“Peaceful protest is rightly sacrosanct in our and any democracy. However, intimidation and harassment should have no place in British society” he said.
The MP added: “Boycotts and the demonization of Israel must be opposed in the strongest terms; they do nothing to advance the cause of peace and further undermine efforts to achieve a just two-state solution.”
Lewis said he had met with Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Sir Peter Fahy and Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd last Monday to discuss the situation.
“I made it clear it is time for action – not words – from the police,” Lewis said.
He also raised the community’s concern at the worrying level of anti-Semitism, which he said the current conflict had brought to the surface.
“I made it clear that the Jewish community was proud of its long-standing and significant role in all aspects of Manchester life,” Lewis said.
He later commented that both the chief constable and police commissioner were genuinely concerned at the serious increase in anti-Semitism and were committed to working with the community to address it seriously.
Meanwhile Raphi Bloom, one of the coordinators of the counterprotest, said it was a great result for Kedem and the Manchester Jewish community.
“A lot of hard work has been done behind the scenes and on King Street to remove the hate-mongers. Their protests have never been about Israel — it has been about closing down a Jewish-owned business.
He added that the Manchester Jewish community could be proud of the way it had “fought back and stood up to people who have peddled lies about the shop and about Israel.”