The British far-right extremist Tommy Robinson joined a pro-Israel rally in London on Sunday, alongside an estimated 1,500 Zionists voicing their support for the occupation state. The counter-demonstration followed Saturday's pro-Palestine march in the capital where more than 200,000 people marched through the West End to a rally in Hyde Park. Demonstrations were held across Britain and around the world against the Israeli occupation and brutal military assault on Gaza.
Sunday's pro-Israel rally was organised by the Zionist Federation of the UK and Ireland. It was held near the Embassy of Israel in Kensington. Far-right extremist and now Ambassador Tzipi Hotovely addressed the crowd, which included far-right groups often associated with fascism and anti-Semitism. The anti-Palestinian president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Marie van der Zyl, also spoke.
Although he is a self-proclaimed Zionist and staunch supporter of Israel, Robinson has long been associated with groups linked to far-right anti-Semitism. In 2017, the Jewish Chronicle reported that the former leader of the English Defence League had boasted of his attendance at a march in Poland where chants calling for a "Jew free" country were heard. Some demonstrators also demanded "Jews out of Poland" and "refugees get out".
During yesterday's rally, Robinson, whose real name is Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, was spotted holding a Zionist Federation placard reading "Free Gaza from Hamas". Jewish organisations, however, have tried to distance themselves from the controversial figure.
"Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson) and supporters of far-right extremist organisations like the English Defence League are not welcome at our community's events," tweeted the Board of Deputies. "The message of hate and division must be confronted and defeated." The Zionist Federation also sought to distance itself from him.
The denunciations of Robinson were criticised on social media, and the Jewish community groups were accused of burying their heads in the sand about the reality that Israel has lurched to the far-right and is now described as an apartheid state of a kind idealised by far-right groups. "And yet… white supremacists/Neo-Nazis are never far from any pro-Israel gathering or expressing their support for Israel," wrote one Twitter user in response to the Board of Deputies. "I wonder why they defend, promote, and adore Israel so wholeheartedly?? … I'd say that really does call for some serious introspection by the Board??"
Robinson's links with Israel and groups funding Islamophobia are deep. In 2018, a notorious hard-line, pro-Israel conservative think tank, the Middle East Forum, said that it was helping to fund his legal costs. The 38-year-old was jailed for 13 months after being given 10 months for contempt of court, which he admitted, and a further three months for breaching a previous suspended sentence.
In another indication of the embrace of Israel by Europe's far-right, a photo of Robinson on top of an Israeli tank holding a gun has been circulated widely on social media. He posted the photo from the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights with the caption: "All those people telling me to be careful in Israel, I think I'll be okay."