Thousands gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square on Sunday afternoon for a Unity Rally organized by the French Embassy. The event was timed to correspond with the huge march in Paris and in other cities across France to express solidarity with the victims of last week’s terrorist attacks.
Many people carried placards saying “Je Suis Charlie” or “Je Suis Juif” or held up pencils and pens as a symbol of their support for free speech. Much of the event was a silent vigil.
Jewish organizations, including the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council, the London Jewish Forum and the grassroots organization Campaign Against Anti-Semitism all encouraged members of the Jewish community to attend and show their support. A spokesman for the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism was quoted as saying, “When it is unsafe to speak your mind in the press, uphold society’s laws or be Jewish, history tells us that freedom is at stake.”
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and his wife were present in the crowd, whilst Prime Minister David Cameron and Opposition Leader Ed Miliband attended the march in Paris. Mr. Clegg told reporters there was a “striking dignity” about people coming together in this way to “show their disgust at what happened.”
French Ambassador to the UK Sylvie Bermann, who was present at the rally, said she was grateful for the UK’s show of solidarity. Many British people have signed books of condolence at the French Embassy in London, or added their name to the online condolences.
Speaking at the rally, London Mayor Boris Johnson said that it was “wonderful” to see people from a wide range of backgrounds and communities joining together. He told the Jewish News, “That is the spirit of London. London came together after 7/7 [the July 7, 2005, London bombings] and I’m sure Paris will come together now.”
Mr. Johnson commented that he felt very sad about the situation of the Jews in France and the level of emigration. He said, in support of the Jewish community, “Nous sommes tous juifs aujourd’hui.” (We are all Jews today.)
He reassured the London community that although there are no current reports of an imminent terrorist threat in London or to the Jewish community in particular, the risks of terrorists striking Jewish targets are “constantly part of our assessments.” Mr. Johnson said, “We will do everything we can to protect every community. We’re working flat out to monitor the guys who mean us harm.” The mayor reiterated his commitment to fighting anti-Semitism and hate speech, saying, “We work closely with the CST [Community Security Trust, an organization whose goal is to fight anti-Semitism and protect Jews in Britain ].”
Speaking about the Muslim community, Mr. Johnson told the Jewish News, “I think the most important thing we’ve seen in recent days are some fantastic statements and deeds by members of the Muslim community. Never forget it was a brave Muslim police officer who was shot on that pavement. It was a Muslim shop worker who helped people in the kosher supermarket. He showed the spirit and humanity that people need to see now. He represented the spirit of not just the overwhelming majority of people but also the overwhelming majority of Muslims.”