LONDON — Labour MP Shabana Mahmood called on activists at the weekend to take direct action against British firms that do business with Israel – lauding the success of a Birmingham protest which shut down a Sainsbury’s branch for five-and-a-half hours.
Ms. Mahmood, the party’s shadow exchequer secretary to the Treasury, made the plea at a 150,000-strong rally for solidarity with the people of Gaza on Saturday.
She told crowds in London’s Hyde Park: “Just as powerful as our passion is the practical action we can all take to make our government sit up and take notice.
She pleaded with demonstrators to support the boycott movement and to lobby their MPs.
She said: “We lay down in Sainsbury’s in Birmingham and closed down a store for five-and-a-half hours at peak time on a Saturday.
“The bombing must be condemned without equivocation.”
Tens of thousands of protesters gathered on Saturday outside the BBC’s broadcasting house, where speakers berated “Auntie” for its alleged pro-Israel bias.
In an electrifying speech, 19-year-old Barnaby Raine blasted the Israeli government, saying: “The lesson of the Holocaust is that crimes are perpetrated when people forget that we are all human beings.
“I am here not in spite of Jewish history but because of Jewish history.”
The crowd raised their fingers in the peace sign before marching through central London to Hyde Park. At the front of the procession was Tower Hamlets Mayor Lutfur Rahman.
Explaining his reasoning for raising the Palestinian flag above his east London town hall earlier this month, he added: “Everyone has a role to play in showing their anger. If we don’t come together and raise our voices to our government and to the UN, then who will?”
At Hyde Park, Hebron-born European Palestinian Doctors spokesman Tareq Tahboob said: “We’ve seen death, destruction, disease, deprivation and denigration.
“But they are all swallowed by the great capital D of defiance.
“The 4,500 newborns in Gaza are the soldiers of tomorrow.”
Bemoaning the US Congress’s overwhelming support for Israel, veteran campaigner and writer Tariq Ali quipped: “If there are a few Arab billionaires left in the United States, and we know there are, buy a few senators!”
Lib Dem peer Lady Tonge told the crowds: “Humanitarian aid is a sticking plaster to make our government feel better. Aid should be what Israel pays for.”
Her Lib Dem colleague Bradford East MP David Ward said: “I’ve been accused of taking up my position to pander to Muslims.
“So I’m delighted to see so many people here who are not Muslims.
“My constituency is half predominantly non-white and half predominantly sort of white. But what do the people in the white working-class area want to talk about on the doorstep? Palestine.”
Stop the War convener Lindsey German savaged the “criminal warmongering government which has taken us to war over and over again.”
Palestine Solidarity Campaign supporters were also active in Manchester on Saturday.
A “rolling picket” of businesses with links with Israel was launched in the city centre.
Two branches of Barclays bank were picketed.
“There was security outside and only people who showed their Barclays cards were allowed in,” said one of the activists.
“So we just stood in front of the Barclays in St Anne’s Square with our banners and leaflets and they closed the shop.
“After an hour we moved up to the branch on Market Street and that bank closed as soon as we arrived, we kept it closed until the mass of the rolling picket arrived and it then remained closed for at least three hours.”
Photo: In July, thousands of protesters marched through Whitehall in central London, to call for an end to Israeli military action in Gaza and “justice and freedom” for Palestine. John Stillwell/AP