UK

Ban racists from social media, anti-Semitism report says

  • 9 February 2015
  • From the section UK
Twitter user Image copyright PA

Social media users who spread racial hatred should be banned from sites such as Twitter and Facebook, MPs say.

The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into anti-Semitism wants prosecutors to examine whether prevention orders like those used to restrict sex offenders' internet access could be used.

The cross-party group also highlighted the use of anti-Semitic terms online.

Last week, a Community Security Trust report said UK anti-Semitic incidents more than doubled to 1,168 in 2014.

The trust - which monitors anti-Semitism in Britain - says this was its highest figure recorded since it began work in 1984.

Media captionRabbi Mark Goldsmith: "People do need that sense that wherever you spread hate, it's not going to be legal"

'Hate crimes'

The Parliamentary inquiry was set up following a rise in incidents in July and August last year during fighting between Gaza and Israel.

Although the primary focus of the inquiry was anti-Semitism, one recommendation it made was that those who carry out any kind of hate crime should be prevented from using social media.

Hate crimes are defined in England and Wales as offences carried against someone because of their disability, gender identity, race, religion or belief or sexual orientation and can include harassment.

The MPs said social media platforms had "increasingly been used for the spread of anti-Semitism".

Their report said the terms "Hitler" and "Holocaust" were among the top 35 phrases relating to Jews during the conflict.

The hashtags "Hitler" and "genocide" featured with "high frequency", it added. The "Hitler Was Right" hashtag trended worldwide in July 2014.


Analysis

By Caroline Wyatt, religious affairs correspondent, BBC News

The rise in violent anti-Semitic attacks last year in the UK was clearly linked to the conflict in Gaza, with some using criticism of Israel's actions as a pretext for hate speech.

Although the Jewish community is deeply integrated into British society, many British Jews say there has always been a low level of underlying anti-Semitism - such as casual, thoughtless remarks - but the rise of hate speech online is new and risks normalizing such sentiments.

Extremist or hate speech against one minority creates an environment in which such sentiments can easily spread to others. So today's call may also be welcomed by Muslim communities, facing what they say is a rise in Islamophobia following the Paris attacks.

Despite all that, the UK is still seen as one of the most tolerant places in the world to live. MPs, peers and others are keen to ensure that remains the case.


The report said: "There is an allowance in the law for banning or blocking individuals from certain aspects of internet communication in relation to sexual offences.

"Informal feedback we have received from policy experts indicates that this is a potential area of exploration for prosecutors in relation to hate crime.

"If it can be proven in a detailed way that someone has made a considered and determined view to exploit various online networks to harm and perpetrate hate crimes against others then the accepted principles, rules and restrictions that are relevant to sex offences must surely apply."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said the report was timely following the recent attacks in Paris

The report also said there was an "unacceptable rise in anti-Semitic incidents" in July and August last year.

It added: "It is for non-Jews to speak out and lead the fight against anti-Semitism with strong action."

It also called for:

  • A government fund to be set up to cover the costs of security at synagogues
  • Fresh research on identifying and explaining anti-Semitic language
  • Guidance for teachers on how to handle the Middle East conflict in the classroom

The report also comes weeks after four people were killed at a Jewish supermarket in Paris.

'Zero-tolerance approach'

Prime Minister David Cameron called the report "hugely important", adding that tackling anti-Semitism went "right to the heart of what we stand for as a country".

Community Secretary Eric Pickles added: "We remain staunchly committed to tackling anti-Semitism wherever it occurs and will continue to take a zero-tolerance approach."

And Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis welcomed the timing of the report, which he said came when the "threat against the Jewish community is real and anxiety remains high following recent events".

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe said the force had taken steps to provide "additional reassurance" to Jewish communities in recent weeks.

The best way of helping police was to report hate crime, but a wider response was also needed, he said.

"We need society to become as vocally intolerant of faith-hatred as it is of other forms of discrimination, and a clearer understanding of where freedom of speech oversteps the mark."

Meanwhile, a Populus poll accompanying the report also suggested a third of Britons - 37% - believed the problem of anti-Semitism had got worse in the last decade.

In comparison, 16% thought it had got better.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where one means anti-Semitism is not a problem at all and 10 means it is a serious issue, participants rated it at 4.66.

That figure was largely unchanged from when a similar survey was carried out in 2005.

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