Community leaders have stepped calls for legal action against those spreading hate on social media amid urgent calls for clarification on what breaches the law.
Cabinet ministers from the prime minister down this week lined up to condemn the rise in anti-Semitism during the Gaza conflict which saw a record 302 incidents just in July, and to reassure the community of action being taken.
The Community security Trust this week held emergency talks with officials from the Home Office and Crown Prosecution Service during which they have called for definitive action against those preaching hate, including online which formed a quarter of cases during July.
Home secretary Theresa May told the Jewish News this week: “We’re very clear that if something is a crime offline it can be a crime online.” She added: “It’s necessary to make sure the right guidance is available for police and other authorities in looking at this but we’re also talking to companies about their own policies and the sort of material they are willing to leave online or take down.”
Mark Gardner, director of communications at the CST, said: “It’s important that the Jewish community has confidence in police and prosecutors’ willingness to pursue online and social media anti-Semitism in the same way that they seem to follow up, for example, on abuse of public personalities.”
The Board of Deputies also calls for “additional political and material support to prevent and prosecute anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in new media” in a manifesto released this week ahead of the General Election.
One of the most shocking examples of hate that emerged during the Gaza conflict was use of the phrase ‘Hitler was right’ – which was trending on Twitter in July and written on a placard carried at one march for Gaza in central London.
But CST said: “We have heard conflicting legal opinion whether Hitler was right would be liable and also about whether it would make a difference if said verbally, held on a placard, said via twitter or said online.”
He added: “We fully appreciate the need for clarity as to what is and is not illegal, particularly as the same phrases such as Hitler was right keep reappearing. Ultimately it will be up to court cases to decide what does and does not breach the law.”
But he said CST has ongoing discussions with the CPS “as to what is and is not illegal and as to whether or not particular crimes are being looked at religious hatred legation or race hate law which are slightly different matters”.
The Campaign Against anti-Semitism said it believed the phrase constituted a crime under the public order act if committed in person and under the communications act online. Co-founder Gideon Falter said: “We’re working for the authorities to give rank and file police officers and prosecutors specific examples like this of modern anti-Semitic acts and which laws they break.”
He added: “We have perfectly good laws against anti-Semitism, we have strong support for zero tolerance enforcement, but the arrests and prosecutions are not materialising. We cannot allow it to become so normal to see and hear phrases like this on the streets and online.”
On Tuesday, May told a Conservative Friends of Israel reception she has been “appalled” by the “abhorrent and unacceptable” increase in incidents reported in recent months. She listed the various measures taken by her Government to fight the scourge and added that “new guidance has been issues to police and CPS in dealing with hate crime”.
May this week met several north London MPs to discuss the scourge and is due to hold talks with senior figures from the CST, Board of deputies and Jewish Leadership Council in the coming days.
She said: “This country has one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world to protect communities from hostility, violence and bigotry. But I am clear that we must keep both the operational and legislative response under constant review. There is absolutely no place in our country for anti-Semitism.”
In a letter to the chief rabbi this week, David Cameron said: “I know that many in our Jewish communities are feeling anxious at this time. As we reflect on events this summer, it is now more important than ever to say that there can never be any excuse for anti-Semitism.”
He added: “A Jewish friend once asked me whether it will always be safe for his children and grandchildren to live in Britain. The question to that question will always be ‘yes’. I hope that in years to come that question will not even need to be asked.”
Meanwhile, two men have been charged with racial public disorder offences after being captured on camera night giving Nazi salutes in central London last week.