The writer and comedian David Baddiel has made an impassioned plea for anti-Semitism “to be seen as just as important as other racisms”, adding that he believed Holocaust denial to be clearly anti-Semitism .
But Baddiel, who clashed only last week on social media with ex-MP George Galloway, told a packed meeting in Parliament of the Antisemitism Policy Trust that his way of dealing with anti-Semitism on-line was to engage “robustly” and to mock his attackers.
“The saying on social media is ‘don’t feed the troll’,” he said, but by hitting back he felt he brought the racists and anti-Semites “into the light”. He had repeatedly been sent cartoon eyes — which he now understood to mean he was being “watched, as a Jew”.
Baddiel said he received about 200-300 anti-Jewish tweets a day, and read out examples of some of them — but he said he had never reported any of them to the police.
This was in stark contrast to the experience of the Labour MP John Mann, who, introducing the event on how to tackle on-line hatred, revealed that in the wake of his appearance last week on BBC Question Time he had received six tweets, the first of which “attacked me for being a Zionist.”
He had not spoken about Israel or Zionism at all during his TV appearance. The tweets that followed detailed how the writer was going to murder Mann, how his wife and then his daughter would be raped. “I have just handed over this material to the police”, he told his audience. “It highlights the nature and the scale of the problem”.
Those tackling the subject, besides Baddiel, were Dr Dave Rich, head of policy at the CST, Karim Palant, the UK public policy manager of Facebook, Baljit Ubhey, director of prosecution policy and inclusion for the Crown Prosecution Service, and — in one of her first public appearances in her new role, the minister for digital, culture, media and sport, Margot James MP. The meeting was chaired by Preet Gill MP.
Caught in the crossfire of the debate was Karim Palant, who did not convince his audience or his fellow panellists when saying that people could not expect private companies on social media to go further in their response to on-line hatred than did the law of the country. He said it was not for private companies to create policy on the matter, although he said that as the grandson of a Holocaust survivor he understood the issue and the hurt caused by “keyboard racists”. It was, he said, “a question for society as a whole and not individual [social media] platforms”.
But Palant was challenged by audience members, including the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, Karen Pollock. She told him about a survivor’s daughter who had counter-attacked a Holocaust denier by posting pictures of some of the graphic horrors of the concentration camps — only to find that she, in turn, was being blocked from Facebook. Did this mean, Baddiel asked Palant, that Facebook believed nudity was more offensive than Holocaust denial?
But all the speakers responsible for policy-making agreed that the subject is fluid enough to require constant review. Palant, Margot James, and Baljit Ubhey all pledged to look at current guidelines on social media, government policy and legal levels of required evidence for prosecution— and, where necessary, to think again.