MPs call for fight against two ancient hatreds – antisemitism and misogyny

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MPs call for fight against two ancient hatreds – antisemitism and misogyny

First-ever Sara Conference on gendered antisemitism takes place after survey reveals that Jewish women MPs are 15 percent more likely to be targets of far-right attacks

Joe Millis is a journalist

Luciana Berger opens the Sara Conference at Speaker's House in Parliament
Luciana Berger opens the Sara Conference at Speaker's House in Parliament

Speaker’s House in Parliament today hosted the first ever conference on antisemitism against women.

The event, named the Sara Conference, came as new research showed that Jewish women MPs faced higher levels online antisemitic abuse than their male counterparts.

The conference was co-chaired by Labour MPs Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth – two of the main targets of the abuse – and the Scottish National Party’s Dr Lisa Cameron MP.

The Sara Conference is named after the foremother of the Abrahamic faiths and in recognition of, and to reclaim the name for, those Jewish Nazi victims forced to adopt it if theirs sounded ‘non-Jewish’ in origin.

One the speakers, Conservative MP Victoria Atkins, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Crime, Safeguarding, and Vulnerability, said the conference “celebrated not just women, but women of one of the greatest faiths.”

She added that Jewish women MPs were unique, because they were being “targeted not just because of their faith or ethnicity, but also because of their gender”.

Former Home Secretary Yvette Cooper – now the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee – praised Ms Berger, saying she was “one of the best MPs in parliament”.

Yvette Cooper addresses the Sara Conference

She added: “Antisemitism and misogyny is an attempt to silence people, and attempt to silence political voices and attempting to stop change.

“We have to come together to do more to combat those two ancient hatreds – antisemitism and the ancient hatred of misogyny. It should appall us that today we see the rise of antisemitism across the world, something we should be seeing shrink into the darkest corners.

“We are here also because, if we are honest, we know we aren’t yet doing enough and we know that we have been warning and that the warning signs have been there for some time and we want to come together to do more.”

Referencing the murderous attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in which 11 worshipers were killed by a far-right gunman, Ms Cooper said: “We know from events across the world where words can lead, where hatred can lead if we don’t challenge it.”

She said she was “ashamed that we still have problems in the Labour Party where we need to do more to exercise the basic duty of care to deal with the threats and abuse that come forward”.

Actor and broadcaster Tracy-Ann Oberman said that when she was four, her parents took her to Yad Vashem and that “that day shaped my life. It made me realise that you have to stand up to persecution wherever you see it”.

Tracy-Ann Oberman described the horrendous abuse she received on Twitter

She added that she “couldn’t believe the level of abuse levelled at Luciana and Ruth over the past few years by members of their party, our party. So I decided to use Twitter to offer support and to challenge what I was reading.

“In doing so, I became a target myself. I have been called a ‘Zionist whore’, a ‘Rothschild’, an ‘Israeli operative paid huge sums of money to bring down Jeremy Corbyn single-handedly’… that I’m a ‘Palestinian baby murderer’, a ‘Nazi’, and, from both sides, that ‘the Holocaust was a hoax or that it is exaggerated for political gain’.”

A number of high-profile individuals are taking part, including the Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, Sarah Brown, and numerous senior politicians, including Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt MP, and Speaker John Bercow.

Other conference attendees included many leading Jewish women, including Laura Marks, Board of Deputies chief executive Gillian Merron and the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Karen Pollock.

Meanwhile the report, conducted for the Antisemitism Policy Trust (APT) and Community Security Trust, found that female Jewish politicians were 15 per cent more likely to be targeted by users of Stormfront, a leading hard-right website, than male Jewish politicians.

Stormfront is one of the largest, oldest and most enduring far-right sites online. It has been dubbed the “murder capital of the internet” by the Southern Poverty Law Center in the US and has been repeatedly shut down, albeit temporarily.

The new research to be unveiled shows that Stormfront had more mentions of Dame Margaret and Ms Berger respectively than former opposition leader Ed Miliband or Commons Speaker John Bercow.

Former Google data scientist and bestselling author Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, the researcher behind the project, concluded that women with political power are “particularly subject to antisemitic abuse”.

The survey, also found internet users were far more likely to search for “Luciana Berger Jew” than “Luciana Berger policy”. The word “Jew” was considered a negative search term in this context.

Mr Stephens-Davidowitz also revealed that of the 9,000 threads on feminism posted to Stormfront since its launch, more than 60 per cent mention Jews. This conspiratorial overlap is in the same vein at the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter, Robert Bower’s online posts which alleged Jews to be behind a plot to bring violent immigrants to the US.

The obsessive reference to Jewish people is evident with “Jews” constituting 39 per cent of the mentions on Stormfront compared with 33 per cent for “blacks”.

Ms Mordaunt said: “All of us have faced misogyny and abuse, and many also have faced danger. But I think the venom that my Jewish female colleagues are having to endure is something else.”

Sara Khan, the commissioner for countering extremism, said: “This research reveals how Jews, in particular, Jewish women in public life, are being named, targeted and dehumanised on far-right extremist websites.

“This is taking place at a time of rising recorded antisemitic incidents and when female Jewish politicians in our own country have publicly highlighted the threats of violence they continue to receive. It is unacceptable that far-right websites are able to propagate wholesale extremist propaganda and hatred.”

APT chief executive Danny Stone said: “We are pleased to be able to give such prominence to an important issue. The level of antisemitic abuse, gendered threats and other invectives directed against women, particularly online, is frightening and unacceptable.

“The Sara Conference marks an important beginning to our understanding of the problem, and efforts to address it. We will do everything we can at the Trust to ensure women facing antisemitism know that we are pushing for urgent change and that they are not alone in the struggle they face.”

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