Israel backers hit by web ‘witch hunt’

Antisemitic abuse aimed at Israel advocates should receive the same level of public scrutiny as high-profile Twitter incidents, experts and victims have said.

The use of email and social media sites to propagate abuse has become so severe that pro-Israel campaigners have feared for their safety and been forced to call police.

One victim this week likened the campaign against pro-Israel voices to a “McCarthyite witch hunt” and said a “network of abusers” operated on social media.

A spokesman for the Community Security Trust, which monitors antisemitism, compared the abuse to the threats to rape and bomb women on Twitter last month. He confirmed that CST had provided a number of victims with specific protection measures and safety advice.

Lawyer and academic Baroness Deech is one of those who has received messages from so-called “trolls”. She was sent a number of antisemitic emails last week after complaining to the BBC about anti-Israel comments made by violinist Nigel Kennedy at the Proms.

Among the threats and abuse — sent mainly anonymously or from pseudonymous email accounts — were accusations that she was a “ZioNazi” spreading propaganda. One email called on the peer to show “remorse” for “the 250 British military personnel murdered during the mandate”.

“Can you bring yourself to show some loyalty to the British people over your nasty little racist murderer friends in Palestine?” the email asked.

Baroness Deech said: “Everyone who ever says anything favourable about Israel gets these four-letter words, ranting emails and tweets which prove the point that it is antisemitism that drives them, not concern for Palestine. It needs exposure.

“There needs to be an examination of the way the internet is used by anonymous antisemites — just as women have been targeted — and how it reveals that the anti-Israel campaign is a front for antisemitism to rage.”

Many of those who have received the most severe abuse and threats are too scared to be named publicly. One pro-Israel campaigner said authorities had not taken the threats against him seriously. “When I complained to Twitter I got no reply back. Twitter is a cesspit for abuse from anonymous cowards who you never know and can’t be sure whether they are real-life violent Islamists,” he said.

Twitter acknowledged this month that it had not done enough to tackle abuse, and announced plans to make it easier for users to report offensive messages.

Another Israel advocate, who was also too scared to be named, said he had previously called police because of “premeditated” and “forensic” abuse.

The anonymity afforded by modern technology had added to the problem, the CST spokesman said. “It used to be the case that if you wrote a letter to a newspaper supporting Israel, and your address was printed in the paper, you would get abusive letters. Think how much easier it is to abuse by email or on Twitter. Some people use the internet solely for abuse,” he said.

l Pink Floyd musician Roger Waters this week backed Nigel Kennedy’s anti-Israel remarks and in an open letter to fans crticised Baroness Deech for calling on the BBC to cut the violinist’s comments from its broadcast.
Pointing out that Baroness Deech’s surname was originally “Fraenkel”, Mr Waters claimed she had “prevailed upon the BBC to censor Kennedy’s performance by removing his statement”.

Last updated: 4:45pm, August 22 2013