Luciana Berger interview: "I feared for myself and my family"

Luciana Berger has revealed how she feared for her safety when she was targeted by a far-right extremist in a long-running antisemitic campaign.


In an interview with the JC, Britain’s youngest Jewish MP said the murder of her parliamentary colleague Jo Cox earlier this year had underlined the need to stand up to racists and report hate crime to the police.

Speaking after internet troll Joshua Bonehill-Paine was convicted on Wednesday for racially abusing her online, Ms Berger said: “It was horrendous. I felt the emotional and personal toll of what was going on.

“You try to minimise the impact of it on those close to you — but there were 2,500 tweets sent to me over a three-day period.

“The threats were very real and I was worried, for the safety of my family, friends, my team at work and myself.”

She also urged victims of hate crime to go straight to the police: “There are laws in this country to protect everyone and that includes the Jewish community.”

The MP for Liverpool Wavertree, who is expecting her first child in the spring, said Mrs Cox’s murder showed “we have to challenge the actions of these extremists with even more zeal.

“I believe there is an increase in the activity of the far-right in this country, which Home Secretary Amber Rudd acknowledged last week.”

Ms Berger, 35, said: “Since I was a teenager I have been standing up to antisemitism, racism and discrimination in all its forms.

“I did what I hope everyone else would do, and confronted it. We have ways to protect the public when free speech crosses over in hate speech.

“An attack on me is an attack on the values that I hold dear — and I believe the whole country holds dear.

“There is a very thin line from where extremism crosses over into becoming violence and terrorism.”

Ms Berger explained how the three-day Old Bailey trial of Bonehill-Paine had left her in no doubt about his dangerous capacity to inspire other far-right fanatics.

“The perpetrator of this specific crime might not have been the one to commit violence himself — but he could certainly inspire others to do so. It is important, in terms of who it might inspire, that we root it out however it presents itself.”

Speaking about the way Bonehill-Paine’s defence barrister attempted to portray his client as “pathetic” she added: “That wasn’t the presentation of someone who is pathetic. I think his videos are very plausible.”

Ms Berger also gave further details of the nature of the threats she received after Bonehill-Paine attempted to whip up a hate campaign against her following the conviction of neo-Nazi Garron Helm in October 2014.

Helm had issued vicious antisemitic messages to Ms Berger on social media - and was jailed for four weeks as a result.

But what followed was a stream of vicious abuse and death threats from other neo-Nazis.

One message warned of a “killing spree in a synagogue”; another warned Ms Berger she would be confronted on the streets close to her home in Liverpool.

“You try to minimise the impact of it all on those who care for you, and work with you — but the sheer volume of it all was something else,” said Ms Berger.

She added that her position helped her cope: “I am fortunate to have a voice as an MP, to have a platform. I am also lucky to have a support structure through family and close friends. But not everyone is lucky enough to have this around them.”

For many British Jews, “just one abusive tweet” can be “ horrific”, she said.

She will also, she insists, continue to urge the Jewish community to stand up to the rising tide of extremist activity at home and further afield.

“We are strong as a community, and we are strong for the country when we stand together,” she says.

“It goes back to my original point about the need to take these things seriously in order that they will be properly dealt with.

“We have a responsibility - an attack on my neighbour is an attack on me.”

The Bonehill-Paine case was not the first time Ms Berger had been the victim of abusive messages.

John Nimmo pleaded quilty earlier this year to sending the MP antisemitic death threats, including one which read: “You are going to get it like Jo Cox.”

Garron Helm was jailed for four weeks in October 2014 for sending Ms Berger obscene and antisemitic tweets, while Philip Hayes was fined after sending her a message on Facebook stating his “hate” of Jews.

“Free speech should never mean hate speech,” said Ms Berger.

“Every minority community in this country knows the significant impact and consequence of allowing this to happen.”

Ms Berger also spoke of her concern over recent government figures which showed its anti-radicalisation scheme, Prevent, had reported growing numbers of young right-wing radicals in the UK.

Prevent has been criticised for concentrating largely on Islamic radicalisation.

She said she agreed with Ms Rudd’s recent warning about the growing sophistication of the far-right in recruiting new footsoldiers - particularly through the use of social media.

Ms Berger also spoke of her concern that following the EU referendum there had been an increase in hate crimes.

She said: “We haven’t seen figures for the later part of 2016 yet but we know from reports across the country that there has been an increase in racist attacks.

“I know from speaking to my constituents there is now an acceptance of using language that previously would not have been acceptable.

“I do worry we are going backwards rather than forwards.

“That is why it is incumbent on politicians and others to be careful of the rhetoric they use.”

In a statement outside court, Ms Berger said: : “Every day, up and down the country, people are suffering from harassment and racial abuse.

“This verdict demonstrates that under British law those who perpetrate these horrific crimes can and will be brought to justice.

“I recognise the British values of equality tolerance and mutual respect that we hold dear apply as much on the internet as they do offline.

“The protracted campaign of vitriol and hate had a deep impact on me and on the people around me, my family and my fantastic team.

“I would like to thank the police the CPS for all their excellent work to ensure Joshua Bonehill-Paine will be held to account.

“If any good can come from this awful experience I hope that it will send a strong signal to anyone experiencing harassment - you do not have to suffer in silence.

“I’d encourage everyone to report these crimes. Together we can shoe that they are not, nor will they ever be tolerated.”


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