Israel and Anti-Semitism By Mike Freer
The past two weeks after the Commons returned from the summer recess has seen the issue of Israel, Gaza and anti-Semitism come to the fore. Israel and Gaza has been a polarising issue in the Commons but most worrying is the underlying anti-Semitism that has become apparent. The outbreak of conflict in Israel and Gaza in July has had a real impact on our streets here in Britain. The statements by the PM on Gaza were robust in support of Israel but saw a visible shift in support away from Israel by opposition MPs which was, and is, deeply worrying. My concern is that when Parliamentarians show a visceral hatred against Israel, they give (perhaps unwittingly or perhaps not) a green light to anti-Semitism.
Indisputably there has been an anti-Semitic reaction to the conflict across Britain; from the Tricycle Theatre, to anti-Israel demonstrations on the streets to the clearing of supermarket shelves by protesters. Prior to the protests taking place, I had already writtne to all the major supermarkets, urging them to be vigilant to anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic activities in their stores. All confirmed they were vigilant in ensuring kosher products and Israeli products were not being targeted whilst on the shelves. They also confirmed that they complied with Government guidance on labelling but were not giving in to demands for a boycott of Israeli goods. Yet, people who should know better, stray into anti-Semitic behaviour such as Shadow Minister, Shabana Mahmood MP, who was urging people to carry out the sorts of protests which have terrorised supermarkets across Britain.
Then we saw the demonstrations and the tone and behaviour of anti-Israel demonstrators, which shocked me. The placards and chants have crossed the line from free speech to hate speech. The waving of the flags of terror organisations is beyond condemnation. That is why I organised a meeting with the Home Secretary where I pressed for further arrests of anti-Semitic demonstrators. I was joined by my colleagues Theresa Villiers, David Burrowes and Lee Scott (Matthew Offord was unable to join us due to emergency eye surgery). The Home Secretary informed the delegation that new guidance on hate crime has been issued to all police forces which makes specific mention of anti-Semitism. She also confirmed that the flying of ISIS/Hezbollah/Hamas flags is a criminal offence. She accepted that the Police had operational freedom on who and when to arrest. Clealry police officers wading into a crowd to arrest a flag waver could cause a riot. I was assured that the Police take photographs and collate evidence to use in prosecutions. The Home Secretary agreed that any arrests and prosecutions needed to be better publicised so the Jewish Community could be reassured the Justice system was being used for their protection.
Finally we discussed how to tackle internet hate crime and on-campus anti-Semitism. The Home Secretary confirmed that she and her officials are working with the social network providers to improve their guidelines on what is acceptable
We live in tense and worrying times, but I and colleagues were impressed not only that the Home Secretary was knowledgeable about the problems but was already working on new measures to keep the Jewish Community safe.
By Mike Freer, Conservative MP for Finchley & Golders Green