Progress Online, 27 January 2011
On Holocaust Memorial Day, Danny Stone reports on the work that is being done to combat anti-Semitism on the internet, in universities and sport – and within political parties’ campaigns.
On Thursday last week, MPs of all parties came together to discuss antisemitism in the first ever backbench business committee debate on the subject. Happily, efforts to combat antisemitism constitute a good news story. Whilst tensions in the Middle East sadly continue to inspire antisemitic attacks, on all fronts systems are being implemented to empower victims of this hate crime. From the publication of police figures on antisemitic incidents to increased funding for security of Jewish schools in the state sector, there have been many successful outcomes of the 2006 antisemitism inquiry process. Indeed, promoting these successes was encouraged so that established best practice might be put to use in tackling other hate crimes.
In a policy area all too often mired in the re-telling of dark tales the debate was refreshingly upbeat, filled with new ideas for tackling remaining issues of concern, of which I will review just a few.
Universities and the higher education sector came in for severe criticism. The Union of Jewish Students has identified tackling hate speech on campus as a key priority and examples cited in the debate gave good reason. Of course, trying to balance the essential nature of free speech with good campus relations can be tricky but MPs highlighted guidelines written by Manchester University which constitute a toolkit for practical action including speaker contracts and monitoring procedures which allow talks to go ahead in a better regulated and calmer environment.
Internet-based hate was another shared concern. An international approach was urged but the difficulties are manifold – all the more so when one considers that Facebook and MySpace have different definitions of what constitutes Holocaust denial. The UK has successful prosecutions against internet hatemongers and more power was urged upon courts’ elbows. Another issue raised for consideration by Progress and others is that of internet comment boards. The Manchester Evening News were praised for their pre-moderated approach but for a world in which instant gratification is the norm others argue pre-moderation is too onerous a task. MPs thought not. A ministerial conference on these and other issues is promised for later this year.
Preceding the UK-hosted Olympics in 2012, Ukraine and Poland helm the European football championships. As anyone who has watched Ross Kemp’s ‘Gangs’ will know, the far right continue to mobilise and expand across eastern Europe with football as their cover. The police in the UK have expertise in rooting out football hooliganism and ministers were urged to ensure, despite government cuts, that expertise be exported to prevent safety and PR disasters.
Continuing on international matters, concerns were outlined about the increasing trend in eastern Europe to equate the Holocaust with what happened in Soviet times. On Holocaust Memorial Day, parliamentarians were urged to remind those pushing this agenda that they need to understand their responsibilities and obligations as part of a modern democratic European community.
Lastly and arguably of most contention was the issue of elections. It was suggested that the Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Electoral Commission ought to be playing a stronger part in dealing with third parties that attempt to overthrow MPs, and that the All-Party Group on Antisemitism might have a role to play in writing a new, stronger code of behaviour. But it was political parties of all colours – earlier praised for tackling antisemitism in their own ranks – that were cited as the biggest failures in this matter. Indeed, the Labour party has its share of soul-searching to do having provided a lacklustre response to accusations of candidates’ antisemitism at the last election. A strong, transparent disciplinary system is needed and must be followed if the party wants to hold its head high.
The parliamentary debate was remarkable for its cross-party camaraderie, with MPs displaying humility in praising the efforts of the successive administrations. Much of note has been done and can be celebrated but much is still yet to do – and particularly on behaviour at election time, let us hope that the cross-party approach leads to cleaner, more worthy campaigns and best practice in which we can all share.
Danny Stone is director of the PCAA Foundation and secretary to the APPG Against Antisemitism
This article is online here.