MPS: We speak up for Israel — and get death threats
MPS WHO have spoken in support of Israel have been forced to limit the information they make available to constituents and take other security precautions after being sent death threats or abusive messages by post, by phone or online, a JC investigation has revealed.
Two years after Labour’s Stephen Timms was stabbed by a radicalised student, security remains a key concern, especially for MPS who are vocal about controversial topics such as Israel — and suffer threats as a consequence. Two weeks ago Conservative MP John Howell was forced to seek police protection after becoming the target of a campaign by pro-palestinians.
Louise Ellman, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, has been dealing with death threats for a decade. The problem has worsened in recent years and she now receives emails as well as letters.
“It’s very unpleasant and I am concerned — so I take advice from the police and the CST,” said Mrs Ellman. “You are vulnerable as an MP, people approach you and you’re in public places.”
Lee Scott, Ilford North MP, said he dealt with death threats and abusive communications “on a fairly regular basis”, including a recent email that said he should be “stoned to death”.
“At one stage I would do my surgeries with just one other person present. I don’t do that any more,” he said. He also no longer posts details of his surgeries in the local library and during the last election campaign had to be accompanied by police officers for security reasons.
Their cases are by no means unique. Former Labour MP Andrew Dismore also received death threats.
Mr Dismore, along with Mr Scott, Mike Gapes and Denis Macshane were all targeted at the last election by Muslim group MPAC for their support of Israel. Richard Harrington, now MP for Watford, also faced hostility during his campaign, while in October 2011 members of the now-banned group Muslims Against Crusades stormed Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer’s constituency surgery shouting that he was a “Jewish homosexual pig”.
Several others, including Harlow MP Robert Halfon, reported receiving abusive communications in light of public comments about the Middle East
— many of them anonymous and online — and those who regularly defend Israel, including Harrow East MP Bob Blackman, said they could “see it coming”.
“Whenever I say anything about Israel I get some really nasty messages,” said Mr Halfon.
Not long ago somebody attempted to pour petrol through the letterbox of Mr Blackman’s constituency office and light it. The MP said that it is a reminder that “there are people who will pursue threats”.
He only publicises details of his movements after the event. “You have to be careful, because it only takes one unhinged individual,” he said.
According to Parliament’s Serjeantat-arms, 80 MPS are currently facing extreme threats on various issues. It is notclearwhatproportionof thoserelate to Israel but Mr Scott said he believed that the number of those who did not report threats or abuse on Israel could be substantial.
Henley MP Mr Howell, who backs a two-statesolution,wasbombardedwith 30 abusive messages and death threats from anti-israel activists last month, includingonesayingthathedeservedto die and another saying: “You will suffer the consequences of this corruption.”
He was targeted after an anti-israel constituent, Harry Fear, contacted him about Israel’s actions in Gaza. The MP responded by asking him what his position was on the 100 rockets that had landed in Israel that weekend.
The comment was circulated online by Mr Fear, along with the MP’S contact information and an appeal for people to write to Mr Howell “civilly, expressing discontent”.
Mr Howell, who was offered police protection, has since removed details of his constituency surgeries and contact information from his website. He expressed concern for his wife, son and his staff, saying that although he did not want to appear to be “a drama queen... you have to take seriously a threat when it says, ‘I would like to see you dead’”.
Mr Scott suggested that the threats only came to public attention “because John had never had anything like this in his life before”.
CST has tried to encourage MPS to report abusive material, but Communications Director Mark Gardner said he believed that this is “a problem that largely goes unreported and certainly unprosecuted.
“If an MP is abused in a criminal manner then there is no reason why the perpetrators ought to have some kind of magical immunity,” he said. “It should not matter if the abuse is on Twitter, Facebook, email or any other media.”
Danny Stone, secretary to the AllParty Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, noted the “encouraging legal precedents established” last week, when Liam Stacey was convicted of inciting racial hatred with offensive Twitter posts after Fabrice Muamba’s collapse.
Mr Halfon said it was time to “row back” from a culture where people feel that “they can threaten people without any consequences.the Stacey case is a warning to people that abuse just won’t be tolerated any more”. Mr Scott and others said that despite the “intimidation”, their commitment to standing up for Israel would remain strong. “These people want to shut out anyone who is sympathetic towards Israel whether through threats, abuse, and making antisemitic comments,” said Mr Halfon. “It makes me even more determined because I mustnotletthem win.”
Louise Ellman: sadly old news to her