MPS: We speak up for Is­rael — and get death threats

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page - BY JEN­NIFER LIP­MAN

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

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