New report from OHPI on hate speech and social media

There is plenty of room for debate about appropriate responses to hate speech in a range of contexts.  People might not want to censor Holocaust denial or crude racism on a personal blog, while having zero tolerance for comparatively subtle expressions of antisemitism from elected representatives.  Here Robin Shepherd and Mike Whine offer eloquent, but opposing, perspectives on the French Court’s recent decision to identify antisemitic tweeters.

Facebook has a clear policy on hate speech:

Content that attacks people based on their actual or perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability or disease is not allowed. We do, however, allow clear attempts at humor or satire that might otherwise be considered a possible threat or attack. This includes content that many people may find to be in bad taste (ex: jokes, stand-up comedy, popular song lyrics, etc.).

It is the contention of a report which has just been released by the Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI), that Facebook staff sometimes lack the expertise to identify antisemitic hate speech – Holocaust denial and sites promoting the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for example – and thus fail to remove material which would seem to fall foul of their own guidelines.  Andre Oboler, who compiled the report, explained in a piece he wrote back in 2009 why he thinks this issue is important:

The issue here is not about creating UK law to ban Holocaust denial. It is about having companies publish their terms of service and then holding them to those terms. It is about requiring a response in reasonable time when a complaint is made. It is about transparency of process. It is about actively working to prevent not only a spread of racism but a spread of hate more generally including tackling problems such as cyberbullying. With these things in place, adults can decide if they accept those terms and can decide whether a social media site is appropriate for children under their care.

OHPI’s report offers helpful, precise analysis of why certain images are antisemitic, including examples which focus on Israel, and conflate Zionism with Nazism. This is a form of antisemitism identified in the EUMC working definition – which OHPI is urging Facebook to adopt.

The screenshots at the end of the report demonstrate Facebook’s tendency to fail to (fully) recognize the hateful nature of some images and ‘jokes’. I largely avoid Facebook, so am not sure how consistently it polices racist and other hateful content more generally.  If it aims to have a zero tolerance policy for such matters it should certainly adopt OHPI’s recommendations.  Whatever one’s views are about freedom of expression, it is reasonable that Facebook should set its own standards and implement them consistently.

Some of OHPI’s other suggestions, many aimed at tightening up Facebook’s reporting procedures, seem very sensible.  Apparently people often message the administrator of a dubious site, thinking they are reporting a problem to Facebook.  This may lead to users being targeted individually for further racist abuse. Another practical suggestion is that complaints against users with previous form be prioritised.  OHPI also welcomes Facebook’s recent adoption of a policy to inhibit posting hateful material by making it more difficult to do so anonymously:

In particular we commend Facebook for the new approach to pages which implements our suggestion that page owners be prevented from hiding behind the anonymity a page provides when they post hatful content. The new policy means content that falls short of hate speech (which would require removal), but is nonetheless hateful, must either be removed by the poster, or they must associate their profile with the page that makes the comments. This is done by optionally listing the account of the page administrators on a page’s about tab.

There are other areas where Facebook seems to be failing to comply with its own policies and processes too – here’s a recent piece on double standards with regard to images of sexual violence. Even if one would not want to see any of the (hateful) material highlighted in OHPI’s report banned outright from the internet, it seems reasonable for a social networking site to establish and maintain high community standards and take expert advice if it is not equipped to determine how to implement its own policies.

Michael White, Guardian Assistant Editor, cries “Israel” in response to concern over Lord Ahmed’s antisemitism

The Guardian

In February 2009, Labour Peer Lord Nazir Ahmed was sentenced to prison.  He had been texting and driving shortly before being involved in a car accident in which somebody died.

In March 2009, the court of appeal released him and suspended his sentence, saying that keeping him in prison would hinder his work “building bridges between the Muslim world and others.”

Last year Lord Ahmed gave an interview in Urdu in Pakistan in which he claimed that a secret conspiracy of Jews in the media, the judiciary and in government had had him imprisoned, ostensibly for texting while driving, but actually because of “his support for Palestinians in Gaza”.

Today, The Times newspaper published an English translation of Ahmed’s comments.  Later in the day, the Labour Party suspended Lord Ahmed’s membership saying that it  “deplores and does not tolerate any sort of anti-semitism.”

Daniel Finkelstein is the Executive Editor and a leader writer of the Times.

Michael White is Assistant Editor at the Guardian.

Here, courtesey of Cifwatch is the exchange between the two on Twitter:

white 3

Later, White tweets the following, in order to make himself clearer: “@GuidoFawkes Ah, but the problem here is ” why did saintly DF go after the BBC over Ahmed (surely legal?) delay. What was his sub-text?”

White’s point is that when a newspaper exposes a clear example of anti-Jewish racism, or asks why the BBC has not run with the story, then it is right to look for a sub-text, a hidden reason underlying the exposé.  Finkelstein is described as “saintly” – IE “not saintly” – not innocent, but really its opposite.

Why?  What is suspicious about a newspaper exposing clear and serious racist sentiment articulated by a Labour Peer?

Well, White seems to think that the story should be contextualized, or balanced by, or mitigated by, or explained by, the bad behaviour of those Jews who organise or who defend or who facilitate settlements in the West Bank.

Or perhaps it is a tu quoque point.  Perhaps he is saying that YOU also behave badly, YOU also have double standards.

YOU being Finkelstein, The Times, acting for the Israel Lobby, or for the pro-settlement lobby, or for “The Jews”, as Lord Ahmed would put it.

Senior figures at The Guardian increasingly act as though antisemitism in public life is no longer a story in itself.

Michael White is a man who seems to think that anybody who raises the issue of antisemitism has to be inspected for subtexts or for prior motives or for cunning plans.

Antisemitism is no longer just, simply, and on its own, to be condemned, exposed, explained and opposed.  Now we have to ask whether the Jew crying antisemitism was wearing a short skirt at the time, or had had a drink, or had been nagging the antisemite.  What did the Jews do to deserve this antisemitic treatment?

It happens very often, that a person who raises the issue of antisemitism is accused of doing so in bad faith, dishonestly, as part of a secret ‘sub-text’ of  trying to de-legitimize criticism of  Israel.  See The Livingstone Formulation.

David Hirsh

Lord Ahmed blames conviction on Jewish conspiracy

It is being reported today(£) that Lord Ahmed blamed his prison sentence for dangerous driving back in 2009 on a Jewish conspiracy. These deplorable (and ridiculous) accusations were allegedly made in a TV interview back in April 2012:

Lord Ahmed claimed that his prison sentence for dangerous driving resulted from pressure placed on the courts by Jews “who own newspapers and TV channels”. Britain’s first male Muslim peer also alleged that the judge who jailed him for 12 weeks was appointed to the High Court after helping a “Jewish colleague” of Tony Blair during “an important case”.

He claimed, falsely, that Mr Justice Wilkie was hand-picked and sent from London to carry out the 2009 sentencing at Sheffield Crown Court because no other judge was willing to handle his case. The alleged plot to punish him stemmed, Lord Ahmed claimed, from Jewish disapproval of his support for the Palestinians in Gaza. His comments were made during a television interview on a visit to Pakistan.

Although Lord Ahmed was suspended from the Labour Party following allegations that he had announced a bounty on George Bush and President Obama, he was later reinstated following an investigation.  He has been involved in several other controversial episodes:

 In 2009, Ahmed joined forces with a number of British-based Islamists to sign a letter praising Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan after he walked out of a debate with President Shimon Peres at the Davos Conference in Switzerland.

In 2005, Ahmed hosted a book launch in the House of Lords for an activist who frequently uses anti-Semitic language in his work. Russian-born Israel Shamir claimed that blood libels against the Jews were in fact true and that all political parties were Zionist infiltrated.

In an interview on the Iranian mouthpiece Press TV during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, Ahmed said that Jewish student groups actively recruited for the IDF. He said that British Jews who served in the IDF should be arrested and, if necessary, charged with war crimes.

It is to be hoped the Labour Party will take swift and decisive action if these allegations prove founded.

Update: He has now been suspended.

Betty Friedan 1975: “All my life I have fought for justice, but I have never been a Zionist until today.”

This piece, by Gil Troy, is from

Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan


In June 1975, weeks after Saigon fell, Betty Friedan led a large delegation of American feminists to Mexico City for an International Woman’s Year World Conference hosted by the United Nations. The feminist trailblazer—whose legacy is in the spotlight on International Women’s Day today, 50 years after the publication of her book The Feminine Mystiquetraveled south “relatively naïve,” she would recall, hoping “to help advance the worldwide movement of women to equality.” Instead, she endured what she called “one of the most painful experiences in my life.”

The conference’s anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Zionism shocked Freidan—and diverted attention from the feminist agenda. Men, political spouses, or “female flunkies,” she noted, dominated most official delegations. Few of the delegates seemed interested in women’s issues. American feminists were mocked as spoiled bourgeois elites raising marginal concerns to avoid confronting more pressing issues of racism, imperialism, colonialism, and poverty. A thuggish atmosphere intimidated the American feminists, especially in the parallel NGO, or non-governmental organization, conference. At critical moments “microphones were turned off” and speakers shouted down. Friedan recalled in notes found in her papers, which formed the basis of her famous article “Scary Doings in Mexico City”: “the way they were making it impossible for women to speak—on the most innocent, straightforward of women’s concerns, seemed fascist—like to me, the menace of the goosestep.” Friedan saw the Israeli prime minister’s wife, Leah Rabin, booed and boycotted, and she watched, horrified, as the “Declaration on the Equality of Women” became one of the first international documents to label Zionism as a form of racism.

Read the whole piece, by Gil Troy, at, here


David Ward continues to defy his critics

The reaction of the Liberal Democrat leadership to David Ward’s controversial comments on Israel and the Holocaust could scarcely be described as over zealous.  The standard email response sent to anyone expressing disquiet about his remarks seemed designed more to reassure the reader that the Lib Dems are absolutely not trying to censor criticism of Israel than to engage with concerns about the language Ward used.  A spokesperson from the Holocaust Educational Trust has described the party’s reaction as ‘disappointing’.

The suggestion that Ward should consult with Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel in order to gain a better understanding of the offence caused by his words struck many as a mild judgement. However even this step apparently fell through due to Ward’s delays and equivocations over deleting the controversial piece from his website.

Indeed Ward’s entire conduct since the controversy broke has done nothing to reassure his critics.  Here is an extract from a piece which first appeared on ‘Zenpolitics’, and which Ward reposted on his website last month:

In truth, that wording looks more like an unconscious error than any major mistake. Ward’s real ‘mistake’, as far as the Zionist lobby and many liberal commentariat are concerned – and as his Liberal colleague Jenny Tongue (sic) also found out to her cost – was to criticise Israel at all. Not a word here from Edemariam on that much more central indictment. 

The impression that Ward, far from being repentant, is deliberately defying his critics and party bosses is further strengthened by the latest update to his website, lifted from an article which was first published in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus. This takes issue with the Liberal Democrat leadership’s account of the (rather half hearted) recent disciplinary action against him:

David Ward has lashed out at his Liberal Democrat bosses – accusing them of wrongly claiming he has been ordered to attend “language classes”.

The Bradford East MP insisted no such punishment had been imposed, following his controversial comments about Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Mr Ward also said it was his understanding that any disciplinary process was now over – despite the Lib Dem chief whip stating it was merely “adjourned”.

Mr Carmichael wrote: “I am not clear how much time this work [the meeting with Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel] will require, although it will involve other people making time available to work with you and their availability is at present unknown. In the circumstances, therefore, the disciplinary process currently stands adjourned and a date will require to be fixed at which progress can be reviewed and it can be concluded.” But Mr Ward said he had not been shown the letter before its release and, therefore, had not agreed to its contents. He will meet with a Lib Dem Friends of Israel representative next week, but insisted the act was voluntary.

Here is a frank response from Paul Walter on Liberal Democrat Voice.

Dear David Ward, please drop this. You made a really stupid, crass mistake by using the phrase “the Jews” in a statement on your website. It was an act of stupidity of mind-blowing proportions. A colossal misjudgement. Even someone taking their GCSEs shouldn’t make a thunderously daft mistake like that. And you say you have run race awareness courses! Unbelievable!

You should just accept that you made a mistake and stop blaming Alistair Carmichael, Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes for doing their jobs.

If you don’t like it, stand as an independent at the next election.

It would be good to hear equally robust words from others in the party.

“Israel Apartheid Week” – Don’t Buy from the Jews Week

I was invited to debate the question “Is Israel an Apartheid State” by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign at a university in England as part of “Israel Apartheid Week”.  The email mentioned that I had previously represented a pro-Israel state position. I replied as follows:

Dear Xxxx,

You have been mis-informed. I did not present “pro-Israel” views in Birmingham. I presented an anti-nationalist and pro-peace position. I am an anti-racist, and therefore am reluctant to participate in your Don’t buy from the Jews week. I am saddened to be invited to an event of this kind on a university campus. I wish you all the best in building solidarity with those Palestinians who are fighting against occupation and for a democratic and free Palestine. But efforts to educate students in Leicester to believe that Israelis, uniquely, are racists who deserve to be excluded from the global community of arts, sports, academia and trade, are entirely counter-productive to that goal.

Best wishes,

The response was that there had been a misunderstanding, that the PSC is not a racist group, that it aims to foster dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians and that it is for peace in the region.  I replied as follows:

Dear Xxxxx,

No, this is not a misunderstanding. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s primary focus is not constructive solidarity with democratic Palestinians, it is to make propaganda in Britain for an exclusion of Israelis from the global community. There is nothing new about the drive to exclude Jews from the community. The point of characterising Israel as “apartheid” is to make a thought-free path to the boycott conclusion; it isn’t an open effort to do comparative analysis or illuminative analogy. Israel is the only state which you say is “apartheid” and it is the only state which you want to boycott; Israelis are the only people who you want collectively to punish for the actions of their state. PSC does not aim to open a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians but to exclude Israelis from having their voices heard by boycotting them. PSC supports antisemitic organisations like Hamas, which seek to destroy Israel and to kill Israelis. PSC is for war against Israel, not for peace between Israel and Palestine. Perhaps if there is a misunderstanding here it is that you misunderstand the aims and the culture of the PSC, the organisation to which you are affiliated.

Best wishes,

I received no further response.

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