27 May 2021

The tide of online anti-Semitism does not represent Britain – as a new poll makes clear

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I tell myself that it’s for professional reasons that I spend so much time on Twitter. As editor of the Jewish Chronicle, it’s important that I see what’s out there.

And that’s partly true. But if I’m being honest, it’s more visceral than that. I refuse to concede the digital space to the Jew-haters. So I watch, I report and I expose.

Ask any Jew who is even remotely in the public eye and they will tell you the same thing: that they have had to grow used to anti-Semitic abuse.

Not a day goes by when my email inbox does not get filled with Jew hate. This morning, for example, I woke to two such emails, with one telling me so very originally – at a guess, I’d say half cite Hitler or the Nazis – that ‘Hitler should have finished the job’.  I guarantee another half a dozen at least during the day – and often many more.

Social media is worse. As of today I have had to block 2566 Twitter accounts. The vast majority of those have been blocked for anti-Semitic abuse.

One sensible way of dealing with this is to ignore it altogether. I wish I could do that, but I can’t pretend it’s not happening. Because one thing we have seen in recent years is that while social media is almost comically unrepresentative of the real world – something I will come to in a moment – what originates online rarely stays online.

In recent weeks, since Israel started defending itself from rocket attack by Hamas, anti-Semitic incidents have risen sixfold according to figures from the Community Security Trust. A convoy of cars drove through areas of north London with significant Jewish populations screaming for the rape and murder of Jews. A giant screen showing images of the Holocaust was taken to Golders Green and passers by were asked if they were Jewish and then asked why they had not learned from what happened to them under the Nazis. On and on it goes.

These are real world extensions of what has become a cess pit of social media anti-Semitism, with an avalanche of supposedly anti-Israel posts which barely even try to hide their hatred of Jews. Dare to suggest that Israel might have reason to try to protect its citizens from rocket attacks and the floodgates open. Forgive the analogy, but it’s accurate: being a Jew on social media is like wading through a river of excrement.

And boy is it depressing. Rationally, you know that Twitter and other social media are not even remotely representative. If they were, it would have been Jeremy Corbyn who won a landslide in 2019.

Which is why a new poll conducted for Jewish Leadership Council by Deltapoll, which is published in this week’s Jewish Chroncle, is so important. It shows just how unrepresentative social media is. According to the poll of over 2000 people conducted between May 21-24, a mere 10% believe Israel does not have the right to defend itself.

As for the anti-Semitic incidents which have shot up, there is strong sympathy – anger, one might even say.

Some 59% of respondents agree with the proposition that they are “angry and embarrassed” that incidents such as the car convoy can happen in the present day.

Over half (52%) agree that such an incident “makes me worry that future atrocities against Jewish people are still possible”. And almost the same figure – 44% – say that they are worried for the safety of British Jews , with 46% saying they have been reminded of historical atrocities against Jews.

If those figures seem low, it’s important to bear in mind that many people, quite understandably, don’t have an opinion and answer ‘Don’t Know’. For those of us for whom attacks on Israel feel like an attack on all Jews, and who encounter anti-Semitism ourselves, it’s easy to forget that for most people what happens in Israel is of no relevance to them, and that with just 250,000 Jews in Britain – 0.3% of the population – we are a tiny group. In some ways it is astounding that so many people do have an opinion, and that the overwhelming majority understand Israel’s need to defend itself from terror and are concerned about anti-Semitism in Britain.

One of the recurring thrusts of anti-Semites online is the demand that British Jews denounce Israel. Asked if we should be asked to justify the actions of the Israeli government, a resounding 64% say “no”, with just 12% answering “yes”.

Encouraging as the poll is, and important as it is to remember that social media is not the real world, it is equally important not to let up on exposing the racists who populate sites like Twitter. They exist, and they have to be defeated. It may be like pushing water uphill, but that’s no reason not to try.

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Stephen Pollard is Editor of the Jewish Chronicle.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.