Anti-Semitic incidents

Meeting: 
MQT on 2014-09-17
Session date: 
September 17, 2014
Reference: 
2014/3513
Question By: 
Andrew Boff
Organisation: 
GLA Conservatives
Asked Of: 
The Mayor
Category: 

Question

179 Anti-Semitic incidents have taken place in Greater London in the month of July following the conflict in Gaza, the highest spike in history according to Community Security Trust (CST) records. Will you join me in strongly condemning the recent record-breaking rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the capital?

Answer

Answer for Anti-Semitic incidents

Answer for Anti-Semitic incidents

Answered By: 
The Mayor

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Thank you very much, Andrew.  I absolutely share your horror and condemnation of this kind of incident.  There has been an increase reported over the period July-August 2014 compared to the same period last year from about 31 hate crimes - whether that is spoken/written abuse, graffiti or, even worse, violence - to about 102 in the last few months.  We are looking at it very, very closely.  The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) takes it as seriously as you and I do and I know Bernard Hogan-Howe [Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis] does.  The proportion of charges, you will be pleased to know, has increased from 81% to 94%.  Tony [Tony Arbour AM] will be glad to know there has been only one caution this year to date. 

Andrew Boff AM:  All right.  Very good.  Following calls from community leaders for legal action to be taken against those who have spread anti-Semitism on social media, do you believe that there is more action that can be taken?  It seems that some people seem to think they can get away with comments online that they would have second thoughts about offline.  I wondered if we needed some attention paid to the kind of hate speech that is taking place on social media. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  There is already statute against hate speech.  There is statute against incitement.  There are laws against that kind of behaviour.  It should certainly be enforced.  It is quite easy, actually, to track down the users of the accounts and to get them.  I would certainly encourage that. 

Andrew Boff AM:  An MP, Graham Jones, recently had to apologise when he accused a Jewish reporter in an online debate about the situation in a Middle East of killing children.  Do you think it is the duty of politicians to realise that their language can actually be used to blame individuals for international events?

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes, it has always been my view that, irrespective of what is going on around the world, London is a great global city.  We have on our streets people from communities all over the planet.  I do not want to see international disputes spilling over into the streets of London and that is what we try to avoid.  I completely support what you are saying. 

Andrew Boff AM:  Do politicians have a duty to watch their language both online and in the public domain about what their opinions are?  There have been some very disturbing comments by politicians not a million miles away about this particular subject.

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes.  I do not know which particular politicians you are referring to, but of course all politicians have a duty to avoid incendiary and inflammatory comments.  However, there is statute - and abundant statute - to stop people inciting hatred of any kind in hate speech. 

Andrew Boff AM:  Thank you, Mr Mayor.  Thank you, Chair.

Andrew Dismore AM:  A Jewish constituent wrote to me by email a couple of weeks ago and he wrote this, 

“I can tell you that most of the discussion amongst my circle of friends, mainly Jewish, is about when Jews will have to leave this country as we have had to leave others so many times in our history.  Many are settling their affairs before going.  There is a strong feeling that this day is approaching and quite quickly, too.  I wonder what effect that will have on the economy, culture and numerous other fields in the long term.  The Jewish Chronicle did a survey in August and it showed that 63% of Jews in Britain now think there may be no future for Jews in the United Kingdom (UK) because of this rise in fears of anti-Semitism.” 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I want to reassure you and your constituents, all of them, Andrew, that this is something that the MPS and I take incredibly seriously.  We will come down very hard on people who promote hatred or who promote discrimination of any kind.  It is very important for the Jewish community in London to know that it is a huge and vital part of our lives.  They are loved and they are valued and we will not tolerate abuse. 

Andrew Dismore AM:  I am pleased you say that because, obviously, hopefully, everybody here would agree with that.  I am sure they do.  However, it also says this, “As usual in this country, there’s all talk and little action”.  The question they really want me to put to you is what exactly you are going to do about this state of affairs, rather than talking about, not just by encouraging words but by effective action.  What can you do? 

Another constituent sent me a link to a video.  This video was of a group of people on a London Underground station waving an Islamic State flag with faces covered and screaming out anti-Semitic language, protected by the MPS.  They were protected by the MPS, who were policing that demonstration.  Is that the sort of thing the MPS should be doing, protecting them or arresting them? 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Andrew, as you know, the flag of the Islamic State - or ISIS or ISIL or whatever they call themselves - we do not tolerate.  It has been taken down on at least one occasion and the MPS has overseen that.  We do try to make sure that it is never flown.  I would encourage all boroughs to take the same attitude and I know that they do. 

On the role of the MPS policing demonstrations, there are about 5,000 demonstrations every year in London and we are very proud of a society that is free, allows free speech and allows people to express their opinions.  Where that shades over into vicious degradation of other communities and where that shades over into incitement, it is plainly intolerable and it is the duty of the MPS to stop that. 

You ask what we are doing concretely.  Obviously, you will have heard what I said about the increase in the number of charges for these offences.  We are taking it very seriously.  There is a lot of work going on with the CST, as you can imagine, to stamp out such behaviour.

Andrew Dismore AM:  I am pleased that you say that, Mr Mayor, and I agree with the sentiment of what you had to say.  I think everybody would agree with that.

The real problem is that when you see these demonstrations which are violently anti-Semitic, not just anti-Israel, not just anti-Zionist but turning into anti-Semitism, the police do not seem to take action.  They seem to just police the demonstration as though it is only another demonstration.  Of course we have to protect their right to free speech.  If people want to protest about what is going on in Israel, it is fair enough.  However, when it goes over the line, the police should not be protecting those people.  They should be arresting them and they are not.  That is the problem. 

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I would have to have chapter-and-verse there, Andrew, of the occasions when you think the police should have arrested somebody for incitement and failed to do so.  However, believe me, this is something we take incredibly seriously and I just want to reassure you about that.  If you have particular evidence of somebody who should have been arrested, then for heaven’s sake give it to me.