LONDON (Oct. 21)
British Jews are welcoming proposed new anti-terrorism legislation, but warn that it must be backed with action.
The government has announced new legislation designed to make it harder for terrorists to operate in the United Kingdom, including attempts to combat money laundering and measures to ease the expulsion of people suspected of having criminal links.
Jews have been particularly pleased that the proposed Emergency Anti-Terrorism Bill, which comes in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, tightens laws against incitement to include religious hatred as well.
It also would criminalize incitement to commit terrorist acts against groups or individuals abroad. The Community Security Trust, an organization dedicated to Jewish security issues, praised the principles behind the bill.
“We would welcome stronger legislation that gets to the heart of terrorism that is planned in this country,” a spokesman for the trust told JTA. But “there has to be political will to prosecute for incitement.”
The Board of Deputies, the umbrella organization that represents most British Jews, echoed the Trust’s analysis.
“We can welcome in principle new powers to outlaw incitement to religious hatred,” Neville Nagler, the director general of the Board, said. “But the existing powers to prevent incitement to racial hatred have clearly proved ineffective. There has been a lack of will to initiate prosecutions, even in cases where there is clear evidence of the organized distribution of leaflets calling for the killing of Jews.
“If they are to have any value, new powers to deal with religious incitement will have to overcome the clear deficiencies of the existing laws against racial incitement,” Nagler said.
Jews are protected under existing hate laws because British law considers them a visibly identifiable race.
The only other religious adherents covered by current legislation are Sikhs, who are considered recognizable by their turbans and beards.
Criminologist Paul Iganski of the University of Essex said only 41 cases of incitement were prosecuted under existing legislation between 1990 and 1997.
Under current laws, he explained, the attorney general must approve prosecutions “in order to avoid political prosecutions.”
Historically, there has been a “reluctance” on the part of the attorney general to push cases forward, Iganski said. For the state to prosecute someone for incitement, he noted, “the words must be pretty strong.”
Offensive language not closely linked to violence falls outside existing law, said Iganski, the editor of a forthcoming book on making hate a crime.
The Board of Deputies has pushed for Holocaust denial to be covered under existing incitement legislation, for example, but the government has refused because it says such speech is not directly linked to violence, Iganski said.
As a result, existing laws “have hardly been used because you rarely catch speech which is severely insulting,” he added.
Iganski also objects to the emergency bill on civil liberties grounds, he said.
“Trying to criminalize expression has a potentially chilling effect,” he said. “Even if the new laws were framed in the same way as the racial hatred laws, because of how the new laws are perceived, it’s likely to have a chilling effect” on free speech.