I speak from experience (as I explain later in this post) and so the following report in the current issue of the London Jewish Chronicle has a particular resonance with me:
'Antisemitic abuse aimed at Israel advocates should receive the same level of public scrutiny as high-profile Twitter incidents, experts and victims have said.
The use of email and social media sites to propagate abuse has become so severe that pro-Israel campaigners have feared for their safety and been forced to call police.
One victim this week likened the campaign against pro-Israel voices to a “McCarthyite witch hunt” and said a “network of abusers” operated on social media.
A spokesman for the Community Security Trust, which monitors antisemitism, compared the abuse to the threats to rape and bomb women on Twitter last month. He confirmed that CST had provided a number of victims with specific protection measures and safety advice.
Lawyer and academic Baroness Deech is one of those who has received messages from so-called “trolls”. She was sent a number of antisemitic emails last week after complaining to the BBC about anti-Israel comments made by violinist Nigel Kennedy at the Proms.
Among the threats and abuse — sent mainly anonymously or from pseudonymous email accounts — were accusations that she was a “ZioNazi” spreading propaganda. One email called on the peer to show “remorse” for “the 250 British military personnel murdered during the mandate”.
“Can you bring yourself to show some loyalty to the British people over your nasty little racist murderer friends in Palestine?” the email asked.
Baroness Deech said: “Everyone who ever says anything favourable about Israel gets these four-letter words, ranting emails and tweets which prove the point that it is antisemitism that drives them, not concern for Palestine. It needs exposure.
“There needs to be an examination of the way the internet is used by anonymous antisemites — just as women have been targeted — and how it reveals that the anti-Israel campaign is a front for antisemitism to rage.”
Many of those who have received the most severe abuse and threats are too scared to be named publicly. One pro-Israel campaigner said authorities had not taken the threats against him seriously. “When I complained to Twitter I got no reply back. Twitter is a cesspit for abuse from anonymous cowards who you never know and can’t be sure whether they are real-life violent Islamists,” he said.
Twitter acknowledged this month that it had not done enough to tackle abuse, and announced plans to make it easier for users to report offensive messages.
Another Israel advocate, who was also too scared to be named, said he had previously called police because of “premeditated” and “forensic” abuse.
The anonymity afforded by modern technology had added to the problem, the CST spokesman said. “It used to be the case that if you wrote a letter to a newspaper supporting Israel, and your address was printed in the paper, you would get abusive letters. Think how much easier it is to abuse by email or on Twitter. Some people use the internet solely for abuse,” he said.'
This man, who began to stalk me obsessively on the site, flung antisemitic abuse and derogatory, defamatory comments at me on a daily basis. I was "a rightwing Jewish bitch" ... a "ZioNazi" (there's that word again!) ... I habitually gloated (he alleged in his twisted fashion) over reports of Palestinian deaths ...
Complaining to the website in question (by me and others outraged on my behalf) proved continually futile, and accordingly this individual carried on his malevolent mischief with impunity, targeting me ever more remorselessly and, for good measure, posting despicable lies about the wife of an erudite non-Jew who, like me, enthusiastically supported Israel on the forum and, moreover, did so with display of knowledge about Israeli history and politics that would shame many a Jew.
Things went from bad to worse, with two or three other Israel-bashing leftists joining in the Zionist-baiting "fun" and either emulating the offender or egging him on. Believe me, this late-middle-aged man in a white collar occupation was no mere common or garden troll, of the kind who infest many discussion sites. In fact, since the man was so relentless and sadistic in his treatment of me some posters began to wonder whether he was someone from my past who had a long-standing grudge against me.
One morning I received a private message from another member of the forum (herself a leftist critical of Israel) which informed me that, overnight on another website to which I myself did not belong, my tormentor posted my name, address, and telephone number, and suggested that anyone who did not agree with my attitude to the Palestinians (needless to say, this wicked wretch falsely depicted me, and Zionists in general, as considering the Palestinians less than human) should contact me to tell me so.
The time had come, my informant declared, for me to complain to the police about this man's behaviour, which had now undeniably gone beyond all the bounds of decency and acceptability.
During the course of the day I received two more private messages. One was from a woman who knew the offender's exact postal address (as well as his date of birth and occupation), and willingly gave it to me so that the police could be notified. The other was from a young lawyer, who said he had watched the ever-escalating abuse against me with mounting horror, and that the time for police action had arrived.
Luckily for me, my tormentor had made a mistake regarding my phone number. He had obviously seen that in the phone directory it appeared twice (in error, actually), and had posted one of those two alternatives. It happened to be a number that was incorrect in the last digit.
Still, his posting my contact details plus the constant drip-drip-drip of derision had an unnerving effect, impacting on my physical and psychological well-being, and over the ensuing days and weeks he became more malicious than ever. With manic fervour, he created on both websites threads naming and abusing me, claiming, inter alia, that my husband (who had never posted on any internet forum and did not deserve to be dragged into this, yet who was mentioned by name by this sick man together with his work address and contact details) and I "salivate" every time a Palestinian is killed, that I write histories and historical biographies because, since the subjects are dead, I don't have to be accurate as to my facts.
There were all sorts of such grotesque and loathsome rubbish, much of it highly defamatory to me. (The truly reprehensible website on which he had posted my contact details and these latest falsehoods refused my polite request, and those of sympathisers, that the posts be removed; the website was experiencing a boost in traffic from the brouhaha and was not prepared to let ethics win over the number of views it was notching up!)
Having taken advice from the Community Security Trust (CST) and the young lawyer, I learned that if the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) was to take action against my tormentor (probably for "racially aggravated harassment") the CPS would need from the police an "evidential download" of the offending material within 90 days of the material appearing, I strode into my local police station, and I drew to the attention of a rather baffled-looking policewoman the print-outs I had provided, and after interviewing me she assured me the matter would be investigated.
Two days later I received a phone call from a young male officer: would I please collect those print-outs, he said, as this was not a matter with which the police could deal and I would have to take up the matter with the websites concerned (what part of been there, done that, did the police not understand, I wondered!).
I told the CST (of whom I cannot speak too highly) of this development and was informed that the officer was in the wrong, since once the police have received such a complaint as I made they are obligated to investigate it.
Tearfully, I confronted the young officer and told him so, and was interviewed by another officer who, like the policewoman before him, appeared to take the matter seriously. Out of curiosity, this officer, given the name and address of the offender by me, searched the man on the electronic England and Wales police files (data base) he had at his disposal and volunteered that the man was already on them, for some past offence. (What that was he, quite properly, did not say, and I knew better than to ask.)
Within days the policewoman who had initially received my complaint was sent around to my house to take a formal statement, for forwarding with the other material to the CPS. Some weeks later later a detective from the station rang me to say that he had taken over the case from the policewoman, and that in the meantime it would be helpful if I did not participate on the forum on which the abuse occurred.
After that I waited ... and waited ... and waited for the police to get back to me. In the meantime, although I no longer participated on the forum, as the detective advised, the abusive and defamatory posts about me continued.
Months passed, and eventually I asked the police how things were proceeding, only to find that the police had done absolutely nothing! They had not lifted a finger to secure those crucial "evidential downloads" and consequntly the 90 days in which they had to be made was long past! The print-outs of savage and sustained antisemitic harassment I'd given them were therefore wasted! The CPS had been given no inkling whatsoever of the antisemitic abuse and harassment perpetrated.
When I expressed incredulity, the police offered the lame excuse that detemining the offender's identity and whereabouts had proved more difficult to do than they anticipated!
To that piece of bulldust I was able to retort that his precise identity and whereabouts were already common knowledge, and that I'd done their work for them by providing them with his full name, date of birth, occupation, and exact postal address!
Thus checkmated, they tried another tack: that they'd held off contacting the CPS because they'd assumed that, since I no longer participated on the website on which the original abuse had occurred, the abuse would stop.
Upset and furious, I wrote a letter of complaint to no less a personage that the Chief Constable of the county. As a result, I was fed an apparent cock-and-bull story about how seriously the police take allegations of antisemitism, and that the reason the investigation had stalled was due to the fact that the policewoman who originally dealt with my complaint is not computer-literate and had been overwhelmed by the reams of evidence at hand!!!
The outcome was that a local detective phoned me. He assured me that although the opportunity to make evidential downloads within the requisite time-frame mandated by law had passed, my tormentor would within the coming week be contacted in person by a member of the police force in the district where he lived, and told that he must never again post my contact details online or mention me by name in such a manner on internet forums.
And, added the detective, he (i.e. the detective himself) would follow up that visit by phoning the offender to "fire an additional shot across his bows" by emphasising to him that a repeat of such abuse by him would not be tolerated.
Guess what? A local policeman did indeed call upon the offender, just as the detective told me he would.
How do I know? Because, the day after the police officer's visit, the offender sent me a taunting message online to tell me so, and indicated by both word and deed that he would not be complying with the officer's request.
Oh, and guess what else? The detective never did phone the offender to fire that promised shot across his bow.
And why didn't he keep that promise to me?
Well, this is how the detective explained it to me when, indignant and disappointed, I asked him that very question: when the policeman confronted the offender at home and asked for his phone number the offender refused to give it.
And the policeman (or so the detective said) had no power to force him to do so!
As for the tormentor, I have tried to put him out of my mind. But I do know that he's on Twitter, tweeting or retweeting sentiments hostile to Israel, including assertions that European Jews have no ethnic or historical ties to that country...