Terror police chief calls for new ways to tackle online hate material

The war in Gaza has seen a rise in hate propaganda (AFP via Getty Images)
The war in Gaza has seen a rise in hate propaganda (AFP via Getty Images)

The conflict in Israel and Gaza has prompted an “extraordinary volume of hateful propaganda” online that needs tackling with a new “legal and policy” response, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism police chief has warned MPs.

Met Assistant Commissioner Matt Jukes said the “astonishing” quantity of “objectionable” and inflammatory material spread online and in communities since 7 October when Hamas carried out its murderous attack on Israel risked having a “long-term” radicalising impact.

But he said the problem could not be tackled by police alone and suggested that he backed a new law to outlaw “hateful extremism” that was not currently covered by terrorism legislation.

He added that the radicalising effect of hate propaganda had already been recognised in official reports as a trigger for the 2017 terrorist attacks in London – at Westminster and London Bridge – and the bombing of Manchester Arena the same year and he would be “pleased” to give more information to MPs about why new measures were needed.

The comments by Mr Jukes, in written evidence to the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, follow earlier warnings by counter-terrorism police about the thousands of referrals they have received about toxic online material posted in the wake of the conflict in Israel in Gaza.

Several hundred have prompted investigation for potential breaches of terrorism laws, but there is also concern that other extremist posts that is not unlawful now could still have a radicalising effect and trigger some vulnerable teenagers in particular to attempt terror attacks.

A 2021 report by Dame Sara Khan, who was then the government’s counter-extremism commissioner, written with Sir Mark Rowley before his appointment as Met Commissioner, has already called for new legislation to ban “hateful extremism” because of its harmful impact.

But with the government yet to bring in a new law, despite Sir Mark’s warning three years ago that action was “urgently needed”, Mr Jukes told MPs that he believed the proposal “for a wider policy, operational and legal response to extremism – below the current threshold of terrorism – has real merit”.

He said others also supported the call for new measures to combat “the longer-term impact of ‘hateful extremism’ and the risk of radicalisation”.

Matt Jukes, head of Counter Terrorism Policing (PA Wire)
Matt Jukes, head of Counter Terrorism Policing (PA Wire)

Mr Jukes added: “Mark Lucraft as Chief Coroner following inquests concerning the 2017 terrorist attacks in London, and Sir Jon Saunders in his report after the Manchester Arena attack have encouraged Government to consider further action on the climate created by hateful extremism. Tragic events have shown there is more to do online and in communities.”

“These eminent commentators have my support, reinforced by witnessing the extraordinary volume of hateful propaganda that has been shared since 7th October.”

Meanwhile, in separate written evidence, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Jonathan Hall KC, said that any person shouting “Zionist” at a Jewish person could be prosecuted for a public order offence.

Mr Hall said this was because “Zionist” was used by Hamas and others to refer to any Jewish person who believed in Israel’s right to exist and as an alternative to “Jew” in a way that made Jewish people feel “unsafe or unwelcome” on the streets.

“Deliberately going up to a Jew and shouting “Zionist” or doing so in a Jewish area, may well amount to the offence of intentional harassment,” Mr Hall told the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee.

“Indeed, deliberately directing the phrase “Zionists” against Jews is strong evidence that “Zionists” is a hostile synonym for Jews.”

Mr Hall added: “Calls for eradication or punishment of “Zionists” could well amount to the stirring up of hatred against Jews generally, or Israelis in particular. Police have power to intervene to stop the type of conduct which is likely to make Jews in the UK feel most unsafe: the fear that pro-Palestine marches are stirring up hostility against them as Jews because of their connection to Israel.”