UKLFI Charitable Trust has argued that Zionism should be protected as a religious or philosophical belief in its response to a Consultation on hate crimes by the Law Commission for England and Wales.
The Law Commission is a statutory body responsible for keeping the law of England and Wales under review and recommending reform where needed. It is currently reviewing the law governing hate crimes, both the specific offences of stirring up hatred, and other crimes that are aggravated by hatred against protected groups. Aggravated crimes have higher penalties and their investigation is prioritised by the police.
Data reported at para. 11.8 of the Law Commission’s consultation paper indicates that Jews are much more likely to be victims of hate crime than any other religious group in England and Wales.
Although more religious hate crimes against Muslims are recorded in absolute terms than against any other group (47% of the total), taking into account their share of the population (which, at 0.5% is about 1/10 that of Muslims) Jews are over three times more likely to be victims of recorded religious hate crimes than Muslims (17% of the total). It is not clear whether these figures include crimes against Jews as an ethnic group; if not the disparity between Jews and other groups would be even greater.
UKLFI Charitable Trust argues in its response that Zionism should be regarded as a protected religious and/or philosophical belief in the laws on hate crimes, because it qualifies as such and also because hate against Jews is frequently disguised as hate against Zionists.
The Law Commission’s paper observes at para 14.168 that belief in Scottish independence has been held to qualify as a protected philosophical belief. UKLFI Charitable Trust argue that the case for protecting the belief that the State of Israel should exist is even stronger, reflecting as it does both the entitlement of the Jewish people to self-determination and their need of a national home for their security.
UKLFI Charitable Trust makes a number of other points in its response to the consultation. It notes a tendency of police, prosecutors, judges and tribunals to interpret words as they would be understood by an average English person. However, in our experience coded language or “dog whistles” are often used, which are understood by the persons whose hate they stir up and the victims they intimidate, but not necessarily by an average person. We propose that the new legislation should state that in determining the meaning and effect of words used, particular regard should be had to how they are understood by persons to whom they are addressed and by persons to whom they refer.
We note that the Law Commission does not appear to take into account the potential value of more severe punishment of hate crimes as a direct deterrent to overcome the motivation of the crime by the hatred. In its para 3.11, the paper only considers the indirect deterrent of sending a message that the hatred is wrong. We fear that has little impact on the bigoted, and argue that the prospect of more severe punishment would have some effect.