Spain Mulls Action Against anti-Semitic Tweets Following Maccabi Game

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Maccabi Tel Aviv fans attending celebrations in Tel Aviv, May 19, 2014, after the basketball team won the Euroleague Final Four title.Credit: Reuters

The Spanish government is considering cracking down on hate speech on social networks in the wake of thousands of anti-Semitic comments made on Twitter, following an Israel-Spain basketball game on Sunday.

Jewish groups filed a legal complaint on Tuesday calling for official action against tweeters who made gas chamber and Holocaust comments after Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Real Madrid in the Euroleague final.

State prosecutors are looking into the complaint against users of an obscene Twitter tag, which the Jewish groups say became a trending topic on Twitter in Spain after over 4,000 direct messages on the microblogging network, and thousands more retweets.

The anti-Semitic posts are embarrassing for a country which recently approved a law allowing descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled from the country in 1492 to seek Spanish nationality.

Justice and interior ministry officials met with a senior state prosecutor on Monday to discuss how Spanish law can cope with defamatory, racist or discriminatory speech on social networks, a source at the justice ministry said.

"It's not about writing new laws. Within Spanish law this behavior is already penalized. It's to evaluate Twitter as a new variable within this law," said another source close to the talks.

Both government sources spoke on condition they not be named, citing ministry rules.

Maccabi officials expressed their shock with the anti-Semitic tweets.

“Our trademark yellow was adopted by the club in the 1940’s as a sign of solidarity with the Jews of Europe who were persecuted by the Nazis and forced to wear a yellow star," said Danny Federman, general manager of the team. "It is very disappointing to see the rush of anti-Semitism following a well fought competition, but we are proud to wear colors that symbolize unity, togetherness and respect for all peoples."

Shimon Mizrahi, the president of Maccabi Tel Aviv, stated: “Maccabi Tel Aviv takes great pride in its role as global ambassadors for the state of Israel and the Jewish people. The hateful remarks we have seen this week, and the subsequent global condemnation of them, serve both as a reminder of how far we have come in the fight against ignorance and racism, and how far we still must go.”

Spain is grappling with a spate of incendiary tweeting, especially following the murder of Isabel Carrasco, a leader of the conservative People's Party and president of the county council of Leon in northern Spain.

Four people have been charged with apologia - sympathizing with a criminal act - after sending tweets that police say celebrated Carrasco's death. She was shot dead May 12 while walking through the city of Leon.

Under Spanish law, successful prosecutions could carry prison sentences of up to two years.

They have also provoked debate on how far the law should be permitted to censor comments made on social networks after Interior Minister Jose Fernandez Diaz said they must purge undesirables from social media.

"There are comments on the internet which can be considered unfortunate, a symptom of bad manners or in bad taste, but that doesn't mean they should be met with a legal response," said Joaquim Bosch, spokesman for Judges for Democracy, an association of judges and magistrates. "We need to differentiate between stupid comments where people are letting off steam and real threats."

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