The Facebook page of the White Rock Hotel has a section for reviews – 328 of them ‘recommending’ the hotel at last count. The vast majority of postings are indeed complimentary, praising its family- and dog-friendly atmosphere, pleasant staff, quiet and spacious rooms, sea views, etc. However, from around 9 pm on Christmas night, 25th December, a barrage of adverse ‘review’ messages came flooding in – more than 30 over the ensuing 24 hours – ranging from the merely hostile to ranting abuse. A survey of the Facebook profiles of these ‘reviewers’ reveals that a large proportion were resident in North America or Israel. It is unlikely that any had ever set foot in the hotel. All were responding, in a clearly orchestrated campaign, to the news that Baroness Tonge was scheduled to talk at a meeting there a month hence. 

Many of the reviewers made explicit that they were complaining about the hotel’s willingness to play host to the Baroness rather than suggesting first-hand customer experience. For instance, Mark Henry Casson, from Israel, posted: “How can you allow this Tonge woman to spread her antisemitic venom in your hotel and expect people to recommend you? Unhelpful concierge.” Ronnie Lachman Pleet of Philadelphia wrote: “Was planning trip to England. Would never vacation in your anti Semitic hotel. Disgraceful!no recommendations!” and received nine ‘likes’ for it. Al Szajman of Vancouver added: “Any hotel that deems it appropriate to host an event with an anti-Semite and terrorism supporter is a dump.”#BoycottTheWhiteRockHotel” (also nine ‘likes’). 

However, several other postings took a more insidious line, giving bogus guest reviews of the hotel’s services without revealing their motivation. 

Marc Plumot, based in Belgium, whose own Facebook profile shows a Belgian flag intertwined with Israel’s, commented: “My experience here with my wife was terrible. I have never slept in such uncomfortable beds …We both left very dissatisfied.” 

Sharon Broer, whose profile shows a gun-toting soldier posing in front of the Israeli flag with the strap line ‘I stand with Israel’, wrote: “The hotel was awful. In need of moderation [sic] and up grading. I was extremely uncomfortable and I shall never repeat the experience!!!”

Others, rather savvier, sallied forth to add to the trash count with profiles entirely blanked out. Tina Finn posted “Very disappointed with this hotel. Rooms were tired looking and staff unhelpful. Noisy rooms”. Nathalie Graham wrote: “Unhelpful ignorant staff don’t bother”.

Tony Zamchick, whose own Facebook page carries an endorsement for ‘Together Against Antisemitism’, posted a more competitive message: “I suggest Bannatyne Spa hotel when you next go to Hastings. Great rooms, pool, gym and many deals.”.

There was no formal announcement by the hotel that organisers Hastings Palestine Solidarity Campaign (HPSC) had, in order to spare it from further attack, agreed to shift the talk elsewhere. However, on the morning of 27th December they changed their own Facebook event page details so that the venue section stated ‘Venue to be announced.’ 

This was quickly picked up and relayed across the global network. Jamie Pierce, a New Yorker whose profiled picture has a banner across it, ‘I Stand With Israel FOREVER’, had posted a non-recommendation but then added: “UPDATE: This hotel had the decency to cancel the event hosting Jenny Tonge, a purveyor of racial hatred. Kudos to The White Rock Hotel.” The Facebook page then re-filled with more than a dozen positive endorsements over the following two days. Ali Arellano, based in Israel, was one of many who now ‘recommended’ the hotel: “Well done and thank you for cancelling Tonge! You did the right and decent thing. Nobody needs to hear Jew haters speak.” 

The full gamut of Facebook reviews over the four-day period is still available to be viewed on the hotel’s open page. Asked why he had not taken any steps to seek removal of them by Facebook, on the ground that they are not genuine reviews of the hotel’s services, owner Laurence Bell said he had neither time nor interest. “I’m trying to run a business, I can’t spend all my time trying to correct whatever people say about it.” It was HPSC who had agreed to find another venue when he had reported the attacks to them. And they have posted support for him subsequently on their own web page.

“The proprietor is a highly respected local businessman,” say HSPC, “who has done a lot for the local community. He is a firm believer in freedom of speech. Many local community groups use the White Rock Hotel for meetings: groups such as women’s groups, environmental groups. As the news of this attack is getting out, there has been growing resentment, even anger, directed at the perpetrators. It is being seen as an attack against the local community.”

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