Before I ask the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to begin the debate, I just want to say two things if I may. First, Front Bench speeches cannot be constrained, but dozens of people wish to speak in this debate. I have exhorted the Department and the shadow team as follows: their Front-Bench speeches should not exceed 20 minutes in total. It is far too long to make a 20-minute speech and take bucketloads of interventions. There are 36 and more colleagues who wish to speak, so I would appreciate it if that were respected.
Secondly, if Members cannot be here for the wind-ups, I hope they will understand that they should not try to speak in the debate, because that is not fair to colleagues. I look to the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to open the debate.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered anti-semitism.
This debate is about a prejudice with a long past, an all-too-lively present and a future that is for us to determine. This is the first general debate on anti-Semitism that we have had in this House. This is an issue that should concern not just the Jewish community, but all communities on both sides of the House. I think I speak for all of us in not wanting this to be an issue that we have to grapple with in the next decade, in the next Government and indeed, at the next general election. This is an issue that has come to a head now, and we must deal with it now.
I believe that the task before us today is more important than just discussing policy solutions. What we need to achieve today is to show the Jewish community in our country, and indeed those who may be watching abroad, that we do get it, that both sides of this House stand united in recognising the pernicious prejudice of anti-Semitism and in recognising the anxiety that is felt within the community here in Britain in 2018, and that we are listening to their concerns carefully, with humility and determination.
It is in that spirit that I thank the Leader of the Opposition for attending this debate. It will perhaps not be the most comfortable three hours of debate that he has sat in on, but he makes the most of—[Interruption]. And his effort is appreciated for attending. There has frankly been a deeply worrying lack of leadership and moral clarity on this issue from him. Being here to listen to what is being said by his concerned colleagues and others is an important step in showing the community that this issue is being taken seriously, and I sincerely hope that he takes the opportunity to once and for all clarify his position on anti-Semitism.
To combat anti-Semitism we must first understand the true nature of the problem. In December 2016, the UK became the first country to formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of anti-Semitism, and I pay tribute to my good friend and the UK’s post-holocaust envoy, Sir Eric Pickles, for that. This definition was also adopted by the Labour party, and it includes the following:
“Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective—such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”
These tropes have been around for a very, very long time—the world’s oldest hatred.
Will the Secretary of State give way?
I will in a moment. In line with what Mr Speaker said earlier, I will take a few interventions, but I want to make sure that as many Members as possible get the opportunity to contribute today. However, I will come back to the hon. Lady.
A century ago, the then US President, William Howard Taft, described anti-Semitism as a “noxious weed”. Unfortunately, in recent years, this weed has found fertile soil in the corners of social media and political activism in our country, especially those cloaked in anti-Israel and anti-Zionist sentiment. Criticisms of actions taken by the Israeli Government are one thing, but for many, it is simply a mask for anti-Jewish, racist sentiment. In general, Britain can be proud of its peaceful and tolerant environment for Jews, but that is in danger of changing. Across Europe and the United States, anti-Semitism is on the rise.
Last year, the Community Security Trust recorded 1,346 anti-Semitic incidents in the UK—the highest on record.[Official Report, 18 April 2018, Vol. 639, c. 2MC.] These incidents include, for example, graffiti at a synagogue in Leeds, social media abuse of Jewish figures—not least, Members of Parliament—and Jewish schoolchildren being physically and verbally attacked on a school bus. In some ways, this type of explicit anti-Semitism is easier to recognise and to tackle head on—the hate preachers, the extremist mosques, and far-right and far-left groups—but much more of it is oblique. A search on Google produces more than half a million hits for “holocaust hoax”. Thousands more pages tell people that a greedy Otto Frank forged his daughter’s diary in a cunning scheme to try to make some money. Then there are the dinner party anti-Semites, self-regarding and respectable people who recoil at the accusation of racism but are quite happy to trot out modern takes on old tropes. In fact, this has become so pervasive that recent research by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, funded by the Community Security Trust and my Department, found that a shocking 30% of those surveyed believed in one or more anti-Semitic trope. Although a lot of that comes down to ignorance and the need for education, we cannot ignore the role that those in public life play in setting the right tone.
I came across anti-Semitism when I used to live in Swansea, at the synagogue there, and I was absolutely appalled, but it seems to me that it has got worse, particularly with social networking these days. Some people think they can write what they like on social networks and remain anonymous, so will my right hon. Friend guarantee that there will be no hiding places for those people?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight that, and I will come onto it later. I know that it is something my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has taken very seriously in the hate crime action plan and she is working with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service as well as providing more resources.
In 15 or 16 countries across continental Europe, holocaust denial is a crime. In Germany, I believe, sentences can go up to 5 years. Does the Secretary of State think there is a case for reviewing the law in this country?
We have no plans to review the law on this, because we also value freedom of speech, but of course when it comes to hate speech, whether it is online or offline, we must act decisively. This question has been raised by Members in the past, and if the hon. Lady believes that there is a wide body of opinion in favour of considering it, I would be happy to listen to her arguments.
On a specific point, I reported a very clear anti-Semitic mural and image to Facebook, which came back to me and told me that it should not have to be removed, stating the usual reasons for not removing other forms of extremist material. Does the Secretary of State not agree with me that it is a high time we took serious action against Facebook, YouTube, Google and all those who continue to propagate extremist material of all sorts on the internet?
The hon. Gentleman is right to make that point, because there has been a lot more done in recent years to work with the internet giants—Facebook, Google and others—to get them to do much more to take down hate crime, hate speech and hate videos of any type. He is clearly saying that more can be done. More is being done and the speed at which things are coming down once they are reported is faster than ever before, but I agree with the general direction of his comments. More needs to be done.
Anti-Semitism can be found in both extremes of the political spectrum, far right and far left. The British public has a strong record of keeping those fringes out of major parties and out of this Chamber, but although I would much rather that this issue transcended party politics, as other forms of racism have for a long time, we cannot and must not ignore the particular concern with elements within the Labour party, and nor can we ignore the fact that this increasing concern is correlating with the current Leader of the Opposition and the waves of activists that have come with him. I can understand that acknowledging these facts is not an easy thing to do. The easy thing to do is to displace responsibility by bashing the media or blaming Tory attacks, or worse, as some activists have been doing, intimidating those Labour MPs who have taken a clear stand against anti-Semitism.
Is my right hon. Friend surprised as I am that an Israeli Labour MP told me in Israel last week that the leader of her party has written and dissociated herself with the Leader of the Opposition—not the Labour party, but the Leader of the Opposition?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight that. It is clear that, not just at home but abroad, there is deep concern about certain elements of the Labour party when a sister party breaks away from it after decades of such a strong relationship.
I will take one more intervention, but then I must carry on.
My right hon. Friend will, of course, have received an increasing number of complaints from the Jewish community about the rise of anti-Semitism in recent times. Will he take this opportunity to describe to the House the discussions that he has been having with that community?
My hon. Friend will know that my Department, along with the Home Secretary and others, engages in a number of discussions. I will say more about that in a moment, and reassure him on the point.
Clearly I am not a member of the Labour party. I speak about this as a concerned citizen, and as a Secretary of State who is responsible for leading on these matters. I will, however, say a couple of things at the outset. First, the Labour party has a long, strong history of rooting out prejudice in our country, from fighting Fascism to establishing sexual equality to passing laws on racial discrimination, a history of which it should rightly be proud. Secondly, the current parliamentary Labour party includes a host of impressive Members of Parliament who have been unwavering in their opposition to anti-Semitism wherever it may appear.
A few weeks ago I stood in the crowd in Parliament Square and had the privilege of listening to some incredibly passionate speeches, not just from the leaders of the Jewish community but from several Labour colleagues, including the hon. Members for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), for Sedgefield (Phil Wilson) and for Dudley North (Ian Austin), as well as Claire Kober, the former leader of Haringey Council. Let me also pay my respects to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) for his leadership in chairing the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism, and for being instrumental in calling for today’s debate.
Let us be frank. It is not surprising that in any large group of politically minded activists, a few bigots and oddballs sometimes slip through the net. Over the years, some members of my own party have let the side down on this issue. However, the debate deserves more than attempts to point-score on individual cases. The sensible question is not so much whether someone has ever been associated in some way with these people and their attitudes as whether there is a culture that attracts them and is allowed to fester. Unfortunately, when it comes to the Leader of the Opposition, there are simply too many of his apparently accidental associations to list. As the Board of Deputies of British Jews put it in a letter to the Leader of the Opposition,
“Rightly or wrongly, those who push this offensive material regard Jeremy Corbyn as their figurehead.”
So it really is a question of leadership. Indeed, the first chapter of the Government’s new Integrated Communities Strategy Green Paper focuses on the need for exactly that, at all levels of society. We did not expect leadership to be such a problem at such a high level, but, as they say, the culture of an organisation starts at the top.
Jeremy Corbyn has just been named. I am a new Member here. Is that something that is allowed in the Chamber—such shameless personal abuse?
I think the Secretary of State was quoting from a letter, but I hope Members are very aware that in all other circumstances he should refer to the Leader of the Opposition not by name, but by constituency.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Did I hear correctly what the Speaker said in his introduction to the debate, when he specified the number of Members who wanted to speak, and also, I thought, asked the Front-Bench spokesmen collectively to speak for no more than 20 minutes? The Secretary of State has already taken 15 minutes of that time.
What the Speaker said was that each Front-Bencher should speak for 20 minutes, including interventions. As the right hon. Gentleman says, there are about five minutes left.
Speaking for the Government, I must say that there is clearly more to do, but I believe that we must take the responsibility of leadership seriously. The fight against anti-Semitism is led by my Department in co-ordination with the Home Office, and involves colleagues from across Westminster.
On a practical level, we have increased our funding for security at Jewish schools and places of worship by a further £13.4 million this year. The solid work of the cross-Government working group on tackling anti-Semitism ensures that we are alive to their issues and concerns, and our national strategy for tackling hate crime recognises the importance of dealing with abuse specifically targeted at Jews. The Crown Prosecution Service has made it clear that it will be treating reports of online abuse just as seriously as the offline version. There will be no place anywhere to hide when it comes to hate crime.
That is what we are doing to fight the manifestations of anti-Semitism, but ultimately to win this battle we have to cut out the roots of this weed. The best way to do that and to focus minds is to ask people where anti-Semitism leads if left unchecked. As the Holocaust Educational Trust says,
“when we understand where prejudice leads, we can stop it in its tracks.”
If we are going to stamp out that weed of anti-Semitism, we have to change minds and attitudes.
Will the Secretary of State give way on that point?
I am sorry, but I must continue.
After all, the holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers: indiscriminate killing is simply where hatred when left unchecked reaches its tragic conclusion. The holocaust began with nothing more than words, but then came the insults, the boycotts, the discrimination; the noxious weed of anti-Semitism crept into everyday life, degrading, denouncing and dehumanising its victims until the stage was set for more.
We cannot assume that modern society is on some inevitable journey towards progressive enlightenment and tolerance. That is a dangerously naive assumption, as anyone who has read a history book would know. Primo Levi put it simply:
“It happened, therefore it can happen again.”
Lessons from history do not learn themselves. Even the most barbaric events in human history lose their edge over time. Events as recently as one generation ago have less resonance with the youngest generation, so this has to start with education. My own understanding of these issues did not come automatically or from birth, although my father did teach me an early lesson in tolerance about Israel; it came from reading widely and visiting the excellent permanent holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum and from visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau. As a parent and a human being, that is a visit that will live with me forever. We cannot all have the sobering experience of standing in that place and places like it, although I would encourage all political leaders to make that journey.
What we can do, however, is bring back those experiences not just to Parliament, but to our universities and classrooms. That is why my Department is, for example, partnering with the Department for Education in supporting the HET and the Union of Jewish Students to expand its “lessons from Auschwitz” programme to help tackle anti-Semitism on university campuses. We also support #StandUp, which tackles anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and we are working with the Anne Frank Trust to address hatred and prejudice in some of the most challenging schools. With these measures, we can stop the weed spreading to the next generation.
Finally, and most symbolically, we are supporting with £50 million of public money a new national holocaust memorial and learning centre right beside Parliament. This memorial will be a lasting tribute both to those who died and those who survived. It will also act as a permanent, prominent reminder of mankind’s capacity for darkness through the story of the holocaust and other genocides, but also of the capacity for good by those who refused to look the other way, such as Sir Nicholas Winton.
With that, I would like to end on a positive and optimistic note. Even while hiding quietly in that attic before the Gestapo came pounding up the stairs, Anne Frank still believed in humanity, writing:
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
The British people are fundamentally decent and tolerant, as are the vast majority of those who are engaged in political activism. The reality is that these tropes did not appear overnight, but now that this brand of hatred has emerged from its dark underbellies, we have an opportunity to focus our minds and defeat it. It is my hope that today will be a milestone, when MPs from all parties put down a marker in this place, in Hansard ink, that enough is enough.
Order. Because of the large number of colleagues who wish to contribute to the debate, I will be imposing a five-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches. First, I call the shadow Secretary of State, Andrew Gwynne.
This week, we have been reminded of some of the darkest days in human history as we commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. More than 120,000 Jewish people were transported to Belsen, a high proportion of whom were children. One of those children was Anne Frank, the very person the Secretary of State quoted earlier. She died with her family only weeks before the liberation of Belsen by British soldiers. While in hiding, she wrote:
“How wonderful it is that no one has to wait, but can start right now to gradually change the world! How wonderful it is that everyone, great and small, can immediately help bring about justice by giving of themselves!”
I hope that all of us in this House today will be able to live up to those words.
I want to begin by addressing the comments made by the Secretary of State. As politicians, we all—and I mean all—have a duty to root out anti-Semitism, but recent events have shown that we in the Labour party need to be better at policing our own borders. The Labour party was formed to change society and to give a voice to the oppressed. Reflecting the existing defects of society can never be enough. It is our responsibility to show that we have zero tolerance of anti-Semitism in the Labour party. There is no place for anti-Semitism in the Labour party, on the left of British politics or in British society at all. End of.
I completely associate myself with my hon. Friend’s last three or four sentences. I represent one of the more significant Jewish populations in the country, in Kersal and Broughton, and I have worked with the Community Security Trust over a number of years to try to reduce the number of attacks on Jewish people in my constituency. I have to say that I have never come across anti-Semitism within my Labour party, and I have been shocked to realise that it exists in the party and among people associated with it. Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the things we can do to reassure the Jewish community, not just in my constituency but throughout the country, is to deal with any accusations through a proper process as quickly as possible and, where necessary, either throw the accusations out or throw the people out?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and speed is obviously of the essence. We cannot allow any allegations of anti-Semitism to be kept on the back burner. Where there is an allegation of anti-Semitism, we must not only call it out but root it out.
I should like to make a little more progress.
As the Secretary of State said, the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism, and we have written our outright opposition to anti-Semitism into our own party rules. In the light of recent events, however, I acknowledge that much, much more work needs to be done. That includes, among other things, the overdue full implementation of the recommendations of the Chakrabarti report, including a programme of political education to increase awareness and understanding of all forms of anti-Semitism.
No political party has a monopoly on vice or virtue, but we will put our house in order. Let me be clear today that if anyone is denying the reality of anti-Semitism on the left, they are not doing so with the endorsement of the Labour party or its leader. Prejudice against and hatred of Jewish people have no place whatsoever in society, and every one of us has a responsibility to ensure that they are never allowed to fester again.
I welcome the opportunity to debate this important issue today. It is sadly long overdue. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) has sought support from the Government to bring this issue to the House for several years, and I pay tribute to the work he has done in this House over a long time. I also pay tribute to the work of Rabbi Herschel Gluck and the Shomrim volunteers in London. Rarely do those men and women receive the recognition that they deserve for the commitment that they give to their communities. I also want to pay tribute to the Community Security Trust for its defending of our synagogues and our schools and for its continued work in shining a light on ant-Semitism in the United Kingdom.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I assure him that the House will have recognised the honest sincerity with which he is addressing the issue and will have taken the tone of his remarks to heart. However, in this game of politics that we sometimes play, he will know that actions speak louder than words, and Mr Livingstone remains a member of the hon. Gentleman’s party. Mr Livingstone’s comments on this issue have become ever more eccentric. I know that the hon. Gentleman is not the decision maker on this, but I am sure he will take it from Members on both sides of the House that if the body politic is serious about this issue, Mr Livingstone’s speedy expulsion is required.
The hon. Gentleman knows that due process is going on and, as I have already said, the procedure needs to be speeded up. I am not going to get into politicking, and there has been some borderline politicking, but there are issues to resolve on both sides of the House. For example, there has been a complaint about the Conservative leader of Lancashire County Council in relation to anti-Semitic views. We all have a duty to call out anti-Semitism and to root it out, whether it is on the right or on the left.
Let me be clear about this: Ken Livingstone claimed that Hitler was a Zionist. That is anti-Semitism, pure and simple. It happened more than two years ago, and there has been ample time to deal with it, so it is a disgrace that it has not been dealt with. Kick him out immediately. It should have been enough when the Community Security Trust, the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Jewish Labour Movement and the Jewish Leadership Council all said that it was enough, but we even had the Chief Rabbi speaking out and still nothing has happened. It is a disgrace. My hon. Friend should stand at the Dispatch Box and tell the leader of the Labour party that Livingstone must be booted out. Boot him out!
My hon. Friend makes his views very clear. I do not share Mr Livingstone’s views, which are abhorrent, and the Labour party will go through the processes that are well applied to each and every member of the Labour party. That needs to be done far more quickly, but it needs to happen as it would for any member.
I will not give way as I want to make some progress, because many Members want to speak.
As we have heard, this year’s CST report found that hate incidents have reached a record level in the UK, including a 34% increase in the number of violent anti-Semitic assaults.
In last year’s statistics, where it could be determined, 63% of incidents were described as being far right in motivation, 6% were described as being Islamist in motivation, and 30% showed anti-Israel motivation.
The CST reports that 88 incidents targeted Jewish schools, schoolchildren or staff, with 50% of those incidents taking place as Jewish schoolchildren made their journeys to or from school. In one incident, fireworks were thrown at visibly Jewish people in public in November; in another, Jewish schoolchildren were hit, kicked and punched on the bus home, but were ignored by the driver when they tried to get help—the children fled the bus at the next stop but were followed, and found safety only after they entered a kosher shop and asked for help. It is a mark of shame on our society that our Jewish schools need security guards to protect their children.
On social media, as we have heard, anti-Semitism is in plain sight on the most heavily used sites. In January 2018, the World Jewish Congress found a 30% increase in anti-Semitic posts since 2016 and almost twice as many posts denying the holocaust.
But anti-Semitism not only appears as swastikas, brown shirts and jackboots; it also haunts our society as coded language and dog-whistle euphemisms. In the 1930s, the terms “usury”, “money power”, “alien” and “cosmopolitan” were used as coded references to Jewish people. Today, Jewish people in the public eye are marked out as “globalists”, “rootless cosmopolitans” and the “metropolitan London elite”. It runs through conspiracy theories, as holocaust inversion and holocaust denial, in anti-Zionism and in claims of secret plots against our country that are little different from those seen in “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
In 2011, my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), who is now deputy leader of the Labour party, spoke in this House about Fox News propagating disturbing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about secret plots involving holocaust survivor and businessman George Soros. Those views continue to be broadcast. Only last week, the use of anti-Semitic imagery featuring Soros led to the electoral success of the Fidesz party in Hungary. Thankfully, the importing of those conspiracy theories on to the front pages of UK newspapers generated the outrage that it frankly deserves.
I think we all know that one purpose of holocaust denial is to undermine the moral foundations upon which the state of Israel was established 70 years ago. I have just spent a week in Poland participating in the March of the Living, joining survivors and young people in visiting the places where history’s greatest crime was committed. When I first entered Parliament 21 years ago, I never imagined that some in my party would suggest that that horror should somehow be a matter for debate. Will my hon. Friend join me in saying shame on them and shame on any who refuse to speak out against them?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The holocaust was a dreadful chapter in our world’s history. It happened, and we should never ever forget what happened during those very, very dark days. Those who deny that the holocaust happened need to be called out at every opportunity. They are wrong, and the deeply wrong and deeply hurtful views they spread have no place in a modern democracy.
We have seen the debate change since 2016, with triple parentheses to identify individuals being employed as an online dog whistle to single out targets by white nationalists, neo-Nazis, anti-Semites and those who share their views. Each of the three parenthesis represents anti-Semitic claims of Jewish involvement in mass media, mass immigration and global Zionism. These people even developed an app to help them to better co-ordinate and target individuals. Earlier this year, the CST reported that online abuse had fallen slightly from last year, in part due to improvements in the policies adopted by social media companies and better reporting, but anyone who uses social media can see that this remains a very serious problem.
My hon. Friend is rightly focusing on the dangers of anti-Semitism and the nefarious activities of the far right, but does he not accept that anti-Semitism is one of those areas of public debate where the far left meets the far right, and that if the far left continues to behave in this way, there is a real danger of inciting further hatred and violence against one of our most vulnerable communities?
Absolutely. As I said earlier, anybody who denies that anti-Semitism exists on the left is not living in the real world. We on the left have a duty to call it out, to root it out and to challenge it every step of the way.
So I do want the Government to act more strenuously with social media platforms to ensure that these abhorrent views are removed, and removed quickly. As the Secretary of State has rightly said, we need to ensure that rightful critique of Israeli Government policy, which is legitimate —as it is against the Government of any nation state—is distinct from spreading the demonisation of Zionism and of the right of existence of the state of Israel itself —that is not legitimate.
Will the hon. Gentleman accept, however, that when people specifically target just the state of Israel, whether they consider the Government of Israel to have acted appropriately or not—only the Government of Israel; not the Governments of other countries around the world with whom they may have similar issues—that can be and very often is a cover for anti-Semitism?
And where it is clearly a cover for anti-Semitism, we have to call that out—let us be clear about that. But criticism of the Israeli Government, just like criticism of the British Government, is absolutely crucial, because that is part of our democratic process. Those who cross this distinction have no role to play in the struggle to put an end to anti-Jewish oppression within the United Kingdom, and they have no role to play in the process to establish peace and reconciliation in the middle east.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will not now, as I need to draw my remarks to a close.
That peace will only come through engagement and deep mutual recognition between the two peoples—a recognition of Palestinians’ struggle for freedom and human dignity; and of the centuries of attempts by the Jewish people to flee forced conversion, violence and expulsion. Jewish oppression affects all Jews, in all economic classes, and the oppression of Jewish people cannot be ended without transforming social injustice as a whole.
I want to make this clear in my closing remarks: Zionism is not an insult. It is not a catchphrase, a code word for racism or imperialism, or a name for unpleasant things done by Jews. It stands for a huge range of beliefs and believers. When we fail to recognise this, we assist those on the extremes as they use anti-Semitism to cover up the roots of injustice and shift the blame on to those who are most oppressed. On Yom HaShoah last week, families across Britain lit candles for loved ones who were lost in one of the most evil acts in modern memory. Families remembered how almost one third of all Jewish people were targeted and murdered because of their faith. This day is a reminder that we all have a duty to ensure that such an event can never happen again. Words never seem able to capture the bureaucratic and calculated way in which such a raw and hideous act was allowed to happen.
We know that monsters exist in our world, but they are too few to be dangerous on their own. More dangerous are those who are prepared to act without asking questions. It is our job—the job of all of us in this place—to ensure that questions are asked, that anti-Semitism is called out, and that anti-Semitism is rooted out wherever it exists. There is no place in British society, and in British politics, left or right, for anti-Semitic views— end of.
This is a difficult debate that I think many of us would wish it was not necessary to hold. Nevertheless, I welcome the tone of the Front-Bench speakers in seeking to tackle such a difficult subject. I particularly welcome the commitment of the shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), to stamp out anti-Semitism in the Labour party, although it was clear from some interventions from Opposition Members that there is a long way to go in achieving that.
Does the hon. Gentleman think it is appropriate for Members to use, for instance, the N-word? I condemn all forms of racism; does the hon. Gentleman agree?
I condemn all forms of racism, but there is a danger in suggesting that anti-Semitism is somehow different from other forms of racism—it is not. I hope that the hon. Lady will join me in condemning all forms equally.
As a contributor to the 2015 all-party inquiry led by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), I was keen to contribute to this debate. Indeed, I am also keen to do so as a Member who represents a significant part of Manchester’s Jewish community.
This important debate is necessarily short because of the previous business, so I must be brief, but it is worth noting that there is a thread that links the business that we dealt with earlier and the business that we are addressing now. The targeted strikes on Saturday were about drawing a clear line to mark the limits of decent human behaviour, ruling out chemical weapons as too horrible to be tolerated, and stopping them from becoming a normal part of a modern arsenal. Similarly, we are discussing in this debate patterns of thought and behaviour that are not new—they have been the cause of terrible crimes and loss of life in the past—but that must not be allowed to become normal in modern Britain.
The Jewish community in Manchester is the oldest and most established minority community in the city, with many Jewish people having fled there from persecution in the 19th or 20th centuries. There are 2,000 to 2,500 Jewish residents in my constituency, but I suspect that there are many more who identify as Jewish but are not particularly observant. We have four synagogues, including the newest Sephardi synagogue in the country, which opened just a year ago. The community is a model of integration, contributing fully to the wider civic and cultural life of the area, but it also maintains its own religious and cultural traditions. There is an excellent record of interfaith co-operation with local Muslim and Christian groups.
Nevertheless, in Manchester, as elsewhere, there has been an insidious growth in the number of anti-Semitic incidents. The CST has been mentioned. It has been collecting data for the past 30 years, but the past two years have seen the largest figures on record, with the number of incidents rising to nearly 1,400 last year, as the Secretary of State said. In some ways, the most worrying thing about that increase is that unlike some previous peaks in anti-Semitism, it has not been driven by wars involving Israel. Rather, it seems that an increasing minority—often on the extreme right or the extreme left of British politics—have come to regard anti-Semitism as in some way normal or acceptable. It is not.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that we are seeing a particularly sharp increase in anti-Semitism on university campuses? Does he agree that Jewish and Israeli students should absolutely never be made to feel unwelcome in their learning environments?
I unequivocally agree with my hon. Friend’s point.
Some appear to have persuaded themselves that anti-Semitism is something other than racism. They are wrong. It is of course possible to criticise Israel without being anti-Semitic. British Jews themselves often have a lively debate about policy in Israel, but all too often that criticism of Israel blurs into anti-Semitism through the use of language—whether careless or deliberate. In my constituency, recorded incidents of anti-Semitism are thankfully low—five incidents of abuse recorded in the past year. It is much worse in other parts of Greater Manchester, as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish will know well, where 53 assaults were reported in the past year.
The greatest fear comes as people sense a change in the climate. There is a greater willingness for some to tolerate attacks on Jewish people. I was powerfully struck by this a few weeks ago when a Jewish constituent in his sixties sat in my constituency surgery and told me that he is now worried about anti-Semitism for the first time in his life.
Last week, my wife and I attended a very moving Yom HaShoah event in Manchester, commemorating the holocaust and the Warsaw ghetto uprising. There was a very clear warning from two of the speakers, Judge Lindsey Kushner and Martin Davidson—Davidson is the author of “The Perfect Nazi” which is about the discovery of his German grandfather’s enthusiastic support for the Nazi party before the second world war. The message from both was that the seemingly impossible can happen—that seemingly educated and outwardly respectable people have in the past and could again be anti-Semitic—and that abhorrent attitudes can become engrained or normal. It is incumbent on all of us to stop that from happening by challenging anti-Semitism wherever it arises, by recognising the fear that is being kindled in Jewish communities around the country at the moment, and by understanding where the boundaries of civilised debate lie. This debate is just an important start.
What a depressing issue to have to come to the House to debate. My hope, and the hope I am sure of all Members of this House, is that we all learn something from this debate, as opposed to just debating an issue.
As the MP with the second largest Jewish community in Scotland, dwarfed only by my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), I had the great pleasure last week of joining Glasgow’s Jewish community, the kindest, warmest and most generous people one could hope to spend any time with, at the Yom HaShoah memorial event in Giffnock, which I attended alongside the hon. Gentleman.
At that commemoration—I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me on this—there was a long, but really insightful lecture by the daughter of the celebrated Rabbi Gottlieb of Glasgow. Such was his reputation among all Glaswegians of the Jewish faith and of none that a civic function was put on by the city’s lord provost when the rabbi left Glasgow for Israel.
It is worth reflecting on the history of the Jewish community in Scotland. Scotland is the only country in the world that has never had an anti-Semitic text on the statute book. Indeed, the Declaration of Arbroath, which is often sung by those of us on these Benches and is one of the oldest surviving medieval texts in existence, specifically refers to Jews and Gentiles as equal citizens.
Glasgow’s Jewish community—and Scotland’s—have been a precious part of our history, and they deserve to be a precious part of our future as well, because they are a people who have been hunted to the four corners of the world for centuries. All of us in this Chamber this afternoon feel horror and shame that they still feel like a people hunted across the world, the consequences of which, of course, led to some of the darkest moments in our history.
Other Members have mentioned security. I have visited a whole range of museums in the three great cities of Paris, Berlin and New York, but there was only one museum in each city where I had to be searched before I entered. There was only one museum where I had to empty my backpack, check in my jacket and go through metal detectors. It was the Jewish museum in Berlin. It was the Jewish museum in Paris. It was the Jewish museum in New York. This shows a people still feeling hunted, with airport-style security at their museums and security outside their schools. Indeed, silly me thought that I could just walk through the front door at the Yom HaShoah event last week. Instead, I had to tell a security guard who I was before I could go in. Such is the fear and anxiety among the Jewish population in my own home town, as in other parts of Europe and, indeed, the world.
The intimidation and hate has manifested itself in many different ways. The Secretary of State, the shadow Secretary of State and others have mentioned social media in great depth. I am sure that we will hear a lot more about that as the debate goes on. But I want to turn to the issue of Israel and Palestine. It is rather depressing that we cannot debate anti-Semitism these days without coming to the issue of Israel and Palestine. When that conflict escalates, as it does over time, it is unacceptable to expect Jewish people in this country to shoulder any responsibility for that escalation. I do not hold the Muslim community responsible for the crimes of Muslim Governments across the world, so I will not allow anybody to hold responsible Jewish people in my constituency or elsewhere for the actions of the Government of Israel—a Government I have criticised, just as I criticised the Government of Saudi Arabia in one of my first speeches in this House and just as we criticise, rightly, the Government sat on the Benches across from us in this place.
To avoid any doubt about the message that we in this Chamber are sending today, does the hon. Gentleman agree that we reject anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and any form of racism, and that we absolutely reserve the right to criticise the Israeli Government for illegal settlement and to criticise Hamas for storing armaments in schools or hospital compounds? The two things are separate and different.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. I am an openly gay man. I understand that that might shock some Members. But members of Hamas would have me hanging from a lamp post if they could get their hands on me.
But there is a connection.
I am not minded to take that intervention.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will be charitable.
The difficulty is this: when one makes in this Chamber a criticism of the Government of Israel, as I have done, one receives a number of unsolicited invitations to meet various people. Members need to be absolutely vigilant about those people, and what they have said and done, because there is a very grave danger of being lured into precisely the milieu to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.
The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Of course it is right to be vigilant, as there are many hidden agendas in different political debates. I always listen to what he has to say on matters pertaining to the middle east, as he is a former Foreign Office Minister.
I return to the displays of hatred, some of which I have seen in my own constituency. The Cathcart Jewish cemetery was once, a few years ago, emblazoned with the swastika in an act of vandalism. A cemetery is a sacred place to go to remember dead people and loved ones. Imagine the horror of seeing the symbol of the gangs who targeted Jews, and gassed and killed them by their millions, in such a place. It would be bad anywhere, of course, but a place such as a cemetery is a particularly poisonous target to choose.
I mentioned the warmth and generosity of the Glaswegian Jewish community. Many right hon. and hon. Members will remember the Muslim shopkeeper in my constituency, Asad Shah, butchered outside his shop, three years ago now, because he wished Christians a happy Easter. It was too much for another man, such that he drove all the way from England to Glasgow to carry out this attack. When that happened, Glasgow’s Jewish community were among the first out of the stable to offer support and solidarity in any way they could. In fact, they went to the central mosque in Glasgow to set up a press conference to make it clear that Glasgow’s Ahmadi—and non-Ahmadi—Muslim community had their full support.
I turn to the recording of anti-Semitism and action being taken in Scotland. I am sure you will indulge me, Madam Deputy Speaker, as in Scotland this is not a matter for the UK Government but primarily for the Justice Directorate in the Scottish Government. In 2016, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities carried out a study called, “Being Jewish in Scotland”. Many of its findings should make any Member of Parliament representing Scotland, any Member of the Scottish Parliament or any Scottish councillor deeply worried. It showed us that when tensions between Israel and Palestine escalate, fear levels rise significantly among the Jewish communities in Scotland. It told us that Jewish people in Scotland actually try to hide the fact that they are Jewish. It will be no different in other parts of the United Kingdom, and that should of course shame us all.
Much work is going into tackling this particular kind of poisonous hate crime. I could say more, but I see some Members getting anxious and I am conscious that a great many wish to speak. As I said, Glasgow’s and Scotland’s Jewish communities have been a precious part of our community and they deserve a precious part in our future. I am sure I speak for every Scottish Member of Parliament when I say that we can all work together to make sure that it is safeguarded.
Last year, I was in Harlow town centre at a street stall, as I usually am on Saturdays, to speak to constituents. Completely unexpectedly, a man who I know to be from the left came at me screaming, “Go back to Israel.” It happened so quickly that I was unable to take a photo. However, I know that anti-Semitic acts like this, unthinkable a few years ago, are becoming increasingly commonplace. Demonstrations outside Parliament and Labour party headquarters would not have been well-attended if anti-Semitism was not seen by most as a dangerous and growing problem. That is why I am glad that this very timely debate is going ahead.
My hon. Friend is from the Jewish community and I am not. Does he agree, though, that we all have a duty to fight anti-Semitism, not because it is the right thing to do and the decent thing to do but because it is essential for the wellbeing of our wider society, as history shows us that anti-Semitism is always the thin end of a very nasty and very wide potentially racist wedge?
My hon. Friend puts it exactly right and sums up, in essence, much of what will be debated today.
I have been amazed to see guards outside synagogues. The shadow Minister mentioned schools. I remember being at a synagogue where the rabbi said to the Jewish people inside, “Please do not congregate outside when we finish the service because you might get abuse or something even worse.” I thought, “How can it be, in the 21st century, when we thought we had escaped the horrors of Nazi Germany, that Jews are told that by a rabbi in a synagogue?”
There appears to be in some sections of the left an accepted belief that all Jews are either Israeli settlers, very rich, or part of the capitalist establishment, and these claims are then linked to even more sinister conspiracy theories.
At best, it used to be acceptable to use the fig leaf of “Zionist” or “Israelite” as a cloak for anti-Semitism. Now, anti-Semitism has got so bad that the people who hate the Jews do not even use those terms any more. Anti-Semitism is out in its naked viciousness for everyone to see. The air has grown tighter; you feel very hot, you undo a button on your shirt and your mouth goes dry. This is still a great country and a wonderful place for Jewish people, but things have changed. I always thought that this was the greatest country in the world. My father was an immigrant here, having escaped from pogroms in Libya, and I never imagined that one would feel the air tightening in this country.
I would like to give special appreciation for the enormous work of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann)—what a great man he is—and the APPG against anti-Semitism, as well as other Labour MPs, such as the hon. Members for Dudley North (Ian Austin) and for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne), who is a good friend of the state of Israel, and many others.
However, I genuinely believe that the current Labour leadership is, at best, turning a blind eye to the problem and, at worst, condoning anti-Semitism. I say that with a heavy heart. I see the membership of dubious Facebook groups, the defence of anti-Semitic murals and the phoney reports produced by the now Baroness Chakrabarti, and they indicate three unwise monkeys: see no anti-Semitism, hear no anti-Semitism and do not speak out against anti-Semitism. That is the first problem.
The second problem is social media. As Front Benchers and shadow Front Benchers have highlighted, the internet has become a sewer for anti-Semitism. We spend so much time worrying about Facebook collecting our data for advertisements, but Facebook and Twitter have become social networks acting as a septic tank in which a disgusting and non-stop stream of anti-Semitic sewage collects. What is even worse is that when someone is a victim of anti-Semitism on social media sites, the duty is on them to get it corrected and not the other way round. Why are books and newspapers rightly punished for the publication of any kind of anti-Semitic content, but social media platforms act with impunity? They should be subject to the same laws as everybody else.
We have to ensure that community leaders and political leaders do everything possible to condemn anti-Semitism in every form it takes without hesitation or equivocation. Leadership has to set an example. We have to do more to support the Holocaust Educational Trust—I have been to Auschwitz with it—and to train teachers. We need to ensure that university campuses are welcoming environments for students of all backgrounds. The Office for Students should play a role, as the APPG against anti-Semitism recommends. The Government must go further in stamping out all extremist terror groups, including proscribing Hezbollah’s political arm. People should not be allowed to march down Trafalgar Square and Whitehall waving Hezbollah flags.
This debate is a vital opportunity to bring to the fore the widespread and escalating problem of anti-Semitism. It is also an opportunity to be constructive. Let us go forward, and let the leaders of all political parties unite to condemn anti-Semitic content, deal with the social media companies and do more to educate our people about anti-Semitism.
I beg the indulgence of the House to tell my story, which I hope will go some way to explain how anti-Semitism can manifest itself in our country.
I come from a family that is drawn from many corners of the Jewish diaspora: I am of Dutch, Polish, Russian, Lithuanian and Turkish heritage, and I am a mix of both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions. My Dutch family was traced back to the Jews who were expelled from Spain in the 15th century, and in Britain we found our home. While we are small in number, the Jewish community has proudly been a part of British society and has made many great contributions to all aspects of civic life for hundreds of years.
I grew up in multicultural north-west London and went to a Christian school. I had friends of all faiths and none. I had never seen anti-Semitism as a child, but I knew from my own family history what anti-Semitism was. During a debate in 1938, Commander Robert Tatton Bower MP told my great uncle, the hon. Member for Seaham, across the Floor of the House to “go back to Poland”. The most pernicious and haunting examples came from the holocaust. On my mum’s side alone, we know that more than 100 members of her family, aged from four to 83, were sent by the Nazis to their death in the gas chambers of Treblinka, Sobibór, Mauthausen, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz, for no other reason than that they were Jewish.
I was 19 when I received my first piece of hate mail—it described me as a dirty Zionist pig—and so started my 18-year experience of contending with anti-Semitism. As a university student and activist, I was attacked from all quarters from the far right to the far left. I had members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an anti-Semitic and homophobic organisation follow me and camp outside my house. I received countless anti-Semitic emails and letters condemning my work as the convenor of the National Union of Students anti-racism campaign. When I was selected as a Labour council candidate in 2009, people publicly challenged how I could possibly represent anyone from the Bengali community because of my faith, and since my selection and election as the Member of Parliament for Liverpool, Wavertree, I have received a torrent of anti-Semitic abuse.
In total, four people have been convicted since 2013 for the anti-Semitic abuse and harassment they have directed towards me. Three of those were imprisoned; they were of a far right persuasion, including a member of the now proscribed National Action organisation. In the wake of one of those convictions, a far right website in the United States initiated the #filthyjewbitch campaign, which the police said resulted in me receiving over 2,500 violent, pornographic and extreme anti-Semitic messages in just one day alone. There is currently one more person on remand, having made threats to my life because of my faith.
I am fortunate—I have said it publicly, and I will say it in this House—that I have a platform, as an MP, that affords me the opportunity to speak out, and I happen to be pretty resilient.
I just want to say on behalf of the House that we are all very glad that my hon. Friend is brave enough to tell her story. For lots of people, it feels difficult to stand up and voice their story. I hope she is able to agree that one day it will all have been worth it to change something.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and I will never stop speaking out about all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism.
I say that I have spoken out, but it is important to say that I have been able to speak out because I am resilient, but at a later moment my mental health may mean I am not in a place where I have the opportunity to speak out. I am grateful to my family, friends and team of staff, and my constituents and supporters, who serve as a welcome antidote to the bile that gets hurled in my direction. I will not be cowed in using the full force of the law that we have in this country to hold people to account. Having heard victim impact statements read out in court of people who have not been able to speak out—people so negatively impacted that they are now unable to work or to maintain relationships, and who have had their mental health affected—I know that just one instance of racism can have a devastating impact on an individual’s life.
I make no apology for holding my own party to a higher standard. Anti-racism is one of our central values, and there was a time not long ago when the left actively confronted anti-Semitism. The work done by the previous Labour Government to move the equality goalposts in this country was one of the reasons why I joined the Labour party in the first place. One anti-Semitic member of the Labour party is one member too many.
Yet, as I said in Parliament Square outside this place—it pains me to say this as the proud parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement—in 2018, anti-Semitism is now more commonplace, more conspicuous and more corrosive within the Labour party. That is why I have no words for the people purporting to be both members and supporters of our party and using the hashtag JCforPM who have attacked me in recent weeks for my comments, for speaking at the rally against anti-Semitism, and for questioning the remarks of those endorsing the anti-Semitic mural. They say I should be de-selected, and they have called it all a smear.
May I take this opportunity to put on the record my huge respect for my hon. Friend’s dignity in the face of all this, and to pledge my solidarity with her?
I thank my hon. Friend for her solidarity, and I am grateful to colleagues who have stood by my side and by the side of many others.
There are people who have accused me of having two masters. They have said that I am Tel Aviv’s servant, and called me a paid-up Israeli operative. Essentially, this is anti-Semitism of the worst kind, suggesting that I am a traitor to our country. They have called me Judas, a Zionazi and an absolute parasite, and they have told me to get out of this country and go back to Israel.
I am grateful to the Community Security Trust and to the police for their work to keep me and my family safe, and for all that they do for the British Jewish community to keep our Jewish schools and our places of worship safe, but they should not have to do that. When it comes to what needs to be done about it, I know that many colleagues will be putting forward very practical suggestions of what can be done to contend with this very serious issue, but the hurt and anguish of the Jewish community must be understood and must be taken seriously. This is not the time for games or divisive engagement.
For the Government, there is a massive priority to conclude their work urgently, better to protect everyone in this country online from the comments that are made on a daily basis, and just in response to this debate. I urge the Secretary of State to see some of the comments that are already on Twitter, since we have started this engagement.
And my party. My party urgently needs to address this issue publicly and consistently, and we need to expel from our ranks those people who hold these views, including Ken Livingstone.
We have a duty to the next generation. Denial is not an option. Prevarication is not an option. Being a bystander who turns the other way is not an option. The time for action is now. Enough really is enough.
I want to conclude with the eloquent words of the former Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, who said that
“an assault upon Jews is an assault upon difference, and a world that has no room for difference has no room for humanity itself”.
I suspect that I will not be getting a round of applause, but I have to say that it is a real pleasure in one sense but also a real burden to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), who made a passionate speech. I can imagine what will already be happening on social media after that speech. May I thank her for her bravery? We need more people with her bravery in politics on this particular issue.
Anti-Semitism is racism. There are no ifs or buts—it is simple racism. I want to start by saying that I think Britain is a good place for Jews to live. We are in many ways a beacon in Europe of safety for the Jewish community. I know from my work with the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism just how different the situation is for many Jews in mainland Europe. On a visit to Brussels to see the Jewish community there, I saw people living in genuine fear not just behind security guards in their schools, but behind 10-foot or 15-foot gates with military personnel and tanks outside.
We know how difficult the situation is for French Jews, and the terrible murder of Mireille Knoll—a holocaust survivor—in France recently is more evidence of that. When I asked young Jews who were students at a school in Belgium whether they saw a future for themselves in Belgium, I was saddened by how many of them said, “Not at all.” Not a future for them in Europe.
The situation is not good in Britain, although it is a lot better than that in many parts of Europe and we should recognise that. But there are difficult questions to be asked about anti-Semitism in this country and where it comes from, and we must ask some of those challenging questions. As I heard from our own Chief Rabbi at the global forum on anti-Semitism in Jerusalem just a few weeks ago, there are questions to be asked about certain communities. A recent study undertaken by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research found that certain communities in this country, particularly the Muslim communities, are twice as likely to hold deeply anti-Semitic views. They are also more likely to be on the receiving end—of Islamophobia, of course, and of racism too, so they are victims, but there are issues that need to be raised, and I urge everyone to read Rabbi Mirvis’s excellent speech from the global forum on anti-Semitism about this particular issue in that community.
However, we know the real issue at the moment is a rise in anti-Semitism on the left of politics. Some of us on this side of the House who try to raise and address this issue are sadly accused of trying to smear the Labour party. I have no interest in smearing the Labour party on anything, but nor do I have any interest in allowing what is happening in British politics, in which we are all vested and invested, to continue to happen, because it is disgusting that in Britain in 2018, in mainstream politics, we have people who are able to operate freely and to—
On our recent visit to Israel, as my hon. Friend the Member for South East Cornwall (Mrs Murray) said, we met an Israeli Labour MP who said that they were severing their links with the Leader of the Opposition, not with the Labour party. That is the issue and it has to be sorted out at the top of the Labour party to stamp out this anti-Semitism once and for all.
Absolutely. The shadow Secretary of State was brilliant in much of what he said and I feel he believes it genuinely. He went on to talk about the far right on social media and the far right in Hungary. Absolutely, there is a problem with the far right. What I did not hear him talk about quite so much, however, are the Labour members who have been defended by some of the people sitting beside him. One Labour member, who said that the Jews were responsible for the slave trade, was defended by a Labour Member who sits behind him.
What I saw throughout this debate was the Leader of the Opposition chuntering repeatedly when anybody stood up and tried to hold him to account for some of the things that people have said and done in his name. This is a leader of the Labour party who found himself not in one, but in four or five racist anti-Semitic Facebook groups by accident. He did not look at the material. He did not read the material. He did not know the material was there. He did not understand the material. He looked at the mural and made a comment on the mural, but he did not know about it. How are we supposed to believe any of this?
My hon. Friend spoke eloquently in the holocaust debate about the abuse he received during the general election from people campaigning for the Labour party. Why does he think that those people felt able to say, when they touched him, “I now have to go and wash my hands”? That was appalling. Why did they feel empowered to do that?
I will talk about those two cases in a moment. One of the individuals is currently on bail thanks to the actions of the South Yorkshire and Humberside police.
I am sorry the Leader of the Opposition has left his place, because he needs to be held to account. The question I would like to have asked him is why he still has not taken the opportunity to respond to the invite from the Labour party in Israel to visit Israel and to visit Yad Vashem. If I have time, I will say something about that in a moment.
What else have we seen? We have seen a campaign group launched within the Labour party called Labour against the Witch Hunt. I made reference to it when I spoke in the Holocaust Memorial Day debate. Labour member after Labour member has made all sorts of disgusting comments about Jews. I just want to give one example—that of a suspended Labour member, Laura Stuart from Hendon. Reference was made earlier to Sir Eric Pickles, the Prime Minister’s envoy on post-holocaust education. Laura Stuart felt the need to post a picture on Facebook of a photograph from the Holocaust Educational Trust that had been changed to include the words “Zionist fairy tales” and “fat Zionist conference”. A Labour party member did this. There are countless other examples.
I have to say to the leadership of the Labour party: this is in your name by people who are being motivated by the actions of the Labour leader. It is no good pretending otherwise. When you perpetuate a message about a small group of people manipulating the lives of people in this country, you create a space for conspiracy theories.
Order. First, the hon. Gentleman is using the word “you”. He should not be doing that, as it implies that I am undertaking certain actions. Secondly, robust debate requires a certain amount of moderation. I just ask him to remember that in what needs to be a very respectful debate.
I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, but how can one possibly be moderate in one’s language when we are dealing with a leader of a political party in this country who has stood up and described people who want to wipe Jews off the planet as his friends? It is very difficult to be moderate in those circumstances. To have stood there—
Order. The hon. Gentleman will be moderate.
Madam Deputy Speaker, we will have to beg to differ on whether or not one should challenge individuals in this way, but I will of course accept your ruling.
I just want to finish on one point. I have spent several years campaigning in politics. The last general election was the first time anybody stood up and told me I was Israeli scum, and did so having named the Leader of the Opposition as a motivation for saying it.
When my family helped to form the Labour party in Leeds in 1906, they suffered terribly because of that. The Jewish community in Leeds stood alongside them and supported them. That is why 13 years ago I took on the role of chairing the all-party group against anti-Semitism. I did not expect today, when Labour Members stand in solidarity with our Jewish colleagues and with the Jewish community, not just no solidarity but to be targeted by an organisation called Momentum, which has happened to all of us who stood in solidarity. But worse than that, there is explicit targeting of Jewish members of the parliamentary Labour party because they are Jewish. That is what is going on at the moment.
When I took on this voluntary cross-party role, I did not expect my wife to be sent, by a Labour Marxist anti-Semite, a dead bird through the post. I did not expect my son, after an Islamist death threat, to open the door, when he was in the house on his own as a schoolboy, to the bomb squad. I did not expect my wife, in the last few weeks, from a leftist anti-Semite in response to the demonstration, to be threatened with rape. I did not expect my daughter similarly to have to be rung up in the last few weeks by special branch to check out her movements in this country. No, I did not expect any of that.
I will tell you the principles we have operated on, from the very first speech I made on this 13 years ago in this Chamber: every party in this House should look after its own backyard first. I have said that repeatedly on hundreds of occasions since. I have specifically, in private letters to every party in this House, repeatedly challenged anti-Semitism. For years, action was taken, and it was painful action. I am not sure that people in all parties welcomed getting the letters and the discussions that they had with me, but that was the principle that we have operated on, and we have worked cross-party.
I recall that Jewish people used to say when I held meetings, “Is it true that there is a growth in anti-Semitism?” We identified 13 years ago the three forms of anti-Semitism: Islamist anti-Semitism, traditional right anti-Semitism, and the anti-Semitism of the new left. That was all documented and has all been discussed in here. It is not new, and those who say that it is a smear to raise this issue need to publicly apologise and to publicly understand what they are doing, what they are saying and the dangers. It does not end with me and my family. It does not end with Jewish Members of Parliament here. Where this stuff ends is with what happened in Copenhagen, in Brussels and in France repeatedly, including four weeks ago: people murdered because they are Jewish. That is where this ends, and we know where history takes that. That is the reality now.
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful speech, which I wholly associate myself with. Does he share the deep shame that I, and I think many people within the Labour party, feel that incidents have been repeatedly reported—over and over and over again—and yet action has quite often not been taken?
It is constant. This weekend in my constituency and last night in my constituency—it is constant. There is explicit anti-Semitism, and then there is the bigger group—the excusers of anti-Semitism, the people who say, “This is something to do with who the leader of the Labour party is and challenging him.” No, it is not—in the 13 years I have been doing this—and what Jewish people say to me now is different from what they said 13 years ago, when they asked, “Is it true that there is growth in anti-Semitism?” Five years ago, Jewish people would come up to me and say, “We are concerned that there is a rise in anti-Semitism.” I am stopped in the street everywhere I go now by Jewish people saying to me, very discreetly, “I am scared.” Young people and old people say, “I am scared.” We see what happened in France, in Belgium and in Copenhagen and we understand why people are scared.
People—young Jewish members—are scared to go to a Labour party meeting with me, because they are fearful that they will be intimidated and threatened and that their identity will be challenged. Any Jewish person is entitled to say that they are, to define themselves as, an anti-Zionist, or a non-Zionist, and I have no right to challenge them. Any Jewish person, as the vast majority do, is entitled to say, “I am a Zionist,” and I have no right to deny them that. Those that do are racists. Just a change in language—in the use of the word “Zionist” as a pejorative insult—by the Labour party would alter the dialogue in this country in a very big way.
We all have a choice in what we do. Stand in solidarity with the Jewish Members of Parliament under attack today. That is the role of parliamentarians.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) on one of the most powerful speeches I have ever heard in this Chamber. I also congratulate other Members, most notably the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger). There is no doubt that the debate has been painful listening.
I remember growing up in north London and being taught in school about Anne Frank and the horrors of the holocaust. Although, regrettably, anti-Semitism still existed, there was an assumption that it was dying out—that it was steadily diminishing and that hopefully, one day in the not-too-distant future, it would be confined to history. Sadly, today’s debate illustrates that we are very far from achieving that goal. The view that I and my family and friends had back in those days was hopelessly naive.
As it has in the past, anti-Semitism has mutated into different forms and found different outlets. Yes, it lingers in the poisonous rantings of the extreme right, but there can be no doubt that it has been given a new lease of life by radical Islamism and the militant anti-Zionism of the radical left. It has been given a powerful new platform by social media.
I am a member of the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism and proud to be so. I helped to produce the APPG’s groundbreaking 2006 report, which led to far-reaching changes in how we tackle anti-Semitism in this country. For example, it led directly to every police force around the country committing to record anti-Semitic incidents separately and systematically. As we have heard today, the report concluded that Jewish students regularly faced harassment and intimidation on campus in a wholly unacceptable way. It is a matter of deep regret that that continues.
The report noted the presence of anti-Semitism online, but of course what was found in that 2006 assessment is dwarfed by the sheer scale of the anti-Semitic venom that is now on social media, which includes the wholly unacceptable abuse of Members of this House such as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree.
The report was also clear that criticism of the Government of Israel can and does become polluted by anti-Semitism. Such criticism is not, as people have pointed out, anti-Semitic in itself, but equating contemporary Israeli policy with the Nazis most certainly is. So, too, is holding Jewish people collectively responsible for the actions of the Government of Israel.
The journalist Stephen Pollard gave evidence to 2006 inquiry about his sense of shock when long-standing friends made casual remarks accusing Jewish people of responsibility for the actions of Israel and went on to express their intention to boycott British businesses that had Jewish managers. Mr Pollard told MPs:
“The story of the Jews has been the same for thousands of years: apparent assimilation, friendship and trust, all of which can disappear overnight. By what arrogant complacency did I assume that in my generation it could be different?”
That is a deeply bleak assessment, and we must ensure that it never comes to pass.
The 2006 report warned:
“It is increasingly the case that, because anger over Israel’s policies can provide a pretext, condemnation of antisemitism is often too slow and increasingly conditional.”
Twelve years on, that has proved to be a prescient statement. It is at the heart of the concern about the failure of the Labour leadership to stamp out anti-Semitism in its party. I found it shocking that the Board of Deputies of British Jews was so worried about anti-Semitism in the Labour party that it felt the need to organise a protest in Parliament Square. I found it deeply disturbing to hear Labour MPs describe the scale of the problem. Perhaps just as depressing, however, was the letter published on Facebook and backed by 2,000 Labour supporters which sought to defend the Leader of the Opposition from what it described as
“a very powerful special interest group mobilising its apparent… strength against you.”
Those 2,000 people resorted to an obvious anti-Semitic trope in their attempt to defend their leader from the allegation that he was not taking anti-Semitism seriously enough.
There can be no place for this in British politics. It is time to act; enough is enough.
I am devastated that we are discussing this issue in this place. We should never have had to reach a point at which we are discussing one of the oldest hatreds and how it is back in our political discourse as a norm. However, I am proud to be supported by so many of my friends and colleagues on both sides of the House. Specifically, I stand here in awe of the bravery and strength of my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman). It is their dedication and commitment that inspire and ensure that we stand united against the politics of hate and scapegoating.
Today I find myself in the bizarre position of feeling obliged to state for the record that my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests is in fact accurate and that I have not failed to report any additional employment. Specifically, Madam Deputy Speaker, I feel I must inform you that I am not a CIA spy. I am not a Mossad agent, nor am I an MI5 operative. I can assure people who are occasionally foolish enough to google me—although I would urge Members not to; it can be unpleasant reading—that I work not for the people of Tel Aviv, but for the people of Tunstall. Those are just some of the regular anti-Semitic tropes that have become normal in my world. Let me also make clear—just in case I need to say it—that I am not, and nor have I ever been, a lizard, trans-dimensional or otherwise.
What I am, Madam Deputy Speaker, is a proud trade unionist, a Labour party activist for over 30 years, and a lifelong anti-racist. I also happen to be a British Jew. In three decades of political activism, there has never come a time when those four parts of my identity have produced any form of conflict—until now.
I used to run HOPE not hate, with the wonderful Nick Lowles. I was the Jewish community’s anti-British National party campaign co-ordinator. I first stood at a demo against the National Front when I was 12. I have spent my life campaigning against the politics of hate and extremism. I have witnessed anti-Semitism and racism from the far right—after all, that is what those people do—and, honestly, I had become desensitised to it.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I just wanted the hon. Lady to speak for a minute longer.
I thank the hon. Gentleman.
Over the past two years, however, I have experienced something genuinely painful: attacks on my identity from within my own Labour family. I have been the target of a campaign of abuse, attempted bullying and intimidation from people who would dare to tell me that people like me have no place in the party of which I have been a member for over 20 years, and which I am proud to represent on these Benches. My mum was a senior trade union official; my grandad was a blacklisted steelworker who became a miner. I was born into our movement as surely as I was born into my faith. It is a movement that I have worked for, campaigned for and fought for during my entire adult life, so it was truly heart-breaking to find myself in Parliament Square just over three weeks ago, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish community against the poison of anti-Semitism that is engulfing parts of my own party and wider political discourse.
If the House will indulge me, I would like to read out a small sample of what I have received on social media, but before doing so, I have to thank the dedicated team at the CST who have protected me, shielded me from as much of this abuse as possible, and worked with the police on the occasions when abuse became threats. As others have said, they should not be necessary, but personally I would be lost without them. They have also worked their way through the thousands of pieces of anti-Semitic abuse I have received to provide the following greatest hits, although I must warn the House that my fan-base has shown scant regard for appropriate parliamentary language, so I apologise in advance:
“Hang yourself you vile treacherous Zionist Tory filth. You are a cancer of humanity.”
“Ruth Smeeth is a Zionist—she has no shame—and trades on the murder of Jews by Hitler—whom the Zionists betrayed.”
“Ruth Smeeth must surely be travelling 1st class to Tel Aviv with all that slush. After all, she’s complicit in trying to bring Corbyn down.”
“First job for Jeremy Corbyn tomorrow—expel the Zionist BICOM smear hag bitch Ruth Smeeth from the Party.”
“This Ruth Smeeth bitch is Britainophobic, we need to cleanse our nation of these types.”
“#JC4PM Deselect Ruth Smeeth ASAP. Poke the pig—get all Zionist child killer scum out of Labour.”
“You are a spy! You are evil, satanic! Leave! #Labour #Corbyn.”
“Ruth you are a Zionist plant, I’m ashamed you are in Labour. Better suited to the murderous Knesset! #I Support Ken.”
“Your fellow traitor Tony Blair abolished hanging for treason. Your kind need to leave before we bring it back #Smeeth Is Filth.”
On behalf of all Members of the House, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend—we are enormously proud of her and everything she does for her constituents—and my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman).
I thank my hon. Friend.
To move on to my final piece of abuse:
“The gallows would be a fine and fitting place for this dyke piece of Yid shit to swing from.”
This is merely a snapshot, and the comments are those that I would feel comfortable—if that is the right word—to say in this place. It is a glimpse into the abuse that now seems par for the course for any Jew who has the audacity to participate in this political world.
But this is not the worst of it. There have always been racists and anti-Semites in our country, lurking on the fringes of our society—both left and right—and I dare say there always will be. What is so heartbreaking is the concerted effort in some quarters to downplay the problem. For every comment like those we have just heard, we can find 10 people ready to dismiss it—to cry “Smear”; to say that we are “weaponising” anti-Semitism.
Weaponising anti-Semitism! My family came to this country fleeing the pogroms in the 19th century. Of our relatives who stayed in Europe, none survived. We know what anti-Semitism is; we know where it leads. How dare these people suggest that we would trifle with something so dangerous, so toxic and so formative to our lives and those of our families. How dare they seek to dismiss something so heinous and reduce it to the realm of political point scoring. How dare they, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I am speaking not just for me, but for the young Jewish people I meet across the country who are beginning to fear they do not have a place. These are young people who are braver, tougher and better than I could ever be—the kind of young people who make us feel that our future is in safe hands, but right now they do not feel safe.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I have run out of time; I am sorry.
There is something more fundamental at stake here than any party’s policy platform or electoral performance: the right of Jewish people to participate in the politics of our country as equals. Last month we heard a plea: enough is enough. I stand here today to say that we will not be bullied out of political engagement, that we are going nowhere, and that we will stand and keep fighting until the evils of anti-Semitism are removed from our society. [Applause.]
Order. I completely understand that colleagues have been very generous and that interventions have been taken, but I am sure that colleagues will also appreciate that we are very short of time, so after the next speaker, I shall reduce the time limit to four minutes.
I start by paying tribute to our colleagues, the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth), for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Bassetlaw (John Mann), for their sheer determination and the courage with which they have spoken today. It is with a great sense of sadness and anger that I feel compelled to speak in the debate today. It is appalling that, in the 21st century, we are having to discuss the growing tide of anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom. I say this as the daughter of migrants who fled persecution and hate; it is appalling, and anyone who has endured hate crime or been on the receiving end of abusive comments about their religion, their culture, the colour of their skin or their heritage will know just how disgusting and hurtful those comments can be. Many, including myself, had hoped that the attitudes of the past would have disappeared by now, and that we would never see them repeated, yet they feature prominently in our society and our politics today. I hoped that we would have become much more respectful and tolerant as a society.
Racist and anti-Semitic attitudes have festered and brewed on the hard right but also on the left, and there is absolutely no justification for those attitudes or behaviours. There is no justification for people to claim to be emboldened, perhaps through social media, to make vicious and vitriolic comments about the “Jewish lobby” and the “Israeli lobby”, or about “conspiracies”. There is no justification for the stereotypical racist attitudes and abuse that are deliberately targeted at members of the Jewish community in Britain today. It is appalling that we now see anti-Semitism in all forms, and it is right that hon. and right hon. Members across the Chamber have unequivocally condemned those who hold such extremist views.
I pay tribute not only to colleagues but to the Community Security Trust, which has done so much to support the Jewish community and keep it safe. In the community that I grew up in, in Radlett in Hertfordshire, we saw the CST outside synagogues and schools, protecting children and families. Now, however, we see Jewish students at university who feel unsafe because they are being threatened, victimised and targeted. I was shocked to read an account of a debate at City University this year in which a female student was being targeted and experiencing pure hatred. People were taking pictures of her and whispering obscenities in her ear to try to intimidate her. She said that she now felt completely unsafe being a Jew in the city of London. That is shocking and disgraceful, and as politicians, it is right that we should be held to high standards and that we should call out that kind of behaviour.
It is particularly alarming and shocking to hear about what is happening in the party opposite, with Momentum and the hard left now out there perpetrating awful comments and actually celebrating and cheering some of the comments that they are putting out. I pay tribute to the Labour Members who have stood up to anti-Semitism in their party. We must all stand shoulder to shoulder with them. The hard left’s hatred and intolerance for those with different opinions has gone much too far.
We have heard today about the suffering and persecution that the Jewish community has faced for hundreds of years through mass expulsions, persecution and lies. Jewish people have been stigmatised, forced to wear badges and treated with suspicion. In one of the darkest chapters in human history, they were forced to go through all sorts of horrors that we should not have to speak about in this day and age. Each and every one of us has a responsibility to speak up and be a strong voice against the forces of hatred, prejudice and discrimination within our own community. We must ensure that we continue to stand up against the racism and anti-Semitism that we now see across society and across our politics today.
This week, which marks the 50th anniversary of Enoch Powell’s hateful “rivers of blood” speech, has reminded me of growing up with mixed heritage in Manchester in the 1980s in the aftermath of the Moss Side riots, when racism poisoned social relationships on the streets of Manchester, in the workplace and in the playground. The fact that we are standing in this Chamber having this debate about anti-Semitism 30 years later shames us all. It is devastating that this generation has not grappled and dealt with the problems that were a persistent feature of my childhood. This House has no right to look away now when the problems are happening again. My party has no right to pick and choose how and when we decide to confront racism in this country.
It is right to say, as a Labour Front Bencher did this week, that anti-Semitism exists across society, but it is wrong to go on and say, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner) then did, that what is happening in the Labour party is merely a reflection of society, because a particular sort of anti-Semitism has found its home on the far left throughout history. The recent compelling examples that have been levelled at my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) demonstrate exactly that.
What do holocaust denial, references to financiers of the sugar and slave trades, and the horrific mural that recently resurfaced that depicted Jewish bankers profiting off the backs of the poor have in common? It is the demonisation of Jews as somehow wielding illegitimate power, a demonisation which forces people to deny any suffering, especially the horror of the Holocaust. It is a form of racism that instead of looking down, as usual, looks up and argues that because this group supposedly wields illegitimate power it is therefore a legitimate target for the left, which fights oppression in all forms. That particular form of anti-Semitism in our party demands to be recognised. It must not and will not be denied. It has resurfaced in recent years, and I have seen it for myself.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Does she agree that we need urgent legislation to shut down the closed Facebook groups that many of our party members operate in, because that is where this is getting so entrenched?
My hon. Friend is right that we need urgent legislation, but there needs to be a clear message from every single person in this party that such groups and hashtags are not tolerated and that those who use them will be held to account.
I completely agree, but I have also seen such things from other groups. I have just seen a tweet from someone claiming to be a member of Momentum suggesting that those of us who have spoken out about anti-Semitism have taken a bounty of £1 million from Israel to undermine the leader of the Labour party. That absurdity must be rooted out, too.
I have seen one shocking instance of that at a party meeting in the past year, but I have seen acres of it online. It is not a lesser form of racism; there is no such thing. Racism is a disease. It does not exist in pockets; it poisons wherever it is found and it must be dealt with.
In recent months, we have seen a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in Britain, a murder in France, attacks on synagogues in Sweden, and fascists on the march in Poland. It is no wonder that, as one constituent who wrote to thank me for speaking out about the issue in the Labour party said, “People are frightened.” Labour has at times been the hope for people who were frightened of racism and anti-Semitism. For me, that is not historical fact; it is personal. My father was part of the small group of people who wrote the Race Relations Act 1976, the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and the Human Rights Act into law and established the Equal Opportunities Commission, and they have had real, tangible benefits for me and my generation.
The Labour party ought to be the light on the hill for people in times of darkness, and it shames us that we are a source of pain because a small group of people has been allowed a voice, and that demands concrete action. Expel Ken Livingstone—it has been nearly two years—deal with the thousands of complaints that are waiting to be heard, and bring in training for members. I call for that not because most Labour party members are anti-Semitic—most, like me, joined because we abhor racism and discrimination every bit as much as we abhor poverty and oppression—but because Labour has a long history of empowering our members, and we are a party that seeks not just to run society, but to change it, and we have a duty to lead.
Those things, taken together, would create a culture in our party in which anti-Semitism could find no fertile ground. I have been a member of this party for 20 years, and what angers me most is the assertion that a person cannot be left wing and stand up to anti-Semitism—standing up to anti-Semitism is a core part of my values.
As vice-chair of Labour Friends of Palestine for the past six years, I have stood together with Jewish and non-Jewish colleagues against illegal settlements and demolitions, and in support and defence of the Palestinian people. I have never been as moved as when I visited the west bank and saw Israeli Jewish mums volunteering in military courts to advocate for the right of Palestinian mums to be heard. It is a disgrace that some in our party seek to divide and sow hatred when those mums have managed to reach across that divide and do the opposite.
Anti-Semitism tells us that something is rotten in our society. It is not enough for us to decry the shrill, sour, hopeless dog-whistle politics that we have heard from the other side in recent years; we have to be better. I implore my party today to act.
Order. I call Paul Masterton.
East Renfrewshire is privileged to have the largest Jewish community in Scotland, and I take seriously my role as its representative to defend, support and champion that community. I am honoured to have recently been appointed co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on British Jews, working alongside my friend the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) and many others.
The Jewish community in East Renfrewshire retains its history and culture while contributing to life across the west of Scotland. The community grew from the expulsion of innocent men, women and children from the continent and today, as it always has, it gives so much back to this country.
On Wednesday evening, I attended the Giffnock synagogue for Yom HaShoah. I stood as page after page of names were turned, listing the relatives of local community members, all of whom had been killed in the holocaust. Stanley Lovatt from Newton Mearns is Israel’s honorary consul in Scotland. Stanley is in his late 70s but I remember inviting him and his wife down to a Downing Street reception, and they stepped into this amazing building, clutching each other’s hands, walking around wide-eyed like two giggling teenagers in love. Being here and walking up Downing Street was emotional because it is from this place, from these Benches, that time and again United Kingdom Governments of all colours have defended them and their kin, making them welcome and safe.
Stanley Grossman, again from Newton Mearns, is a champion for his local community and a challenger of anti-Semitism wherever it is found. Rabbi Wolfson, the two Rabbis Jacobs and Rabbi Rubin enrich the religious lives of those who attend shul. They play an active role in the wider community, they are much loved and they forge strong and effective partnerships with other local faith leaders, as the Home Secretary saw for herself when she visited Giffnock in the summer.
But it is not just the acts of individuals in East Renfrewshire who happen to be Jewish that are worthy of noting here today—there are Jewish organisations that do so much. The ongoing care for the community provided by Jewish Care Scotland and Cosgrove Care are a testament to the positive contribution to broader life for which the Jewish community strives. At the Maccabi centre, where people like Sue Faber do so much, we have a youth and sports centre where the community can come together for krav maga, badminton and even the celebration of Jewish adulthood with a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah.
Founded in 1914, the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, from its base in Giffnock, works to develop relationships between the Jewish community and other civic and religious groups. It works under the incredible leadership of Nicola Livingston and Evy Yedd to support the community and prevent and combat discrimination against local Jewish people. They were on the frontline when a sales assistant had acid poured over her head in Braehead shopping centre because she worked on a stall selling Israeli cosmetic products. They were on the frontline when the community woke to find a swastika spray painted on the side of a sheltered housing block with the words—I apologise in advance—“Jewish cunts. Jews out.”
In 2013, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities published a report on “Being Jewish in Scotland.” They have since produced an update, entitled “What’s Changed about Being Jewish in Scotland?” The front cover of that update featured two quotes. The first said:
“I would never before have considered it risky to show my Jewish identity in public. However that is changing.”
The second said:
“I used to be comfortable as a Jew in Scotland, but not any more.”
Does the hon. Gentleman, like me and other colleagues from Scotland, want to work towards a place where Jewish people can wear their Judaism with pride?
Yes, I absolutely agree. We can show a real commitment to that on a cross-party basis, both through the work we do with each other and in the Scottish Parliament.
I wanted today to talk about real people, British Jews, walking on the streets of East Renfrewshire, because anti-Semitism is not just about the tweet, the picture on Facebook or the mural on the side of the London building; it is about the recipient—the innocent family member, friend, colleague, who is targeted, provoked, attacked, for no reason other than being Jewish. It is about the person made to feel unsafe and unwelcome in their home, and they do not deserve it. These are good people, their contributions to our country are immeasurably positive, and we are letting them down.
I said I spent Wednesday evening commemorating the 6 million Jews killed in the holocaust—the horrifying reminder of where anti-Semitism can lead. Just 48 hours previously, a brick had been thrown through the front door of that synagogue. The quiet determination and resolve of those who gathered in the synagogue hall last week, like that of the thousands who stood a few steps away from this place in Parliament Square, should not be underestimated. It is they for whom we are fighting. We have heard it many times, and we will hear it many more, but it cannot be said too much: enough is enough.
I, like many Jews, love this country because of its tolerance and sense of fairness. We are proud to be British and Jewish, and no one has ever asked me to choose between the two. That is how the vast majority of UK Jews felt until recently, but, sadly, it is no longer the case. A significant number are deeply anxious and insecure. They wonder aloud whether to leave and question whether their children have a future here. One constituent told me how he was recently followed from a supermarket, first on foot and then by car, by a man who shouted at him, “Jews kill Palestinians”. A few days later, the same constituent was standing outside his home when a passing motorist shouted, “I am looking for Jews.”
Jew hatred has existed through the ages and in every generation—it is the oldest hatred of them all. The Shoah, only 78 years ago, was a unique, evil attempt by the Nazis to destroy an entire people through a barbaric industrial process. But it was also a time when too many nations, including this one, looked the other way and did not do enough to offer refuge to Jews who could have survived. It is so sad that this country is repeating this chapter of shame in its approach towards Syrian refugees.
Anti-Semitism on the left is not new and it did not begin when the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) became leader of the Labour party. Based on the evidence I have seen and my interactions with him, I do not believe he, personally, is anti-Semitic. However, his leadership has attracted new members whose anti-Semitism is pernicious and exposed long-standing members whose use of anti-Semitic language and imagery is shocking. It is also wrong that in the past he has failed to call out ideological allies when their anti-Semitism was clear for all to see.
There are two primary forms of contemporary anti-Semitism that the party must address. The first is imagery and rhetoric suggesting that secret cabals of Jews run the world and are responsible for capitalism’s excesses. In this warped world view, Jews are not worthy of protection from racism because, unlike other minorities, they hold power and wealth. The second is hostility towards Israel and the bastardisation of the word “Zionism”. Zionism means the right to self-determination of the Jewish people in their own state. Other than for a small minority, it does not mean expansionism or aggression. The left leads campaigns for the right of many minorities to self-determination around the world—why are the Jews different?
As a proud supporter of Israel, I have always supported a two-state solution, opposed settlement expansion and criticised the failure of leadership on both sides, which has led to the breakdown of political dialogue and the freezing of the peace process. People of all faiths and none have the right to criticise the Government of Israel, but many on the left fail to recognise the legitimate security concerns of a country that is surrounded by hostile neighbours on every border who seek a one-state solution, without Jews.
Today, in constituencies up and down the country, too many Labour Jewish members and supporters are being challenged to choose between their political party and their identity. It should never have come to this. I hope the Leader of the Opposition will now reject the false echo chamber of those who tell him that this focus on left-wing anti-Semitism is an attempt to silence criticism of Israel or is being used by party critics to undermine him. They are wrong. It would be a big mistake not to recognise that on this issue the Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies speak for a significant majority, rather than a vociferous minority. Those Labour MPs who attended the Parliament Square rally deserve support, not condemnation. They rightly chose to identify with a minority group who feel vulnerable and angry. As the mainstream party that through history has done the most to fight all forms of racism, it is right that Labour be judged to the highest standards. Zero tolerance must mean zero tolerance. Enough is enough.
Order. It is obvious that a lot of people want to speak and not everybody is going to have the opportunity. I remind the House that when somebody takes an intervention, it does not add any time to the debate; it only takes time away from other people who have been sitting here and who are not going to get to speak, and that will be a lot of people. I must now reduce the time limit to three minutes. [Interruption.] I know that Members will be disappointed, but it is in order to be fair to everybody. We either have a few people at eight minutes or a lot of people at three minutes. I think it is fairer to make it three minutes.
Evil happens when good people stand by and do nothing. There is evil running through and infiltrating the Labour party, but it is full of good people and they are trying to do something about it. I commend them, appreciate them and have nothing but respect for them.
Anti-Semitism is a centuries-old virus that mutates but never goes away. As we have heard from my hon. Friends, the reality of anti-Semitism is felt every day by many members of the Jewish community. It is present across the whole political spectrum, but this debate takes place against the background of the furore in the Labour party. The refusal to accept and address anti-Semitism in our ranks led to an unprecedented response from the mainstream Jewish community, when more than 1,000 people poured into Parliament Square in their anger and anguish, to protest against the Labour party’s inaction in dealing with anti-Semitism.
I commend the 40-plus non-Jewish MPs and peers who joined that rally. Those who denounced the demonstrators as having dubious motives, subject to manipulation, and accused them of using this issue to smear the Labour leadership, must ask themselves whether they would make that allegation against any other minority group. I think not. They should look in the mirror and ask themselves why—why do they regard Jewish people in a different light from all others?
It is a fallacy to believe that people who profess to be anti-racist cannot be anti-Semitic, and that anti-Semitism is confined to the right wing of politics. The notion of conspiratorial, powerful Jews—or Zionists—controlling international capital and manipulating the media for their own ends is to be found on the left as well. It is all too evident in the Labour party’s current problem with anti-Semitism.
The small British Jewish community—less than 0.5% of the population—is increasingly disturbed by the growth and normalisation of anti-Semitism. They understand that anti-Semitism comes from all political parties and from right across society, but when that anti-Semitism grows unchallenged in a mainstream political party—a party of Government—they simply feel frightened. Together with feeling frightened, they feel angry and anguished. I share that anguish as I meet, day by day, Jewish members of the Labour party who tell me that they can no longer continue in the party that they once held dear—the party that they now feel has betrayed them. I read with horror reports of Labour Jewish councillors who feel that they can no longer serve as councillors because they are Jewish. They feel that the Labour party is no longer for them. That is outrageous and despicable.
The Labour party—
Very unusually, I shall allow the hon. Lady to finish her sentence.
The Labour party claims that it now recognises the problem; I will believe that when I see action and we no longer have members espousing holocaust denial and equivocation, invoking the Rothschilds, or declaring that the Jews were the main financiers of the slave trade.
Three minutes means three minutes; it says it on the clock.
I feel deeply honoured to be able to speak in this debate.
Last week, I had the incredible honour of being in Israel and present at the national holocaust memorial ceremony. It was a deeply moving experience. I challenge anyone to be there and not be deeply affected by the occasion. It helps us to start to understand the impact that the holocaust has had on the Jewish people. Despite that history, the Jewish people are a people of hope, resilience and incredible dignity. It was a great honour to be there.
What I have found from the Jewish people I have met is that they simply want to live in peace. They simply want to feel safe and to feel that they belong somewhere—whether that is in the state of Israel or wherever it is in the world that they call home. They are a people who simply seek to live in peace.
I want to share, very quickly, a couple of things that I learned while I was in Israel that really brought home to me just how tolerant the Jews are. They are, I believe, among the most tolerant and accepting people on our earth today, which is in stark contrast to the way in which they are portrayed by some people.
The most moving thing that I experienced while I was there was to listen to a young British Jew, who has left this country to go to Israel because, as she said, she did not feel safe here. She did not feel that she belonged here. She could no longer see a future for herself in the UK. It should deeply trouble every single one of us in this House that the Jewish people do not feel that they belong in this country any more.
The UK rightly has a proud history of welcoming the Jewish people, but it should trouble us that that is changing. We have heard stories, time and again, of how the Jews are beginning to feel unsafe, how they are beginning to feel that they do not belong here. I do not want to live in a country where that is the case. I believe that every single one of us in this House has a responsibility to root out anti-Semitism, to make sure that we are addressing these issues at their root, and to ensure that the UK continues to be a place—whatever else is going on around the world—which Jews are welcome to call their home.
I was born in Egypt in the last year of the second world war as Jews were being exterminated in Hitler’s gas chambers. I grew up thinking that we would never forget, yet more than 70 years later here we are debating the issue. Anti-Semitism exists across Europe and across the political spectrum, but I never ever thought that I would experience significant anti-Semitism as a member of the Labour party. I have and it has left me feeling an outsider in the party of which I have been a member for more than 50 years.
I am a Jew. My upbringing has been entirely secular. I have never practised Jewish religious traditions. Neither of my two husbands were Jews. I am a consistent critic of the Governments of Israel. None the less, my Jewish heritage is central to my being.
Recently, my sisters trawled through the correspondence and diaries of my family who came from Germany and Austria. My grandmother, in her early fifties, thought that she was too old to be harmed by the Nazis, but we have the last letter that she wrote to her son, my uncle, in 1941, nine days before she was forcibly taken to a concentration camp in Lithuania and shot and killed in a trench outside the gates. In her letter she said twice, “Don’t completely forget me.” In a postscript she wrote:
“Thinking about you will help me to endure what is coming...I am sceptical that we shall ever meet again. Who knows when I can even write to you again.”
My uncle on my father’s side spent much of the war in the Ardèche before he was finally deported and killed in Auschwitz. When I visited Auschwitz, I saw the suitcases of those murdered in the gas chambers and was confronted by a battered brown suitcase with my uncle’s initials on it. That moment was utterly chilling for me. All of that is my heritage. It is what I am today. I cannot forget. It is one reason why I joined the Labour party in the 1960s. Labour was the party that fought racism and intolerance. It was the party that defended minorities. It was the natural home for Jews who had been subject to inhumane acts for no other reason than their race, their ethnicity and their religion.
It has been truly shocking to receive vicious anti-Semitic tweets from right-wing extremists, but also from the left. My inbox is nothing compared to those of some of my hon. Friends, but there is a surge of anti-Semitism on the left. In part, it has always been there. There are those who see every Jew as a paid-up member of the Netanyahu fan club, who cannot make a distinction between being a Jew and voicing support for Israel as a place for Jews to live safely, who consider “Zionist” a term of abuse, who deny the holocaust and who hate Jews.
I have never felt as nervous and frightened at being a Jew as I feel today. It feels as if my party has given permission for anti-Semitism to go unchallenged. Anti-Semitism is making me an outsider in my Labour party. To that I simply say, enough is enough.
I am not Jewish, but my wife’s family is. They helped to rescue people fleeing the Nazis in the years running up to the second world war.
Anti-Semitism is raw, ugly and utterly toxic. As we have heard today, it is a force that is still present in society—albeit adopting, as it always does, new guises in a new era. I pay immense tribute to Opposition and Government Members who have spoken with such courage on this issue today.
The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) spoke from the Opposition Front Bench about the Labour party’s moral mission to renew and turn the corner on this issue. The Board of Deputies has pointed out:
“For…the last two years, the Jewish community has been exposed to a constant drip-feed of antisemitism coming from Labour members.”
It also condemned the
“weak, pathetic and slow response from the Labour Party”
in the face of these incidents. May I just say how much I associate myself with the calls for Ken Livingstone to be expelled from the Labour party? He has no place in our national life in any party or in any way anymore.
What does it say about the willingness of the Leader of the Opposition to respond meaningfully to this criticism, when Labour MPs are telling us the stories that we have heard today or feel compelled to join the protestors outside Parliament because there is no hope of change within it? I am convinced that it stems from the fact that the leadership of the Labour party has been captured by the man who, more than any other, embodies the selective blindness of his political beliefs in regard to anti-Semitism. It is worth noticing that, after defending the despicable mural in Tower Hamlets, the Leader of the Opposition condemned himself in his own excuse. He said,
“I didn’t notice the anti-Semitism”.
I believe him, for failing to notice blatant anti-Semitism is precisely the problem. Perhaps he has become immune. The problem is that he sets the tone. I see it in my own constituency. The former Member for Sunderland South, Chris Mullin, tweeted on 26 March:
“Sorry to see Jewish leaders ganging up on Corbyn. Far less anti-semitism in the Labour Party than in other parts of society”,
and this was swiftly retweeted by the chair of the South Middlesbrough Labour party. This will not and must not stand.
I am pleased that the Leader of the Opposition has committed to upping his game, but I ask him: will he now utterly dissociate himself from Hamas and Hezbollah? Is he proud that Salim Mulla, who said that Israel was responsible for both the Sandy Hook massacre and for ISIS, is still representing his party as a councillor in Blackburn? Enough is enough, but it can only change from the top and it must change. Today must mark the turning point.
Susan Pollock was born in 1930 in Hungary. She was sent to Auschwitz as a teenager and, fortunately, survived. She now spends her days travelling the UK, teaching young people about the evils of racism. I first met her when she came to Dudley to speak at our holocaust commemoration. The second time I met her was three weeks ago, over the road in Parliament Square. She was at a political protest for the first time in her life, and it was a protest against us. Every Labour party member, from the leader down, should be thinking very carefully when a holocaust survivor —someone who has been in Auschwitz—feels compelled to do that.
Last week I was in Poland, where I met another holocaust survivor who had been in Auschwitz and is now in his 90s. The first words he said to me when he learned that I was a Labour MP were, “Are you not ashamed to be in the Labour party, with all the anti-Semitism?” The truth is that I am deeply ashamed that our party has caused so much distress to Jewish people. We have witnessed appalling anti-Semitic claims. We have seen Labour candidates denying the holocaust. At last year’s spring conference, one speaker said, “The holocaust, yes or no?” What does he mean by “yes or no”? Was it right? Did it happen?
I am pleased that the leader of the Labour party has returned, because the current crisis was triggered by the shocking discovery that he had defended a grotesque racist caricature. For three days he issued excuses. Only on the fourth day, with that unprecedented protest planned, did he manage actually to say sorry. Labour party members, all of us, have to ask ourselves what we would be saying—what he would be saying—if a senior member of the Conservative party had defended a racist caricature of anybody else. I am afraid—I want to say this very directly to him—that he spent decades defending these people. Hamas’s charter is avowedly anti-Semitic, Hezbollah too, yet our leader describes them as “friends” and invites them to Parliament. Raed Salah, found guilty in court of the blood libel, was described as “a very honoured citizen” and invited here too. Stephen Sizer, a Church of England vicar, was disciplined by his own Church when he spread ideas that were “clearly anti-Semitic”, yet our leader defended him and claimed he was “under attack” by a pro-Israeli smear campaign.
The problem with the hard left is that some of them believe they are so virtuous—they have fought racism all their lives so how can they possibly be guilty? That is why they say that this has been whipped up or weaponised. But do they not understand how offensive it is to victims of anti-Semitism when they are told that they are inventing these complaints? Why do they get angry with the people complaining about racism instead of the people responsible for it? They have a big opportunity. Take this much more seriously, deal with the cases more quickly, kick these people out straight away, and respond properly to the letter that has been received from the mainstream Jewish organisations, the Jewish Leadership Council, and the Board of Deputies.
I am not an expert in these matters, but I was incredibly moved when I went to Israel for the first time 18 months ago and visited Yad Vashem, the world’s holocaust remembrance centre, and saw at first hand the evidence of the experience of the Jewish people before and during the holocaust, and of the survivors afterwards. I was especially moved by the testament of British soldiers who were joyful at the end of the second world war but absolutely crushed within hours to discover concentration camps where there were mass graves, people on the edge of starvation, and gas chambers.
It is our duty now to speak out about anti-Semitism to make sure that that never happens again, because the lessons of history tell us that the start of an increase in anti-Semitism is a slippery slope. As philosophers have said for many years, unless we learn the lessons of history, we are doomed to repeat them. It is no coincidence that not just in the holocaust but in multiple genocides that have happened since, such as Rwanda and Srebrenica, and what is happening with the Rohingya and Yazidi peoples now, there is a cycle of behaviour and a pattern of events that warn us that more is to come.
If we facilitate anti-Semitism, then we are on a slippery slope. We know from the CST that anti-Semitic attacks are increasing in this country. There are now, on average, four attacks a day on Jewish people. There is a 3% increase in such events on last year. There is a 34% increase in violent assaults—the highest tally since 1984. That tells us that something is happening in this country, and there is a duty on all of us to speak out. If we look back at the 1920s and ’30s in Europe, we see that that is exactly what was happening then, when synagogues were being deconsecrated, Jewish people were being attacked, and murals were being painted on walls. Is this ringing any alarm bells with people in this Chamber?
I might be accused of overreacting, but history tells us where the direction of travel is going. When we are seeing the democratic process in this country being used to legitimise anti-Semitism, with people who are clearly anti-Semitic being put up for elections, history tells us that we are on a slippery slope. The seeds are being sown now, and this country is in grave danger if we do not speak out. We have a duty not just to speak out but to support those who speak out and are being persecuted as a result. If we think the holocaust could not happen in this country now or at any time in the future, we must think again. It happened, post the war to end all wars, in the best educated country in Europe. It happened then, and now, not through a mass violent struggle but through subtle levels of anti-Semitism, it could happen again.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a short contribution to this quite remarkable debate.
As the beneficiary, as I now see it, of white Presbyterian privilege, this has been a humbling and illuminating experience. Like the right hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), I was brought up in a time and a place where we were taught that this was something of history. Like her, I now realise that it is certainly not something of history—if, indeed, it ever was—and anybody who thinks that it is could do worse than listen to the quite remarkable speeches of the hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth).
The Secretary of State, in opening the debate, said that we should approach this subject with humility, and he is right about that. In truth, this is something that affects us across the political divides, because as political parties, we are reflective of the society in which we live. I confess freely that I have been on something of a journey. When I was first confronted with the spectre of anti-Semitism in our society and in my own party, I was too quick to excuse it, because frankly I could not believe that it could be a feature of otherwise sensible, rational people. I now realise that it is.
We find all around us so much casual anti-Semitism—the clichés, the stereotypes and the references even to “these people”. I now find myself in a position where, when I do see it, I am not prepared to be forgiving in any way, shape or form. It is incumbent on us all who reject it to call it out when we see it.
I do not want to dwell on matters relating to other parties. It appears to me as an outsider looking in that there is a problem within the Labour party, but we would be wrong to think that it is a problem just for the Labour party. If Jewish people do not feel comfortable within the Labour party or any other party simply because they are Jewish, it is a problem for us all who have faith and confidence in our political system.
The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale West (Sir Graham Brady) said that anti-Semitism was a racism like any other. With respect, and without wanting to get into the semantics, I do not believe that to be the case. For some reason, anti-Semitism and racism are a pernicious force that we find throughout history and throughout the world, as others have said. How we respond to that is up to us. We must not allow it to be a force that divides us. It can be a force that unites us, as long as there is unity in tackling it and rejecting it.
It is extraordinary not just that we have to debate anti-Semitism, but that it is so much a part of our current political environment. It is fuelled and propagated by social media, but if wider society gives anti-Semitism a space, that appears to legitimise it. Often it is not obvious; it can be subtle enough not to be noticed in a mural at a casual glance. However, anti-Semitism is often overt and is too often propagated in student societies at our universities, which was why the then Universities Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), had to increase funding to deal with the problem only last year.
We see the frequent and unique demonisation of the state of Israel. That happens only to the Jewish state; nothing comparable happens with any other country in the world. The boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign represents a unique attack on Israel and lends itself to not just anti-Zionism but anti-Semitism. It is the attempted isolation of Israel through commerce, academia and culture. Is it not incredible that we would seek to isolate Israel and to stop businessmen and women, academics, artists and musicians working in and with the state of Israel? Increasingly, Jews in Europe are leaving for Israel. We must deal with anti-Semitism in Britain before British Jews feel they have to leave our land.
In the few minutes available, I want to say that, as a Catholic parliamentarian, I stand in solidarity with my Jewish colleagues in the Chamber today. As chairman of the Catholic Legislators Network and the director of Catholics for Labour, I know that we have to fight anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head.
In October 2015, Pope Francis met Jewish representatives and said in a statement that we had, after 2,000 years, reconciled some of our differences. If I had said that in public 500 years ago, I would have been locked up, and if I had said it 50 years ago, I would have been laughed at, but today, some of those differences have been reconciled. In the encyclical “Nostra Aetate” of the second Vatican council in 1965, born out of the horror of the holocaust, the Catholic Church condemned anti-Semitism and asked for a transformation of the relationship. It was not until 20 years afterwards that Pope John Paul visited the synagogue in Rome—he was probably the first Pope to go into a synagogue since Peter the Apostle—which symbolised that new relationship.
I make a plea to my own party and my party leadership. Two years ago, I stood in central London at the Cable Street commemoration of how, 80 years previously, Jews and Catholics came together to fight the fascists. In that period, 20,000 protesters came together to fight fascism and Mosley, and having pleaded with the then Home Secretary, John Simon, to ban the march, forced the fascists to turn around. My hon. Friends the Members for Brent Central (Dawn Butler) and for Ealing North (Stephen Pound) were both at that commemoration. The Labour party and the Labour movement have a proud tradition of standing up to anti-Semitism in this country, and we must maintain it.
I will finish by saying that power, which is a gift from God, is either coercive or relational, and anti-Semitism is the worst possible type of coercive power. Martin Buber, the Jewish theologian, said, when asked whether God exists, that he exists in the space between us. That means we have to build solidarity with one another, day in and day out, to make sure that we create a better world.
Finally, we can look at scripture—Nehemiah—and see that on the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem after their exile, they built the walls of Jerusalem again. Our party walls have been breached, and it is up to each and every one of us to build those walls again. We can do that, and we must do it quickly.
I pay tribute to the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council for organising last month’s demonstration, which I attended, alongside many Members from both sides of this House.
Anti-Semitism is not just a problem for the Labour party; we see it across the middle east, in European Union states and, of late, in the USA. However, it is simply not good enough for a party that prides itself on its record of fighting racism and discrimination to offer this is an excuse for its failure to get its own house in order. Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of the Macpherson report, and some people need to be reminded of its core principle that a racist incident is
“any incident which is perceived to be racist by the victim”.
When Jewish people tell us that the scenes they witness at some Labour party meetings, the bile they view on social media, or the words they hear in defence of an anti-Semitic mural cause them great offence, we should not question, ridicule or reject such an assertion, but accept it and tackle it—full stop.
Some say that this is all about shutting down criticism of the actions of the Israeli Government, but that is a pernicious lie. Let there be no doubt, however, that refusing to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, equating Zionism with racism, or requiring of Israel
“a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation”,
as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance puts it, are all forms of anti-Semitism.
A year ago, I apologised to those in the Jewish community for the actions of some in my party. It is a tragic and shameful fact that here we are, 12 months on, and they have been subjected to further anger, pain and hurt. I hope that actions will now speak louder than words, that enough is enough, and that my party—and, most especially, the leadership of my party—will act to drive out anti-Semitism. I hope that Labour can once again be the natural home for all those who are committed to decency, respect, tolerance, fairness and human rights.
This has been an emotional debate, and an emotional debate for me—I came into politics to fight racism and I have never resiled from that position. For me, it has always been the case that racism includes anti-Semitism. Jew hatred is race hatred, and one anti-Semite in the Labour party is one too many.
I begin by congratulating my colleagues—
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I need to make some progress. I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), for Bassetlaw (John Mann), for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth), for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Mike Kane), for Bury South (Mr Lewis), for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) and for Dudley North (Ian Austin) on their very powerful speeches, but I think—
Will my right hon. Friend give way?
I think that I have to make progress.
But if we are going to frame this debate, I would like to quote from a rabbi, Rabbi Gluck, who was mentioned earlier. He happens to be a rabbi in Hackney. He said:
“Minorities, and especially the Jewish community in Europe, are the weather vane of discontent and a wider feeling of insecurity in society, as people look for easy and quick answers to their problems.”
I am sad that we are having this debate, but I am proud to represent one of the oldest Jewish communities in the country. It is my representation of that community for many decades that has shaped my strong views on anti-Semitism. As well as one of the oldest Jewish communities in the country, I have the largest community of Charedi orthodox Jewish people outside New York and, of course, Israel. I have worked with them during all my time as an MP on issues ranging from ritual slaughter to immigration, and that work has included lobbying Ministers for there to be a voluntary aided school.
I want to take the opportunity to raise just two issues that are of concern to the Charedi community, who are not often talked about in this Chamber. One is the rising level of hate crime. The Charedi Jewish—[Interruption.] The Charedi Jewish community—[Interruption.] The Charedi—[Interruption.] I think—[Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Lady has said that she does not want to give way. It is entirely up to her whether she gives way or not, but she must be heard.
The Charedi community will want these issues to be raised. One is the rising level of hate crime; the other is what is happening with the Charedi community maintained schools and Ofsted. I urge the Home Secretary to meet leaders of the Charedi community and leaders of the Shomrim neighbourhood watch organisation to understand and hear their particular concerns.
On the question of the schools, I can do no better than quote Gillian Merron, the chief executive officer of the Board of Deputies of British Jews:
“We understand that Ofsted has a difficult job to do, but the repeated and increasingly aggressive targeting of Charedi schools is fast becoming counterproductive. While some Jewish schools have a good relationship with Ofsted, the Charedi sector is losing confidence in the inspectorate.”
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
The Charedi community has asked me to make these points.
Will my right hon. Friend give way now?
There has been—[Interruption.]
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Just for guidance, can you inform the House whether a shadow Minister responding to a debate should make a speech with regard to their constituency or should respond to the debate—
Order. No, I cannot. We have limited time. What the right hon. Lady says at the Dispatch Box is entirely up to her and not a matter for me. Is the right hon. Lady giving way to Mr Sobel?
I thank my right hon. Friend for giving way. Perhaps she was not aware that I was the only Jewish parliamentarian who was not called to speak in the debate.
After the holocaust memorial debate, I was subjected to quite horrific abuse. I shall give one example. Mr Leonard said on Channel 4’s Facebook page, “Why is this Jewish Zionazi speaking in the English Parliament?” Does she agree that we need to tackle this not just on social media —we need to take more action there—but right across the political spectrum in our own party?
I am grateful that Members have allowed me to speak on behalf of the Charedi community. I want to go on, in the few minutes available—[Interruption.]
Order. The right hon. Lady does not have to address any point. What she says is entirely up to her. Now be quiet and allow her to finish.
I want to talk about what the Labour party is doing about the issue of anti-Semitism. We are looking at introducing a programme of education, quite possibly delivered by organisations such as the Jewish Labour Movement, and we are emphasising that members have an absolute right to raise the issue of anti-Semitism, including on demonstrations. We acknowledge that dealing with some of these complaints has been too slow, so we are reviewing and speeding up our disciplinary process. We are looking at the workings of the disciplinary committee. We are recruiting an in-house lawyer and a further three temporary lawyers to help to clear the backlog.
Speaking as somebody who has experienced more online abuse than all the women MPs in all the parties put together, I hope that Conservative Members are willing to take this issue seriously. On the issue of online abuse, I believe that more can be done to make Facebook, Twitter and all the online companies take down both anti-Semitic abuse and other abuse more quickly. I believe that we have to look at the issue of online anonymity. It is because people are anonymous and because of online growth that people say things online to members of the Jewish community and others that they would never say if they actually had to put their name out there. I believe that people should continue to be able to post anonymously, but the companies—Twitter, Google and so on—should consider holding people’s names and addresses.
This, as I said, has been an emotional issue. I cannot look into the souls of Conservative Members, but I would like to think that nobody has intervened in this debate with a view of getting party political advantage. We in the Labour party take anti-Semitism very seriously. Nothing is gained by accusing the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition of being an anti-Semite. I want to stand up for the vast majority of members of the Labour party, including some of the most indefatigable fighters against racism and anti-Semitism I know, and say that the vast majority of Labour party members are not anti-Semites, despite what Conservative Members seek to claim. We know what has gone wrong in the past. We realise that there is an issue and we are dealing with that issue. I believe that the public understand that we are serious about fighting racism and anti-Semitism.
This has been an extraordinary and harrowing debate, full of powerful personal experiences. The Government are taking a lot of action to combat anti-Semitism, but I want to tell Members that I will leave the Chamber today even more committed to checking that we are doing all we can and stepping it up where we can.
Many Members have thanked the Community Security Trust, which does such great work. I want to put on record our thanks to the trust. We gave it £13.4 million recently to make sure it can continue its good work.
I also thank a number of the police forces who have been so good at protecting people and making sure that they are well looked-after under this growth of anti-Semitism, which so many politicians have unfortunately been experiencing. I also thank the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews for their work in raising awareness of anti-Semitism.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for giving way and allowing me, as co-chair of the all-party group on British Jews, to pay tribute to the work of the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council. Let there be no doubt in any quarter of this Chamber that in Jewish schools, Jewish community centres and shuls in my constituency, it is the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council who speak for the vast majority of British Jews, who are horrified by what they have seen in the Labour party and who I fear will be horrified by the response from our Front Benchers to this debate today.
I totally endorse what the hon. Gentleman just said. I apologise for the fact that I cannot mention everybody who spoke so powerfully today, but I thank my Conservative colleagues for their contributions, and particularly the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who spoke so powerfully about his experience. His description of the air tightening is something that I will always remember.
However, this afternoon’s debate really belongs to the Labour party, and its Members who spoke so passionately from their own experiences and did not hold back from bravely and courageously sharing them with us. Many of us have heard about some of those, but nothing compared to hearing their personal experiences today. The sheer horror and scale of what they have had to put up with has horrified the whole House.
I particularly thank the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), who spoke so powerfully of her experience, and of course, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), who is well known in this House for his ability to speak freely. As he rightly said, that is not always so welcome, but in this case it was completely welcome. He stands in a position of such authority because he has campaigned so long on this issue, and I say to him that yes, we all stand in solidarity with him.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) described so strongly her personal experience and her appalling description of the term “weaponising anti-Semitism”. Again, we share her view and her constituents are fortunate to have such a strong and courageous Member of Parliament. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), who spoke so strongly and referred to the danger of the Facebook groups that can provide such succour and comfort when anti-Semitism is being passed around. It is important that she carefully drew that out as one of the danger areas.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) also has such a strong history of speaking out so often against anti-Semitism, and spoke of her horror that the Labour party has become a home for it. I also thank the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), who put this in such an important personal and historical context. We could have heard a pin drop when she spoke about that. Finally, the hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) reinforced the horror, which we share, of people in his party getting angry with people who call out anti-Semitism rather than focusing on the people who are anti-Semitic. It is something that we all wonder at.
This has been an extraordinary and important debate. I believe that the whole House has delivered a strong message to the leader of the Labour party: take action. The leader’s words have been strong, and they have been heard again and again, but we have not seen the action that we hoped would follow. If the leader of the Labour party is in any doubt about that, I urge him to listen to the speeches that were made by the people behind him. They were powerful, emotional and harrowing speeches that were not in any way anti-Labour. Many speakers went out of their way to explain that they had joined the Labour party to combat racism and anti-Semitism. The Labour party is a noble and honourable party, and it is absolutely wrong that this corner of anti-Semitism has been allowed to flourish. He has an obligation to take action. We expect nothing less.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered anti-semitism.