Before I call the Secretary of State to respond to the urgent question, I have a short statement to make. I know that all Members will be deeply concerned by the footage of apparently antisemitic behaviour that appeared online yesterday. I understand that a number of individuals have been arrested in relation to the incident, but that no charges have yet been made. Therefore, the House’s sub judice resolution is not yet formally engaged. However, I remind all Members to exercise caution and avoid referring to the details of specific cases in order to avoid saying anything that might compromise any ongoing investigation or subsequent prosecution.
I call the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, who has three minutes to answer the urgent question from Robert Halfon.
(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on recent antisemitic attacks across the UK.
No one could fail to be appalled by the disgraceful scenes of antisemitic abuse directed at members of the Jewish community in the past week. In Chigwell, Rabbi Rafi Goodwin was hospitalised after being attacked outside his synagogue. In London, activists drove through Golders Green and Finchley, both areas with large Jewish populations, apparently shouting antisemitic abuse through a megaphone. These are intimidatory, racist and extremely serious crimes. The police have since made four arrests for racially aggravated public order offences and have placed extra patrols in the St John’s Wood and Golders Green areas.
During Shavuot, as always, we stand with our Jewish friends and neighbours, who have sadly been subjected to a deeply disturbing upsurge in antisemitism in recent years, particularly on social media. Like all forms of racism, antisemitism has no place in our society. A lot of young British Jews are discovering for the first time that their friends do not understand antisemitism, cannot recognise it and do not care that they are spreading it. British Jews are not responsible for the actions of a Government thousands of miles away, but are made to feel as if they are. They see their friends post social media content that glorifies Hamas—an illegal terrorist organisation, whose charter calls for every Jew in the world to be killed. Today, the world celebrates International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Under Hamas, people are murdered for being gay.
Every time the virus of antisemitism re-enters our society, it masks itself as social justice, selling itself as speaking truth to power. This Government are taking robust action to root it out. We are leading the way as the first Government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism and calling on others to do the same. As a result, nearly three quarters of local councils have adopted it. I have written to councils and universities that are still dragging their feet. They will shortly be named and shamed if they fail to act. All Members of Parliament, bar one, have signed up to it.
We are also doing our utmost to keep the Jewish community safe through the £65 million protective security grant to protect Jewish schools, synagogues and community buildings. We are working closely with the Community Security Trust to ensure victims can come forward and report attacks to the police.
We recognise that education is one of the most powerful tools we have for tackling antisemitism. We are proud to back the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Anne Frank Trust, among others, to ensure that we challenge prejudice from an early age. With the last holocaust survivors leaving us, we are also ensuring that future generations never forget where hatred can lead through—I hope—a new world-class holocaust memorial and learning centre next to the Palace of Westminster. It is currently awaiting the outcome of a planning inquiry. Some of the opposition to it has only served to make the case for why it is needed.
Today, the Government and, I hope, the whole House send a clear message of support and reassurance to our Jewish friends and neighbours. We seek a society where the UK’s largest established religions can live safely and freely, and can prosper, as an essential part of a nation that is confident in its diversity but ultimately strong in its unity.
I am very disappointed. I said at the beginning that the Secretary of State had three minutes, and he went on to take four minutes. Unfortunately, I do not make the rules of the House, but I have to stick to them. We now go to Robert Halfon, who is participating virtually, with two minutes.
In a 2018 House of Commons debate on antisemitism, I said the air had grown tighter for Jews:
“you feel very hot, you undo a button on your shirt and your mouth goes dry.”—[Official Report, 17 April 2018; Vol. 639, c. 262.]
Sadly, after yesterday’s horrific incidents, highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—particularly the rabbi being beaten up in Chigwell in Essex—I fear that the air has become even tighter. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Dame Eleanor Laing) for her strong support against antisemitism.
Since 2018, the Community Security Trust has recorded the highest ever number of antisemitic incidents—more than 1,800 in 2019. In Harlow just a few days ago, swastikas were graffitied on walls in a public walkway. Thankfully, they have now been removed. Why, in the 21st century, must Jewish schools and synagogues have guards outside? The growth of antisemitism has happened for a number of reasons. There are too many of what Vladimir Lenin called “useful idiots”, whether they are some Labour party activists, condemned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and those who use the conflict in Israel as an excuse; the BBC’s Jeremy Bowen telling Jews to read negative articles about Jews; or the NUS giving moral equivalence to antisemitism and what it calls the liberation of Palestine. I remind the House that the so-called liberation is being conducted by Iranian-funded extreme Islamist terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
What protections and support are being given specifically to Jews and to the Community Security Trust? What are the Government doing to educate pupils about antisemitism so that this evil is wiped out? Will there be severe penalties for those found guilty of antisemitic behaviours? As a proud British Jewish MP, I never imagined that I would live at a time when I and the Jewish community would question whether Britain is a safe place for Jews any more.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his remarks today and his long record of supporting the British Jewish community and fighting antisemitism. We must ensure that this is a country where our Jewish friends and neighbours feel safe, and I am sure that the whole House will send a strong message today of support and reassurance to them.
The Government will continue to support the Community Security Trust—I join my right hon. Friend in praising its work. Partly funded by the Government and partly by philanthropy, it helps to ensure the security of 650 Jewish communal buildings and 1,000 events every year. It has reported to us a steep rise this week in antisemitic incidents—a 320% increase in a week. I am afraid that that is likely to rise further as there is always a delay in reporting. We will continue to support the trust and we will work with the Metropolitan police and police forces in other parts of the country, who are putting out extra patrols in the coming days to provide reassurance to Jewish citizens.
We will also support groups across the country, for example, the Union of Jewish Students, which does so much good work for Jews on campuses across the UK who suffer antisemitic attacks and abuse. We will keep on with that work as well as the educational work to which my right hon. Friend referred. In my opening remarks, I paid tribute to a number of the fantastic organisations, such as the Holocaust Memorial Trust, which deliver that day in, day out, and have continued to do so even during the difficulties that covid-19 posed.
I commend the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) for securing the urgent question. What we saw and heard in the footage from the streets of London yesterday was vile antisemitism and sickening, threatening mysogyny. Those who engage in that appalling, terrible behaviour should feel the full force of the law.
Time and again, we have seen these attacks aimed at the Jewish community. The Community Security Trust, which I also commend for its work, recorded 63 antisemitic incidents from 8 to 16 May. We send a clear, unequivocal message that that is not acceptable—not then, not now, not ever. I have been moved by the Jewish community’s sharing testimonies at the weekend. I have contacted the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Community Security Trust to make clear the absolute condemnation on these Benches for those terrible acts.
There is too often a completely unacceptable pattern: distressing scenes in the middle east—we on these Benches have called for a ceasefire—can lead to a minority of people attempting to whip up hatred between communities. There is often an upsurge in Islamophobic attacks, too. Those who do that do not in any sense represent those who seek to bring about peace in the middle east.
I understand that four men have been arrested, but I ask the Secretary of State whether anyone else is being sought. What more can be done, particularly in intelligence gathering, to prevent this kind of incident from happening again? What additional support is being given to places of worship and other key sites at this worrying time? Does the Secretary of State agree that, in response to those who seek to stoke division and hatred, we must stand united and send a message that they will never win?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his strong words today, which will have been heard by Jewish communities across the country. The whole of the House of Commons is united in this regard. He is also right to say that whatever one’s views are on the current conflict in Israel and Gaza, that is no excuse whatsoever for the kind of antisemitic abuse or, indeed, anti-Muslim hatred that we are seeing on our streets right now. Tell MAMA, which reports the number of anti-Muslim incidents, has also informed us that there has been a rise in incidents directed against the Muslim community in recent days. Both are unacceptable, and both need to be tackled.
The right hon. Gentleman is right to say that the police should be taking a lead, and we expect the police to be urgently investigating the issues that we have seen in recent days. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has spoken with the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, who has given assurances that the police will do everything they can to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. Further patrols are now happening in areas with larger Jewish communities in London, for example, and I know that other police forces in other parts of the country, such as Greater Manchester, are taking the same proactive approach. As I said in my opening remarks, the police have since made four arrests for racially aggravated public order offences, and have placed extra patrols in the St John’s Wood and Golders Green areas.
With respect to the incident regarding the rabbi in Chigwell, Essex police have announced that they are investigating the incident as a religiously aggravated assault, and have appealed for witnesses. They are engaging with the affected communities equally to provide reassurance, and I call on anyone who may have been a witness to either of those events or, indeed, others across the country to come forward as soon as possible.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for the concern you have shown the British Jewish community today by granting this urgent question so soon. The fact that people feel emboldened to drive through Jewish neighbourhoods calling for the rape of women, or to march through the streets of London warning Jews that an army is coming against them, does not happen in isolation. It happens because antisemitism on campuses is ignored; because university lecturers who target Jewish students are not dealt with; because far-right holocaust denial content on online platforms is not dealt with; and because some people, some campaigners —including, perhaps, some in this place—place an emphasis on Israel and use emotive language that they do not use in relation to other conflicts, while giving Hamas, the terror tunnels and the murder weapons a free pass. That is why it happens: it does not happen in isolation, and enough is enough.
I thank the Secretary of State for what he has said today, but I urge him to go even further. It is great that we are putting so much money into holocaust education, but we have to go further in ensuring that every child in this country is taught about antisemitism, as they should be taught about Islamophobia and all racism.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. It is crucial that we ensure that young people uphold the values of this country and understand antisemitism. That is one of the reasons why we were the first country in the world to sign up to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, which makes it abundantly clear that anti-Zionism is antisemitism. It is one of the reasons why we fund the Holocaust Educational Trust, and why we have now expended its remit from going into schools to going into universities as well. We also fund a range of other organisations.
It is also important to underline the point that my hon. Friend made: Hamas is a proscribed terrorist organisation, and those considering its activities or reporting upon them should make very clear the kind of organisation it is and the relationship that the UK has with it, which is that we do not engage with a terrorist organisation.
I, too, thank the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) for having secured this urgent question, which offers us an opportunity to unite in unequivocal opposition to, and condemnation of, antisemitism. There is never any excuse or justification for it, and hatred expressed here helps absolutely nobody, anywhere. The events that have already been described were absolutely horrendous—vile, targeted antisemitism and misogyny—and our solidarity goes out to the Jewish communities directly targeted and to everyone across the country who has suffered such hatred. We support all steps to bring the perpetrators to justice and all initiatives to tackle antisemitism.
Finally, can I suggest that we also take this opportunity to condemn all forms of racism and religious hatred, whether it is antisemitism, Islamophobia, or the atrocious anti-Catholic bigotry witnessed this weekend during disgraceful disorder by Rangers fans in Glasgow city centre? It has absolutely no place, and there is absolutely no excuse for it. I am sure that Members across the House will agree that we all have a duty to call it out and condemn it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for those remarks. Like him, this Government have zero tolerance for all forms of racism, including antisemitism. We must do everything we can to ensure that where individuals do perpetrate these crimes, they are brought to justice.
I have been heartened by some of the comments made so far. However, it was frightening and horrible over the weekend to watch videos of people hurling abuse from cars; to hear about the rabbi who was badly beaten up; and to see pictures from the Arndale centre of yobs—from Bradford, I am told—intimidating shoppers and shouting antisemitic remarks. And it is dreadful that it is happening in this country. Of course, all racism, whether it be antisemitism, Islamophobia or anti-Catholicism, must be condemned, but my question is: what lessons have been learned about this? Some might say that all of this was predictable as soon as it was known that the march was going to happen. What lessons have been learned, and what new practices are the police going to put in place to make sure that this sort of thing cannot happen again?
I, for one, never thought that I would see banners being held aloft on the streets of London, apparently with impunity, saying, “Death to Jews”, or individuals being able to drive for some time through neighbourhoods, broadcasting the kind of antisemitic bile that we saw over the weekend. That is disgraceful. It is wrong and we need to ensure that our police services are equipped to take action quickly and robustly when this happens again in the future. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will speak again to her counterparts so that they can ensure that where such instances arise in the future, action is taken as fast as possible, as we would expect with regard to any other racist or intimidatory incident.
May I thank you, Mr Speaker, and the right hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) for securing this urgent question? Like others, seeing racist posters, swastikas, a rabbi attacked and a racist convoy going through north London, I could see that the message was one of hate and, often, misogyny. This House is sending out a very strong message today denouncing this vile racism. But our message cannot just be for today. Tragically, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not go away, and we must be able to debate and disagree without Jew hate or Islamophobia taking over. What action is the Secretary of State taking beyond today, and beyond the brilliant work that the Holocaust Educational Trust is doing with young people, to inform and educate communities throughout Britain, including elected representatives, so that a discussion on an international conflict does not morph into a national expression of hate?
I thank the right hon. Lady for her remarks and, of course, for her own record of standing up to antisemitism in the past. She is right to say that this is, sadly, just one of a number of incidents, and past incidents of this nature have flared up at the same time as conflict in the middle east. In 2014, for example, there was a significant spike in antisemitic incidents. Many members of the Jewish community are fearful that we will see a similar situation now. Indeed, some have said to me that there is greater intensity today than there was back then, perhaps fuelled by the rise of social media.
We need to ensure that we are rooting out antisemitism and doing so through education, working with all parts of society. That is one of the reasons that the Prime Minister and I have appointed Sara Khan as our independent adviser, who will tackle extremism of any kind and ensure that it cannot exist with impunity in plain sight. All parts of Government and civil society must play their part in that—not just central Government and local authorities, but charities, schools and faith groups the length and breadth of the country.
I very much agree with the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). Many Jewish people in Southend were appalled at the disgusting scenes in north London over the weekend. I stand with them, and I am frankly bemused at how those events were allowed to happen in the first place. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is more important than ever that the Government continue to support the work of the Community Security Trust, which does such vital work to keep the Jewish community safe through the protective security grant? I know that money is tight, but will he ensure that sufficient funding is made available to the trust, to enable the Jewish community to worship safely and peacefully?
The Community Security Trust has an absolutely essential role in supporting Jewish institutions such as schools, nurseries and places of worship—frankly, places that should not need to have security. As the father of Jewish children, it shocks me every time I take my children to synagogue or to their nursery to see individuals in stab-proof vests guarding the entrance to those places. That should not have to happen in this country, but it does happen today, and we will continue to support the Community Security Trust, giving it all the funding it needs to protect Jewish communities.
The whole House will stand in solidarity with Jewish people across the country in the face of vile antisemitism, misogynistic hate speech, violence and incitement. No one should be in any doubt that attempting to blame Jewish communities for the actions of the Israeli Government is appalling antisemitism and is wrong. The Secretary of State will know that the kinds of incident we saw over the weekend are also being fuelled by online antisemitism and extremism, and he will have seen the recent CST report on Google and antisemitic imagery. What more is he doing to tackle this awful online antisemitism?
The right hon. Lady raises an extremely important point. The Home Secretary and the Culture Secretary are working closely on this issue. They are in contact with the providers to ensure that antisemitic and other hate speech is taken down quickly and that action is taken against the perpetrators. Of course, this is an issue that we will return to and debate when considering the online harms Bill, which I hope will play a role. My Department is also funding organisations that are taking action to put a counter-narrative on social media, to educate people about the harm that is caused by antisemitism and to ensure that people of all backgrounds—particularly young people—understand that some of the memes and graphics that are being circulated as we speak are deeply antisemitic and deeply offensive to communities and are fuelling the kind of hatred that boiled on to the streets over the weekend.
We have seen vile physical and verbal assaults against Jews in the real world, but there is also a deep well of antisemitic content online and on social media, as the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) said, which often goes unchallenged. Does my right hon. Friend agree that these clearly antisemitic messages cannot be allowed to continue? Memes are allowed to socialise and water down some of the horrific content online. Can he outline what action the Government will take against not just mainstream social media companies but smaller ones such as BitChute and Telegram, where some of the worst content is shared?
My hon. Friend raises a number of important points. It is not simply an issue of the large international providers; there are smaller ones as well. They all need to be subject to the regulatory regime that we are devising and will legislate for in the online harms Bill. We are taking action as we speak, and the Culture Secretary, the Home Secretary and I are working with those providers to ensure that harmful antisemitic content is seen, identified and removed as quickly as possible.
On behalf of the Liberal Democrats, I would like to add our unequivocal condemnation of all forms of racism and hate speech, including the appalling antisemitic abuse recorded on the streets of London. The Secretary of State has already agreed that we must all actively condemn and confront all forms of inflammatory rhetoric by those with public platforms. Can he expand on how he sees the work of Government encouraging us here and the public at large to get to a place where we can stop such appalling racial abuse and misogynistic hate crimes?
We are taking a number of actions in my Department, and we work with organisations right across society, including faith organisations, to ensure that those perpetrating abuse and discriminatory behaviour of this kind are brought to justice. We want to ensure that we have a tolerant society. We are proud of the diversity in this country, but we also want a united country in which all people feel comfortable and safe. That is why we are taking the actions that we are taking, and why we are working with our hate crime action group and a number of organisations all over the UK to raise awareness and to stamp out this kind of abusive behaviour where we find it.
Today, Jewish people in my constituency and around the world will be gathering to mark the festival of Shavuot, and I wish them all a good and a safe Yom Tov. As the Member with the largest Jewish community outside London, I have been contacted by constituents scared to take their children to shul, due to the appalling scenes of antisemitism on the streets of the UK over the weekend. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that the Jewish community cannot be targeted due to the situation in the middle east, and will he reassure the community in Bury South and across the country that the police will deal with all instances of antisemitism with the utmost severity?
I hope I can provide the reassurance that police forces across the country, including in Greater Manchester, are taking action to ensure that there are patrols and, where there are incidents, that they are investigated and individuals are brought to justice, where necessary. I was very concerned to see the intimidating scenes at the Arndale centre in Manchester, and I would not want to see those repeated. We want to provide protection to my hon. Friend’s constituents, and that is exactly what we will do.
Plaid Cymru has a long tradition of promoting peace over conflict and of standing alongside oppressed people. This includes calling for the human right of people in Palestine and Israel to be able to live in peace. The language we use in politics matters, and everyone seeking peace knows that words used irresponsibly can be twisted into weapons. This week, Jews in the UK have suffered hate speech, threats and acts of violence both on the streets and over social media. Does the Secretary of State agree that the online harms Bill provides an opportunity to protect not only individuals, but groups of people from hate speech that incites such violence?
I think that the online harms Bill outlined in the Queen’s Speech will be an important weapon in our arsenal, enabling us to take action against the virus of antisemitism and other forms of hate speech where they occur online. That is absolutely critical; we find it in many other aspects of our life. That is one of the reasons we pursued the IHRA definition, and have urged institutions to sign up to it, such as councils, universities and, of course, Members of this House. There is more work to be done there, and a particular focus for this Government will now be in universities. Many have not signed up to that definition, and many have done so but not yet put it into practice. We need to see urgent change there.
I welcome and indeed echo the words of the Home Secretary at the weekend in urging the police to take the strongest possible action against those responsible for these horrific and totally unacceptable incidents of antisemitism. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that his Department will work closely with the Home Office to ensure that all those responsible will be held to account and face justice as soon as possible?
Antisemitic crimes, like all those with regard to racism, are serious crimes, and we expect police forces investigating these issues to do so rigorously, robustly and swiftly, and for action to be taken against the individuals if they are found to require prosecution. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is working with the Metropolitan police, and has received assurances from them that they will be doing everything they can to bring these individuals to justice.
Last night, Jewish communities across the country began our celebrations for the festival of Shavuot, and I wish all of those marking it a chag sameach. The scenes of antisemitic and misogynistic abuse yesterday have been incredibly disturbing and have caused significant alarm and distress, coming off the back of a rise in hate crime incidents both online and in physical attacks on and desecrations of our places of worship. I have been heartened by unequivocal condemnations from across society, including by the Muslim Council of Britain and the Palestinian ambassador in the UK, as they recognise that all forms of racism and oppression reinforce one another, that they cannot be fought in isolation from each other and that we all have more in common than that which divides us. What support, therefore, will the Secretary of State provide to interfaith initiatives such as the Warrington Ethnic Communities Association and the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester to help us build solidarity and co-operation across our communities, where a minority of extremists seek to divide us?
I thank the hon. Lady, and wish her chag sameach as well. We are working with a number of different groups that help bridge the divide and ensure that there is greater understanding among different groups in society. There are many such groups, including Solutions Not Sides, and Streetwise with its Stand Up! programme. They are important, but we want other parts of civil society to step up too. The report that Sara Khan produced earlier in the year for the Prime Minister was significant, saying that there is more work to be done by schools, local councils and civil society organisations to take their responsibilities seriously now in rooting out extremism and encouraging a better understanding between different parts of society. That work needs to be done swiftly, and Sara Khan is now part of my Department, independently advising myself and the Prime Minister on how we can take that work forward.
I thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question.
Like many Members, I saw the scenes in north London unfolding on social media and obviously was completely appalled. While those events were unfolding the Metropolitan police tweeted:
“Officers are in the area and are engaging with those taking part.”
I do not wish to condemn the Metropolitan police for one misjudged tweet in the heat of the moment, but does my right hon. Friend agree that that tweet misses the mark entirely and does not take what happened yesterday sufficiently seriously? I welcome the arrests that have taken place, but does he agree with me and the Home Secretary that we need to see the strongest possible action against all those who took part in yesterday’s disgraceful scenes?
Yes, I do. I am grateful for the work of the Metropolitan police, Essex Police and other police forces across the country in recent days and the work they will be doing right now providing reassurance to Jewish communities, but my hon. Friend is right that the correct response to an incident like this is not merely engagement; the Jewish community, like all of us in society, wants to see action against the perpetrators of those offences. That is now happening: individuals have been arrested and those crimes are being investigated.
I think we can all agree with the Centre for Holocaust Education on the importance of education in tackling antisemitism. However, given that a recent survey found that only 37% of young people know what the term “antisemitism” means, what more can the right hon. Gentleman do to ensure adequate funding is made available for education programmes so that future generations are aware of the history and causes of antisemitism?
We have only to look on social media today to see that a very large number of our fellow citizens do not understand what antisemitism is, or else they would not be liking and sharing some of the memes and graphics, which are antisemitic and deeply offensive and are helping to fan the flames of the kinds of incidents we have seen in recent days. The Government are taking action in a number of respects, through the Holocaust Educational Trust, which the hon. Gentleman rightly praises, and the Antisemitism Policy Trust, which is doing work online, and through other works with the Holocaust education centre which we hope will be built near the Palace of Westminster and holocaust museums across the country, such as the Beth Shalom museum in north Nottinghamshire, so that we can raise awareness of these issues and help to debunk some of the myths.
The antisemitism of the weekend has been inflamed by allegations originating with perhaps easily disproved campaigns concerning the al-Aqsa mosque, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of Muslims worship there during Ramadan and Eid. My right hon. Friend has described a lot of what he is going to do, but what more can he do to stop antisemitic mistruths being used to drive a wedge between communities here in the UK?
That is an extremely important point. As I have said, there is work to be done online and in our schools, and there is also work we can do through the creation of new museums and educational institutions such as the memorial that we hope will be built. There is also work for all of us just as citizens of this country, to call out antisemitism wherever we find it and see it, and ensure that there is no immunity—there is no safe space for it in the way that I am afraid many people feel there is today.
Antisemitism, and any other form of racism, is utterly abhorrent and must be swiftly dealt with. Many of us are strong advocates for the Palestinian people, to stop them being evicted from their homes and to demand an immediate end to the current bloodshed, but for racists who parade as allies of Palestine to use this tragedy to fuel antisemitism and misogyny is utterly condemnable. Is the Secretary of State concerned about the possibility of far-right organisations using this to stir further community tensions? If so, what steps will the Government take to address it?
As I said earlier, when we have seen conflicts arise or intensify in the middle east in the past, that has led to an upsurge in hate crimes against both members of the Jewish community and members of the Muslim community. We saw that in 2014. I hope that we are not witnessing a similar situation today, although I think many would say that we are. We need to take concerted action now. That is why it is important that, with your support, Mr Speaker, we are having this debate; that the police provide the reassurance that they are on the streets of our cities in the places where there are Jewish communities; and that where there are incidents against members of the Jewish community or the Muslim community, action is taken very swiftly and in the strongest possible terms.
Having the second largest number of Jewish constituents in the country, I know that yesterday’s events caused great concern to many. The Community Security Trust told me this morning that it had recorded 63 confirmed cases of antisemitism over the weekend, with more cases expected. Most shockingly, that included a Jewish teacher being abused by pupils in the classroom. In the protests, we saw conflation of Jewish identity with Zionism, which ensures that British Jews are physically and verbally attacked for actions that occur in Israel for which they have no cause or control. In a comment echoed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), one constituent told me that many people are asking the same question as before the 2019 election; namely, is there a future for Jewish people in this country? Can the Secretary of State please advise my constituents if there is?
Yes, there certainly is. As the father of three young Jewish girls, I am absolutely committed to ensuring that the British Jewish community feel protected, feel safe and feel that they can continue to thrive in this country. They are our longest-established religious minority. They have added so much to this country over the generations, and I hope that they will do so for many, many generations to come.
I thank the Minister for his statement. I am unashamedly a friend of Israel, and I condemn the antisemitic attacks in London over the weekend and welcome the police response that the Secretary of State referred to. However, does he not agree that headlines such as “Israel launches airstrikes on Gaza Strip after Hamas rocket attacks” may prevent readers from understanding that Israel launched rockets in defence and not first? Does he agree that no resolution will be found if the media continue to stir tension with biased reporting? Further, will he confirm once more, to make it very clear, that Israel has a right to defend herself, and that while we may ask Israel to enter into peace talks, we will never disregard her right to defend herself against any attack?
Let me be perfectly clear: the UK Government believe that Israel has a right to self-defence. The UK Government believe that that must be exercised proportionately and with due regard to civilians. We will ensure, as far as we can, that both sides engage. If there is any route now to bring this to a peaceful resolution, it must be sought, and we are doing that at the United Nations and in every forum that is available to us. But we will also condemn any form of antisemitism that we see in this country. Jewish citizens are citizens of the United Kingdom. They are not in any way responsible for the actions of the Israeli Government, whether good or bad. They are citizens of the United Kingdom; they deserve our complete support, and they have it today.
Yesterday, racists drove past the amazing Jewish community centre JW3 on Finchley Road in my constituency shouting antisemitic hate speech. I am very proud to represent an area with a sizeable Jewish community and several synagogues, but my Jewish constituents are now feeling unsafe in their own homes. Will the Secretary of State commit to ensuring that these hate crimes are punished, and will he provide additional resources to protect community centres like JW3, Jewish schools and synagogues?
I thank the hon. Lady for her work. I appreciate that yesterday’s events played out partly in her constituency, and partly in the constituencies of the hon. Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) and my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer), who would, I am sure, be speaking on behalf of his constituents today if he were able to. We must now ensure that residents of all those parts of London, and indeed elsewhere in the country, have the reassuring presence of police on the streets, and the knowledge that should these events arise again the police will be there to support them and to take action against the perpetrators. We will continue to provide support to the Community Security Trust and other good organisations that help to protect community centres, synagogues, schools and nurseries as far as we possibly can, and money is no object in that regard. Members of the Jewish community have our complete support in the months and weeks to come.
I am glad that Westminster North is home to a large Jewish community. It is also home to the largest Arab community in Britain. Many people, across party, work very hard to ensure community cohesion. That work was undermined desperately by the events yesterday: the spewing of vile misogyny and antisemitism by the convoy that drove through Westminster North, among other areas. The police have acted swiftly with arrests and reassurance patrols, but can the Secretary of State reassure me that that support will continue over the long term, not just over the coming days and weeks? Also, will he urgently review the capacity we have in local government and our civic institutions to build on the work of community cohesion and education, so we can ensure that nothing as vile as the events we saw this weekend will ever happen again?
The hon. Lady is right to say that in London, as in many other parts of the country, relations between the Jewish community and the Muslim community are generally good, and inter-faith dialogue is generally strong. We have seen that very prominently in recent months, for example, in tackling covid-19, where both religious communities have come forward, been incredibly supportive and have worked together. I have seen that myself on many occasions. She is also right to say that councils have an important part to play. I have asked Sara Khan, as part of her work, to provide recommendations to us on how we can provide better advice to local councils on how to spot and tackle extremism; which groups they should not be interfacing with; and, where they do find extremists in their communities, what action they can take to root it out. Extremists should not be able to operate with impunity in plain sight in any part of this country.
I am now suspending the House for two minutes to enable necessary arrangements to be made for the next business.