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Holocaust Memorial Day

Volume 744: debated on Thursday 25 January 2024

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Holocaust Memorial Day.

I thank the right hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi)—who is not in the Chamber—the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for co-sponsoring the debate. Let me also pay tribute to two organisations, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust, both of which devote much energy and time to organising the events that help us to commemorate the holocaust. Without their excellent work, we would not keep alive the memory of those who lost their lives in the Nazi death camps, or indeed those who were killed in other genocides from Rwanda to Cambodia and from Bosnia to Darfur. Without them, our efforts to learn the lessons of history would weaken and fade away.

This is the last time I shall have the privilege of participating in this important debate, but it could not be a more difficult and depressing time to do so. I have just returned from a short visit to Israel. We went to support the people who lived on Kfar Azar, a kibbutz that we had visited in February last year. Many of those living on the kibbutz were people committed to peaceful co-existence with their neighbours in Gaza, but tragically many were killed on 7 October, many who survived are distraught because their loved ones were captured as hostages, and many, especially the women, were treated with the utmost abominable, sadistic cruelty, sexually assaulted in utterly inhumane ways, and then murdered. Israel and its people are experiencing a national trauma and a real, existential fear for their survival, with memories of the holocaust at the heart of their minds; and the same is true in Gaza, with innocent civilians experiencing a similar national trauma, an identical existential fear and a comparable terror of genocide as they live with bombardment, death, injury, displacement, and a lack of humanitarian aid.

So we meet at a deeply depressing time to reflect on the holocaust, with many asking themselves, “When will the world ever, ever, really learn from our past?” But the truth is that we must keep trying. This year’s focus for Holocaust Memorial Day is the fragility of freedom. That theme allows us to reflect on how, by better understanding the past and better understanding how easily freedom can be eroded, we can act today to make the world a better place for those fleeing persecution today.

I want to raise these matters in the context of my own family’s experience. Like others, I lost close relatives in the holocaust: my grandmother, whose last written words to her son, my uncle, were “Don’t forget me completely”, and my uncle, whose wife wrote in a letter pleading for his release, “He’s only a number to you. He’s everything to me.” But I had other relatives who escaped days before the start of the war, and were dispersed across the diaspora as they sought safety. They too were victims of the assault on Jews, they too suffered hugely, and they too should be the focus of our concerns as we commit ourselves to its never happening again.

My grandfather came to England on 29 March 1939. He was 66 and had just recovered from a prostate operation and an embolism in his leg. We have a powerful account of his experiences and emotions in the diary that he kept. He described his last visit to his parents’ graves in Vienna, in tears because he would never visit those graves again. He recalled how his parents, my great-grandparents, visited the graves of their own parents, my great-great-grandparents, in Poland, in tears because they were driven out of their homes by pogroms—a never-ending cycle of violence.

My grandfather described his feelings a few days after arriving in England:

“Because of the lack of language skills very lonely, depressed, cannot memorise, miserable pronunciation. Living like a recluse.”

Even six months later, he said that those who stayed in Vienna

“may have saved themselves from all the horrors and all the difficulties of emigrating.”

He talked about antisemitism in Britain and how it reached up into the Government, when the only Jew in the Cabinet was sacked by Neville Chamberlain. On his arrival in Britain, my Jewish refugee grandfather was classified as an “enemy alien.” That was later changed to “friendly,” but he was still an alien.

At 8.30 am on 27 June 1940, in the middle of a war that led to the death of 6 million Jews, my grandfather was in his bath and there was a knock on the door. He was arrested, removed from his home and interned. He tried to ring his doctor to certify his illnesses but then, as today, no doctor picked up the phone. He was taken to Huyton, in Liverpool, and given a number: “Group number 28/2, number 1428.” He was housed in overcrowded conditions with a rubber sheet, straw and blankets. In the early days, he was not allowed to write or receive letters. The sanitary conditions were dreadful, and the German Jews found themselves housed with German Nazis. His freedom was indeed fragile. Our treatment of Jewish refugees was unconscionable.

Fast forward to my own experience. I came to the UK from Egypt, stateless, in 1949. After the creation of Israel, Egypt became an increasingly hostile environment for Jews. My father had a stone thrown through the window of his office and, with the memory of the holocaust still raw in his mind, he decided to get the family out of Egypt. We were rejected by three English-speaking countries, and the UK finally, to my father’s eternal gratitude, gave our family of six entry visas to this country. My father’s freedom was indeed fragile.

Five years later, we were still stateless and my father applied for British nationality. At that time, my mother was dying in hospital and my older sister and brother were away at school and university, so I was at home with my younger sister. She was six and I was nine. A Home Office inspector came to tea. I remember that occasion vividly as, instead of our usual boiled eggs and toast, we had to eat cucumber sandwiches and fruit cake, which I absolutely hated, having grown up on succulent fresh fruit in the middle east. Worst of all, we were interrogated —two young girls on their own—for a full hour on who our friends were, what books we read and what games we played. My freedom was indeed fragile, dealing with a hostile, not friendly, environment that remains forever locked in my memory.

What do all these stories tell us? My family know, and indeed the families of millions of refugees know, that freedom is never guaranteed. We should understand that how we treat those who escape persecution and genocide is central to our reputation as a country that boasts a humanitarian approach to genocide and the holocaust.

I commend the right hon. Lady for securing this debate and for the tone of her speech. Most of us are proud friends of Israel. I think of what the nation of Israel was put through because so many people would not speak out, and we saw the result in the horrific atrocity that is remembered today. Does she agree that we remember not out of a sense of morbidity, but out of the absolute necessity to ensure that the lessons taught by the slaughter of the Jewish people are learned by people of all faiths, so that it is never permitted to happen again?

I completely share that sentiment expressed by the hon. Gentleman.

As I was saying, we are not as good as we proclaim to be. My grandfather did not feel welcome and I did not feel wanted as a nine-year-old girl. The asylum seekers who try to come here today face a similar hostile environment. They are told by leading Government politicians that they pose an “existential threat” to the west’s way of life, that they are part of a “hurricane” of mass migration, that MPs feel “besieged by asylum seekers” and that asylum seekers are “invading” Britain. We should reflect on what we say and what we do today before we exercise any moral entitlement to condemn the atrocities of the past.

The language we use today matters; the laws and practices of today designed to exclude many of those seeking freedom from persecution, which make a mockery of our commitment to the victims of genocide, matter; the fees we charge for visas today matter; and our refusal today to allow those seeking asylum to work matters. The hostility my grandfather faced in 1938 and the trepidation I felt when subjected to questioning in 1954 echo through the generations. All of this contributes to our credibility in the debate on the holocaust and subsequent genocides.

So before we applaud ourselves for keeping alive the memory of the holocaust, we should think about how fragile freedom was then for those who sought to escape death and how fragile it remains today. We must take responsibility and stand up to genocide wherever it rears its ugly head, and we must protect those who seek refuge in Britain. If we stand by while genocides unfold, or fail to protect those who need it the most, the horrors the likes of which my grandfather, father and even myself experienced will have all been for nothing. Freedom is one of our basic values, so surely we owe it to our children and our children’s children to be able to stand up and really mean it when we say, “Never again.”.

I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) for missing the first minute of her speech. I was trying to get a transcript of the hearing yesterday at the Select Committee on the Holocaust Memorial Bill, when four of the witnesses were Joanna Millan, Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, Dr Martin Stern and Dr Lydia Tischler, each of whom is a holocaust survivor.

Some in the House will also have been present at the holocaust memorial commemoration when the holocaust candles were lit—five of them were lit; I was asked to stand in for someone who had had a transport difficulty; I did the one for those who had suffered at Darfur.

We have been given a good introduction to this debate with the moving speech we have just heard. I hope it will be possible to put on wider record the experience of the four people I have cited, who came as witnesses to the Committee having been produced by Baroness Ruth Deech, who herself talked about how her family had been destroyed in the Nazi holocaust.

We have rightly been reminded that our hands are not clean. It would have been possible for the state of Israel to have been created in the 1930s, and possibly 6 million people would have thus survived. Three quarters of the Jews in Europe died.

I have said in the past how much I welcomed the emphasis that the Holocaust Commission has put on education, which has been followed up by words from the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation. I have said that I had had a vague idea that perhaps 10 of my grandfather’s extended family had died, but we now know that the real figure is more than 110 and possibly more than 120. That kind of education matters. I do not claim to have had the family experience that the right hon. Member for Barking has had, but I think that more of us will know and understand more if we have a personal connection of some kind.

I have spoken in the past about my first cousin once removed, George Woodwark, who was one of the Westminster medical students who thought they were going to help people suffering from malnutrition in the Netherlands, but were diverted to Bergen-Belsen, where they helped to save the lives of two thirds of those who were still breathing at the time of liberation.

On another occasion, we should have a further debate about the controversial proposals for a memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens, but I do not want to disturb this debate by going into too much detail about that now. What I will say is that if people get the chance, they should go to the Holocaust Galleries at the Imperial War Museum and, if possible, read a copy of the book “The Holocaust” produced two years ago by James Bulgin, which describes how things grew.

I will quote a paragraph from the book about Adolf Hitler:

“Hitler’s early years of adulthood were spent pursuing an unsuccessful career as an artist in Vienna. Service in the First World War changed his life, however, giving his aimless existence a new sense of purpose and direction. Radicalised by the shock of defeat, he became convinced that Jews had conspired to ensure Germany’s downfall. These ideas were first introduced to him by soldiers he was convalescing with after being injured during the war. After the war, he was sent to spy on a Nazi meeting, but became enraptured by the message of the movement—by 1921, he had become the leader of the Nazi Party. In 1923 Hitler led an ill-fated attempt to overthrow the government which became known as the Munich Putsch. He planned to take control of the Bavarian state government and then march on Berlin. The uprising was quickly suppressed and Hitler was arrested. He was sentenced to five years in prison for treason, but was released after just eight months.”

That was a decade before Hitler took his National Socialist party—the Nazi party—from doing pretty badly in the last elections in the 1920s to doing reasonably well in the proportional representation elections in 1933. The people who thought they had control of Germany thought they would make him Chancellor as a way of controlling him; they were wrong.

In any education associated with the holocaust—or whatever name people choose to call it, because “the holocaust” is a relatively recent name for the horrors, the terrors and the intended annihilation of a whole people—we need to understand that people can come up in the way that Adolf Hitler did. They may have gone to a meeting, found a small group, turned it into a more powerful one, recruited a private army and started marching around with the aim of taking control. If that sounds familiar from recent events in other countries, so be it.

We have to beware of private militias. We have to give the state a monopoly on resisting the potential of violence, so that it can resist by force those who are behaving dangerously badly. We have to ensure that message is not known just in this country, but in other countries as well.

When I first stood for election, there were about 40 countries around the world that had reasonably democratic political systems, in which people who lost elections accepted the fact they had lost. That number increased to about 80 or 90, while the number of countries in the world rose from about 190 to 210. We are now, I think, going backwards. More people may have a better standard of life, but I do not think they have a better standard of democracy.

The flexibility of people who are willing to use elections as a way of accepting defeat, not a way of guaranteeing victory, matters. We have to have a way of controlling, and if necessary confronting with force, those who would use force to subvert our country or any country, or would try to launch a genocidal attack on a whole group of people defined by their race or religion—or, for those who are Jewish, the overlap of the two.

When there was the attack on 7 October in Israel, on Israelis, someone wrote to me saying, “Why do they keep picking on us?” There are 16 million Jews around the world, but the number would probably be three times higher if it had not been for the holocaust. We have a responsibility to get better education about the holocaust going. We ought to ensure that people do not just get the chance to see an exhibition, but that in virtually all parts of their life, whether geography, history, current affairs or international relations, they understand how people rose to take control of their countries. People should be able take part in something that is different and an alternative.

I understand that I will not always get my way—within my own party, within Parliament, and within the country. I might not always be re-elected. It is important that we learn the lesson that democracy is about trying to achieve a good purpose but being willing to be defeated and to try again, without taking to the streets with guns or going into exile. Even more importantly, we have to ensure that people do not find themselves dead because of other people’s prejudices and very cruel behaviours.

I, too, thank the Backbench Business Committee for making time for the debate. I am grateful for the way in which the application was dealt with. When we went to the Committee, I felt that we were pushing at an open door. Its willingness to find time in the Chamber was exceptionally welcome, because this year of all years it is important that the debate take place right at the heart of Parliament. It would have been no less powerful in Westminster Hall, but it really matters that it is here. I pay tribute to my co-sponsor, the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge). Her speech was one of the finest I have heard in my 22 years in Parliament. It would have been powerful just for her to share her family experience, but for her then to take that experience and draw parallels and lessons for the world today made it a wholly exceptional contribution. She will be remembered and missed in future Holocaust Memorial Day debates.

Next year, it will be 80 years since the end of the second world war. With every year that passes, the act of memorial becomes more and more important. Members can do the maths for themselves: I was born in 1965, 20 years after the end of the second world war. I was born into a world where many of the older people in my community had lived experience of it. They had fought in different parts of the world, or made a contribution on the home front. I grew up reading comics that were rooted in the second world war—The Victor, The Hotspur and Warlordso even in that way there was a context that I understood, which was unavailable to my children, who grew up with comics full of Japanese anime or whatever. If they have children, they will doubtless look at me blankly and say, “Comics? What are you talking about?”

As we get further from the lived experience, and those who survived the holocaust or served in the second world war become rarer, moments such as this become more important. As the right hon. Lady said, the work of organisations such as the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust—I pay particular tribute to the work of Karen Pollock—becomes more important too.

In the community that I represent in Shetland, we have our own story to tell on Holocaust Memorial Day. The Shetland bus was a fleet, or progression, of small fishing boats that went from Lunna and Scalloway in Shetland to bring those who were fleeing persecution and whose lives were at risk in Nazi-occupied Norway to safety—in Shetland, and then in the United Kingdom mainland. When we talk about the Shetland bus, we talk mostly about the work that it did in bringing downed airmen and others to safety, but it should be remembered that no fewer than 350 refugees came to Britain through that route. They were fugitives of the Gestapo. They were not all Jews, but many were. Indeed, I came across an article in The Jewish Chronicle from 2018 that highlighted an episode that I had never heard of. I share it with the House because it is remarkably potent to think of the contribution that my small community, right at the very north of this country, closer to Norway than to London, was able to make in that struggle. It records:

“Individual stories from individual sailings bring a human face to a brave, secret expedition. Just one example is the Bus’ first loss, Nils Johansen Nesse.

After dropping an agent in Bømlo, Norway, Nesse’s fishing boat Siglaos started the return journey to Shetland in dreadful conditions. Aboard were seven passengers rescued from Norway, including three children.

After several hours at sea battling the weather, the Siglaos was attacked by enemy aircraft. Nesse, who held his position at the steering wheel, sustained injuries to the leg and the head.

The boat returned safely to Shetland, but Nesse lost the fight for life, aged 23. Today, on a calm day in this picturesque, close-knit harbour town, it’s hard to imagine such heroic endeavours taking place.”

Imagine them we must, because it is part of history, and part of what brings us here today.

We have to recognise the context of today’s debate: what is happening in the world, and what is happening in Israel and Gaza as we speak. Apart from anything else, we know that the Jewish communities in this country feel so much more at risk and vulnerable than ever, as a consequence of what happened on 7 October. There is a balance to be struck. The focus has to be on what happened—otherwise, we risk disrespecting those who perished and those who survived it, and the families for whom it is a lived experience—but surely the whole point, as others have said, must be to ensure that it does not happen again. That is why when I read stories about a restaurant opening in Jordan called “October 7”, frankly I despair. It is something that has to be called out and dealt with wherever it happens.

As somebody who has massive reservations about what Netanyahu is doing in Gaza—and we can debate that another day—I look with horror at the incipient antisemitism that is creeping up in so many different ways. Let us not forget that antisemitism—something that is wholly irrational but that we never seem to eradicate —was at the root of what happened in the holocaust. The price of it not happening again is that those of us who care about what happened in the past have to be honest, open and courageous in calling it out when we see it starting again. If we wait until it has taken hold, it will be too late.

I am going to talk to the House about my own personal experience of genocide: Bosnia in 1992-93. I was in Germany commanding an infantry battalion in 1992 when I rang my mother. I said, “Mum, my camp is beside this ghastly place called Bergen-Belsen. Do you know, Mum, it has rectangular mounds with signs that say, ‘Here lie 3,000 bodies.’ It’s heathland. It’s a foul place.” She said, “I know, Robert.” I said, “How would you know, Mum? You’ve never been here with me.” She said, “I went there in 1945.”

In 1945 my mother was a member of the Special Operations Executive, in something called the FANY—the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. It was the uniform they put spies into. She had gone there to try to find women who had been caught by the Germans and put into concentration camps. Seventeen SOE women had been killed—they were murdered, not executed. I asked my mother, “Why the heck haven’t you told me this before?” She had only told me that she was SOE a couple of years before that. She said, “Because I was ashamed.” I asked, “What do you mean you were ashamed? As soon as you could, you joined up, you learned to parachute and you learned to fight the Germans. You did your bit.” And she said, “You don’t understand; I was ashamed because genocide had occurred in my generation and we are all responsible.” That is what this is all about. We are all responsible for what happens in this world, and genocide happens so easily.

I did not understand what my mother was talking about until a few months later, when I went to Bosnia as the British United Nations commander. There was one hell of a lot of killing around us. I was appalled. To be honest, I went into a bit of a funk about it. I could not believe what I was seeing. I will not repeat some of the stuff that I saw, but how about crucifixions on barn doors; people scalped; people’s eyes pulled out with implements that are designed just to do that; and women in trees, because they had been raped and had then hanged themselves—they were mainly Bosnian Muslims. I was horrified, and then I felt what my mother had told me about: shame. Why had I not been able to stop this? I had soldiers and arms, and I was representing the great, mighty world forum of opinion, the United Nations. Yet near me, women, children and men were being murdered, stupidly. They were all South Slavs; they just had different religions.

Things got worse. Let me give the example of Ahmići. On 22 April 1993, the European Commission ambassador asked me to try to stop the battles, and I asked how. He said, “I’ll deal with the politics; you deal with the front- lines.” I thought, “You’ve got the good deal, mate.” Anyway, I went to the frontlines. As I went to the Bosnian Muslim frontline up on the hills, above the Lašva valley, a commander said to me, “We are not stopping this battle.” I was trying to stop the battles and bring about a ceasefire. “We are not stopping this”, the commander said, “because at Ahmići village, women, children and men are being massacred.” And I said, “No, that cannot be happening”. I did not think that could actually happen in this day and age. So I said, “Look, if I go there with my men and I discover you are wrong and I come back, will you stop fighting?” He said yes. I came off the hills and went down into the valley. I was with my platoon—about 30 men—and had four armoured vehicles. We were attacked as we drove along the valley by the jokers—Bosnian Croat special forces—but we just ignored them as their attacks bounced off.

As I went into Ahmići, the first thing I saw was the minaret, crippled and broken. It had been brought down. Then I went all the way through the village—it was a linear village about a mile long. When I took my men all the way to the top, I said to Alex Watts, my platoon commander, “Put a section on either side of the road in a sweep position. Let’s go down and find out what’s happened.” I walked down the road with my platoon commander in front of me. We started finding houses that had been destroyed. And then, at one house, the soldiers called me over and asked me to take a look. In the doorway was a man and a teenage boy. They were dead; they had been burned.

Around the back of that house, the men found a cellar. When I went in, I was hit first by the smell. Then my eyes focused and I saw what was in there—it looked like bodies. There were bones and heads—there was a head bent back, and I saw the eyes. I rushed outside and was sick. I thought, “God, how can this happen?” And I was there, with this great UN, the people who are meant to police the world, and I had failed.

I then had to make a decision. My instructions from the British Government—the Ministry of Defence; the politicians—were that I was neutral and was not to get involved; this was not my war. I was there purely to deliver aid. I thought that was appalling. The whole point of the United Nations, I thought, was to stop people dying. So I extended that role a bit. I escorted aid, but if people attacked me, I responded pretty robustly—not me, but my men. My men were great.

Do you know how we had to clear up that village? Do you know what genocide means? It means some poor devils with shovels having to clean it up—in this case they were my bandsmen, who were actually medics. Why did I choose the band to do that? It was because they were slightly older than most of my men. For some reason—I am sure that people will understand this— I felt that 18-year-olds should not be involved in clearing up bodies. I thought that a chap in his mid-20s, perhaps married, with some sort of sanity, should do it, rather than an 18-year-old lunatic—I don’t mean lunatic; I mean a boy, with all the testosterone in him. I also had girls —sorry, that is the wrong term; it’s women these days. You cannot be a girl if you are over 14, as I was told on the course I went on.

I remember this corporal in the band shovelling up the remains of a body, and saying, “Sir, this is Europe in 1993, not Europe in 1943. This is appalling.” I said, “Gosh, yes. Yes.” The next day I found a whole family—father, mother, boy and girl. The little girl, who was about seven, was holding a puppy. They were all dead. They were all in a line, where they had been shot. I said, “Oh, gosh. Pick them up. Take them to the morgue.” We did that. We took them to a morgue. It was horrific. Can you imagine what it is like for our soldiers to see that? All they see is their own family—their sisters. We took this family to the morgue, and I thought, “Well, that’s it. Done.” The next day, I went down that road again. Guess what? The family were back in front of their house. Guess what else? Wrong morgue. They were Muslims; I had taken them to the Croat morgue. I just could not believe it.

We then had the problem of what to do with the bodies. No one was going to deal with them. It was nothing to do with me—I was not meant to get involved in the war—but I had to deal with them, because of the disease, the smell. I got my Royal Engineers—lovely blokes—to dig a big pit, and we made a mass grave. We put about 100 bodies into that pit. Even then, we got it wrong—no one had taught me how to make mass graves—because we put them into the pit in plastic bags, until the International Committee of the Red Cross delegate, who happens now to be my wife, came along and said, “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” I said, “I’m burying people.” She said, “You’re not burying them in plastic bags. That’s not how you do it, ” so she led and my men emptied the bodies out—horrendous.

That happened in Europe and, as the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) said, watch out because it happens elsewhere. This happened in Europe, and we could not understand it. When we talk about the holocaust memorial theme being fragility, I call it the fragility of decency. People’s decency can rapidly be shattered. After all, all those people I saw were normal human beings. I thought—I don’t know why—“To hell with this!”, picked up my satellite phone and rang the Security Council of the United Nations from Bosnia. I got through to the operations room and said, “The Security Council is visiting Bosnia next week. Come and see what is happening out in my area.” I didn’t think anything of it, but next week I was told, “The Security Council of the United Nations is coming to visit you.” I thought, “My God, I must be important” —of course I wasn’t. They came, and I remember saying to the Argentinian Security Council member, “Look, sir, we have to do something about this. This is genocide.” They refused to accept it as genocide for several years. I always called it genocide; it was called crimes against humanity. The definition of genocide is simple, fundamentally: trying to eliminate a group of people for being a group of people that is separate. He said, “I totally agree.”

The Security Council of the United Nations set up the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia within a month. I have given evidence in four trials at the ICTY, and I have given evidence that was difficult. My men found it difficult—your soldiers find it difficult.

If there is a theme this year, it is one that has run along the same lines forever. Genocide occurred not just in the second world war by the way; it extended back well into the ’20s and has occurred repeatedly since. Our job is to highlight the fact that it has occurred. Our job is to make sure that we shout loudly that genocide has occurred in the past, and we like to think that it will not occur in the future, but it damn well will. Let us try to lessen incidents of genocide by shouting as loudly as we can, “Never again”.

What an honour and privilege it is to follow the right hon. and gallant Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). I know he takes this opportunity every year to remind us that the kind of barbarity he saw is ever present in our world and that the only thing to do is to try to bring attention to it and to stop it from happening again. I am truly grateful to him for his personal testimony. I also thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge). What a privilege it was to listen to her speech, too. I am so grateful to her for talking to us about her experiences and the lessons that she and we must draw from them. There was so much she said that was absolutely spot on, and she is absolutely spot on that the language we use today truly matters.

I join colleagues in expressing my gratitude to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust for the amazing, extraordinary and dedicated work they do. At a time when hatred and mistrust are surging, this work is more important than ever. When I reflect on the holocaust, I simply marvel with horror at how ordinary people could herd children, toddlers, babes in arms, women, elderly people and the infirm into a gas chamber to kill them: the industrial slaughter of human beings. They were vulnerable human beings, including tots, who, in the normal course of the world, we would do our utmost to protect, whether they were ours or not. I just fail to comprehend what made ordinary people act in that way, and I fail to comprehend the scale and depravity of the holocaust.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda, so if hon. Members will allow, I shall give a voice to the testimony of Daphrosa, one of the survivors of that atrocity, and put it on the parliamentary record. Before the genocide, Daphrosa lived with her husband and five children. Her husband had a good job as a customs officer, and she had opened her own business, running a bar from the side of their home. They were happy. Her husband would always come home with presents for the children, and they would go out together to the lake—they had fun. They weren’t rich, but they were happy.

For years before the genocide, though, hatred and suspicion—words—had been growing, fuelled by divisive politicians and media incitement. Daphrosa heard the rumours being spread and rumours that her husband was a supporter of the rebels. Discrimination and segregation started to take hold, with shops refusing to serve Tutsis and even some churches refusing to offer the Eucharist to Tutsis. Her husband was scared, but even when trouble was being stirred up in the years before 1994, Daphrosa felt protected. Her Hutu neighbours sometimes drank at her bar, ate her praised chicken and called her grandma. Daphrosa’s Hutu housekeeper promised to protect her. But prejudice against Tutsi people was strong, and the dehumanising bile spread over the radio was powerful enough to turn those same neighbours into killers, rapists and torturers.

When the genocide began, Daphrosa tried to continue with her normal life. On the third day of the genocide, she and her children fled, but her husband was captured and beaten, and she was forced to return home. Her injured husband was sat in a chair in the living room. Daphrosa and her daughters were forced to take off their clothes. The housekeeper who had promised to protect them was the first to take part in their rape.

Daphrosa’s eldest son was called Allan. She remembers him as the model child, clever, with a great future in front of him. Allan tried to stop the rape, but the men beat and slashed him until he died and then threw him behind the chair. They raped Daphrosa and then her daughters. They slashed her breast and they mutilated her. Her husband was forced to watch the nightmare, terribly injured from blows with hammers and nailed clubs. He did not die until the next day.

On the third day of their torment, the militia brought a community officer with them. She took away the children, supposedly for protection, but Daphrosa heard the men joking that the girls would soon become their wives. Daphrosa was left in a home that had become a living hell, with the corpses of her husband and her son. Neighbours coming to the house to loot it simply ignored her plight, stepping over her and even stepping on her.

Miraculously, Daphrosa’s four younger children survived. The two youngest, Innocente and Eric, were taken in and hidden by a neighbour after being removed from the house. The older girls, Aline and Tina, were found alive in the capital Kigali after the war. However, as we know, survival does not mean an end to suffering. Daphrosa, Aline and Tina all fell pregnant as a result of the rape they were subjected to, and they were infected with HIV at a time when medicine was extremely scarce.

Aline’s own testimony tells how she was raped countless times after being taken away from her mother and their home. Not only that, but, after their return, as the only surviving Tutsis from their village, Aline endured further torment from the taunts of neighbours, who spread rumours about how she had been infected. At the time of the genocide, Aline was 14 years old. When she told her story years later, at the age of 25, she was living in despair while her rapists now lived happily with families and children. In her words:

“I have no future. I have no life...”

To be honest, I struggle to imagine how anybody could endure such trauma, and cope with the mental and physical scars of that ordeal. As we know, so many others endured these same terrible experiences, and as many as 1 million Rwandans were murdered in less than 100 days. The scale is truly shocking.

There are many appalling echoes of the holocaust in what was done to Daphrosa, her family and the hundreds of thousands of others. Of course there are differences, but, like the holocaust, the Rwandan genocide was built on decades of institutionalised racism. Like the holocaust, it was fuelled by dehumanising propaganda. Like the holocaust, it was organised and systematic in its brutality and, like the holocaust, the genocide in Rwanda was perpetrated, collaborated with—and resisted by—ordinary people: ordinary people such as Daphrosa’s neighbours who saw what was happening and made horrifying choices about how to respond.

Unlike the holocaust, the Rwandan genocide happened in most of our lifetimes, just 30 years ago. “Never again” rang hollow in 1994. In truth, I fear it rings hollow again today.

It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Ham (Ms Brown), who reminds us of the importance of the experiences in Rwanda. Just as there were echoes of the holocaust in Rwanda, as she shared with us the testimony of that particular family in Rwanda there were echoes of what happened to some of the people in the 7 October attacks: breasts slashed, people raped and brutality taking place in front of families. I thank her for sharing that.

When I used to deliver holocaust education as a secondary school history teacher, I used to put up pictures for my students of the holocaust and those appalling scenes that we all know too well. We used to show the video footage and the pictures of the gas chambers and of the bodies of murdered Jews piled high. Never did I think that I would have the experience in my lifetime of visiting the site of a pogrom and smelling the rotting flesh of Jewish people who had been murdered. That happened for me three and a half weeks after 7 October, when I visited Israel with my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Dr Offord). That is a memory and a trip that will live with us all.

Although in my 14 years in Parliament I have taken a number of parliamentary trips, I have never undertaken a visit that has been more important to me—and important to me in my lifetime, not just as a Member of Parliament. We visited Kfar Aza, the kibbutz that the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) spoke about. It was founded by peaceniks and led by a peace-loving leader, who was also the chair of the regional council and who was picked out and shot by Hamas fighters on his own doorstep specifically because of his leadership of that peaceful group.

At the time of our visit we could still smell the blood and the flesh that was still rotting in that community. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon will attest, we also visited the base where the bodies—or should I say the body parts—were being identified. I do not think either of us will forget the emotions we felt when the doors were opened to where the bodies were being kept in the refrigerators. The wave of smell coming towards us was truly shocking. Having delivered education on the holocaust, I never thought that in my time I would bear testimony and see the bodies and smell murdered Jews. It was a truly horrendous visit, but one I am very proud to have made, and I am pleased to come back here and at least share that experience.

When I delivered that education on the holocaust to year 9 students, what did I teach? I taught them about boycotts and how people were told not to buy Jewish goods and products. I taught them about Jewish community facilities and synagogues being attacked. I taught them about how Jews used to huddle in dark spaces, about how they were held in captivity against their will and about the people shouting on the streets for the death of Jews. I taught them about how children were indoctrinated with hate against the children of Israel.

I am afraid all that is what we are seeing today across large parts of our own country and, indeed, across the west. We now see Jewish products in shops attacked. We have seen Jewish schools in Canada shot at, not on one occasion but on two occasions. We have seen Jewish businesses torched in other parts of the west and, of course, we have had marches on our own streets where people have called for the death of Jews.

It is the same message but in a different era. It is not the brownshirts of the Nazis on our streets or the streets of Europe, parading through screaming and shouting that society needs to be cleansed of Jews. They have been replaced, I am afraid to say, by hard-left activists and associated useful idiots—“useful idiots” is a polite way of describing them—calling for a socialist intifada. They are joined by progressives, LGBT groups and feminists, who would not last a second in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

The cries of, “The Jews are our misfortune” have been replaced on our streets by calls for jihad, calls for an intifada and demands for Muslim armies to rise up and fight Israel. It is no longer Nazis crossing international borders to murder and round up Jews; it is Islamist extremists in Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and, of course, in Hezbollah if it had its way. Those groups are as clear in their intentions to commit a genocide against the Jewish people as Adolf Hitler was in his ramblings. That is not to say that we do not still have a problem with far-right antisemitism and racism—of course we do—but it has now been joined by those sinister groups and alliances of Islamist extremists and hard-left activists.

What was the response to the atrocities on 7 October by some of those people? It was not to come out in sympathy after the events of that pogrom; it was to stand outside the Israeli embassy within hours demanding boycotts of the state of Israel. As I have called out before, I am afraid that even in this place some people have spent a lot of time on their feet criticising the response to the atrocities of 7 October and not a lot of time condemning those actions. We have seen that in the media and civil society. Football pundits and actors who have never uttered a word about Yemen or the 85,000 children killed there, or about Sudan and the millions of people displaced, find time to add their voices and offer us commentary on Israel, sometimes promoting ancient blood libels.

We have even had Members of this place tweeting about an attack on a hospital that never took place. A blood libel; Jewish bloodlust—that is what that feeds into. Some of them never apologised for that, of course. Yesterday, we even had somebody accusing the Prime Minister of having blood on his hands. Who has blood on their hands for 7 October? It is Hamas, and the thousands of civilians who followed those fighters into Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Kibbutz Be’eri and other communities and stepped over the bodies of murdered Jews to loot and pillage their homes. That is who has blood on their hands. Some people in this place would do well to remember that.

I have been attacked for daring to call people out for giving a free pass. I will continue to do that—the bile and hate for me that came up as a result does not bother me, including from people targeting my post on Holocaust Memorial Day with words such as “Zionist scum”. I am a proud Zionist. I have never been prouder to be a Jew or a Zionist. People attack my Facebook page and tell me about the “Zionist rat hostages” and that “Nobody cares about the Jews”—all because I dared to say freely, as I thought I had a right to do in this Chamber, that I thought some people were not contextualising the response of Israel with the events of 7 October and were giving a free pass to terrorists. I will go on doing that, because I will not be silenced by those who seek to bully me.

And from members of the community who would otherwise be screaming and shouting about the gender-based violence that took place on 7 October? Not a peep. Not a word. Why not? Is it just the pressure of people’s inboxes? Is it something deeper and more sinister? I do not know, but I find it hard to understand how that is not called out. Why is that gender-based violence not acknowledged? Why do we not have young people on the streets of this country marching against what happened to those young Jewish women on 7 October? The most brutal rapes, breasts sliced off, people shot and then raped—necrophilia—and under-age girls subjected to the most appalling abuse.

Look at our streets. What do we have? Nazi and Soviet-era propaganda marching down our streets, and it is not being tackled. The police stand by as people call for jihad. They say that it is about context. The anti-Zionist stuff on our streets is directly out of the Soviet propaganda playbook, which itself drew heavily from Nazi propaganda.

Look at what is happening in our schools. Just a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned at Prime Minister’s questions the letters being produced by pupils in our schools that included such phrases as, “I do not believe all Jews are bad”, and a phrase challenging a Member of Parliament on why they believed the western media narrative that Hamas were a terrorist organisation. Where is that coming from? It is coming not from the school but from within communities in this country.

In Jewish areas in this country, we have flags put up illegally that will not be brought down. I, like many hon. Members, have watched the 47-minute video of the slaughter of people on 7 October, and the same flag was proudly displayed on the breasts and lapels of Hamas fighters. That flag is not being removed in Jewish areas because people are scared. Councils are scared to remove them and cannot guarantee the safety of people who take them down. Imagine if we had swastikas up. How long would they last? I am not comparing the two flags—of course not—but in a Jewish area where concerns have been raised about these triggering incidents, something that would be so triggering in a different way would be dealt with very quickly. We have seen that across the west.

What do I want from my Government? What do I want from this country? I want it to stand up for the values that I thought it stood for. I want the right to have a different view without being subjected to threats of violence. I know that many Members of Parliament who have a different view on this have had their offices and inboxes targeted, and have been threatened. Those are not the values of Britain. The values of Britain are that we allow and respect people’s right to have a different view. That is what I want my Government to protect.

I want to feel safe on the streets. I want Jewish people in this country to feel safe coming into central London on a weekend, which they do not at the present time. I want our democratic values to be defended. I want to live in a country in which children are not brainwashed with hate—be it hate against Jews, hate against members of the Muslim community, or any other hate. I want a Government and institutions that stand up and say, “That is not acceptable and we will do something about it”—not just standing up and saying, “We all condemn it,” but actually doing something about it.

I leave Parliament this year. I have never felt more ashamed or sadder about the state of some of our institutions, about our democracy and about people’s right to express their views freely without fear of being subject to violence or threats of violence. That is what is currently happening on our streets—it has happened on other issues as well—and it is dangerous.

In the time that I have, I want to refer to two holocaust survivors I met this week. One is Eve Kugler, who spoke at the Foreign Office event this week. She gave us examples, which are all too familiar today, of growing up in Germany and of experiencing Kristallnacht. Her father was taken off to Buchenwald but, fortunately, the whole family were eventually able to escape. So much of her story and testimony rings true today with regard to boycotts, the smashing of Jewish businesses and all the rest.

I also want to mention briefly John Hajdu, another survivor I met this week. He was born into a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary, in 1937. He shared with me his experience of being hidden in a cupboard by a non-Jewish neighbour. Again, that rings true with 7 October, when Jewish children on those kibbutzim were hidden in cupboards—it did not save some of them, of course. After hiding, John was eventually forced to live in the ghetto. Those who were not taken to concentration camps were forced into about 290 buildings, where at least 20 people lived in each overcrowded flat. He described the situation there as pretty grim, as Members would imagine; his experience was horrific, but fortunately during the liberation of Budapest, he was freed, minutes before the ghetto was about to be blown up

As I recounted those two stories, they made me think that John and Eve at least have one fortunate thing that some of the people who were affected by 7 October do not have: they lived to tell their story. Right now in Gaza, there are Jewish people who do not have a voice—who cannot tell their story. Those are the 136 hostages who remain, and in the brief time I have, I would like to name just a few of them. I would like to name all of them, but I appreciate that that is not going to be possible today.

I think particularly of Liri Albag, Karina Ariev and Noa Argamani—who, as Members will remember, was the young girl on the motorbike, seen pleading to her boyfriend as she was whisked away into Gaza. Her mother is dying and wants her daughter home, but Hamas refuse to release her. I think of Romi Gonen, Carmel Gat, Inbar Haiman, Judi Weinstein, Arbel Yehud, Maya Goren and Doron Steinbrecher. I think of Daniela Gilboa, 19 years old, Naama Levy, 19 years old, and Agam Berger, 19 years old—all women held currently by Hamas. I think of the Bibas family, the ginger-haired family; Members might remember the little baby who turned a year old in captivity, his parents, and of course his brother Ariel.

I think of Omer Shem Tov, the 21-year-old Israeli at the Nova music festival. I met his mother in early November: she was desperate for news about her son and utterly distraught. Of course, he has no voice today in this place, and neither do so many others. I think of Amiram Cooper, 85 years old; Oded Lifshitz, 83; Gadi Moses, 79; and Shlomo Mantzur, 85—people who are not too different from my parents’ ages. They should be at home with their families, enjoying the peaceful life of their retirement and their dotage. Of course, it is not just Israelis who are held: Bipin Joshi is a Nepalese citizen, and Avera Mangisto is a Tanzanian. There are so many other names I wish I could mention—Shlomi Ziv, Tsachi Idan, Matan Zangauker, Andrey Kozlov, Ohad Ben Ami, Sahar Baruch, Uriel Baruch, Ziv Berman, Gali Berman, Rom Braslavski—but of course, I cannot name them all today.

As I end my contribution, those are the people I will be thinking about: the Jews who do not have a voice, who again are being held as Jews were held 80 or 90 years ago, in dark tunnels, in cupboards and in cages, as we have heard. How is this happening again? It is now 2024, and here we are again: Jew hate, which never really went away, is manifesting itself for all to see in all of its gory, disgusting detail.

It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy). I thank the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for securing today’s debate and allowing us to talk about something that has always been important in this House—Holocaust Memorial Day has always been the day on which we remember and recommit ourselves to ensuring that the holocaust does not happen again—but this year, it is particularly important that we are aware of it.

Two things have happened to me personally since the last time I spoke in one of these debates. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland, I am of that generation for whom the holocaust was always history. We were told about it by our parents who had been children during the war and had heard about it. We had no personal experience of it, but information and knowledge about it was everywhere. It was in comics, in the films that we saw and the books that we read, everything from “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank to “Schindler’s List”. We were aware of it, but we did not actually believe that it would or could ever happen again, because we would not let it happen again—it would never have happened in this country anyway, because we would not let it happen. However, since 7 October, I have become increasingly worried that we in this country are just a fraction complacent about the danger that anything like the holocaust, Darfur or Cambodia could happen here.

Just over a year ago, I went to see “Good” with David Tennant in the west end. It is an absolutely wonderful play: it is about a good, liberally minded academic whose best friend is Jewish and who lives in pre-war Germany. He becomes complacent about the Nazis and what they are doing, he gradually becomes seduced and involved, and it has a cataclysmic ending. The other thing that happened was hearing the first reports of what was happening in Israel on 7 October. I was in a taxi on my way to the airport to fly out to a friend’s wedding in Spain, and I remember thinking, “Oh my God, what’s happening? This is horrific.” I had no idea of what was to follow.

A few weeks ago, I was speaking to a handful of students at the University of Glasgow, and we were talking about various issues on campus. They told me that they had been to a debate about an international chain of coffee shops that happened to have an outlet just off campus. It was all very civilised—a chat and a strong debate—and then one of the students, who was Jewish, told me that one of the other students had said, “But it’s only Jews that go there anyway.” I was utterly horrified that a comment like that could be made in a meeting of young people in this country.

That is not the only example. I visited the synagogue in Edinburgh recently, where I heard the concern of ordinary people about what they are experiencing every day. The Jewish students’ association at Edinburgh University is one of the largest and fastest growing in the country, but its members feel completely isolated. Jewish students have written to associations across the country—to every university—asking for support against the antisemitism that they see creeping into their daily lives, and only a handful replied.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the answer is for people to engage with the lived experience of Jewish people and to understand the profound effect that it has on their lives? My constituent Natalie Cumming has written about the experience of her family fleeing persecution, both in Russia and the horrifying experience of her sister, who survived Auschwitz and whose story she retells in her book. That book was one of the most difficult reads of my life and I think that people need to engage with those stories and understand, so that they do not repeat that kind of prejudice going forward.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is about listening to, hearing and engaging with the experiences of holocaust survivors. It is about hearing the direct relating of tales, as we did at Mr Speaker’s ceremony earlier this week, because surveys in America have discovered that 20% of young Americans do not believe that the holocaust actually happened, and something like another 30% believe that the holocaust is exaggerated —that it was a minor event. We are in a very dangerous position at the moment. Antisemitism is creeping in everywhere: we hear of it every day, from people who are finding that it is becoming part of their daily experience, and we are not aware of it. We are all good, liberally minded, intelligent people; how easy it would be for us to get drawn in and not realise what is happening around us—to let it happen. By the time we notice, it would be too late.

A few years ago, I visited Yad Vashem, the holocaust memorial in Israel, and one of the things that struck me is that it is built on a hillside. It is dark, scary and depressing. We hear the tales, we see the remnants of people’s lives that were destroyed by the holocaust and it has an oppressive feel to it. However, as we move towards the end, we see the light at the end of the tunnel, and we come out to a breathtaking view of Israel. At the moment, I feel that we are truly in such a dark spot, and we have to make sure that we do not get trapped and pulled further into antisemitism becoming accepted in this country. We have to remember the light is at the end of the tunnel, and strive for that.

I absolutely and totally agree with the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), and I am a bit shocked by this, because it has come up on me. As a teenager, I lived in a little village in a prosperous agricultural area in the north of the South Island in New Zealand. It was a mecca for European immigrants, who flooded into the area, and the schools were co-educational and multiracial. There were plenty of schoolboy spats, especially on the rugby field, as Members can imagine, but I do not remember any racial aggravation at all.

Most of the men of my parents’ generation were involved in the second world war. Almost all of them served overseas from New Zealand, and when they came back they told stories, including some of the horrific ones we have heard today. Like a typical teenage boy, I got fascinated, and I haunted the village library for appropriate books. Inevitably, in reading them, I read the books on the Nuremberg trials and associated books, and to say I was morbidly horrified would be one of the biggest understatements ever. That was probably capped in 1982 when I saw, at a full-screen cinema, the film “Sophie's Choice”. As a father, that scene of the Gestapo officer walking the wee girl away was the stuff of nightmares, and it would have scarred any parent.

The United Kingdom medical and dental profession is very multiracial. There are a lot of people from the middle east, but also many Jewish people, some of whom I rank not just as colleagues, but as friends. Many are among the best of the profession, with lists of achievements to their name that go across the whole page. Most of them live in north London, and periodically they have made me aware of the progressive rise of what I saw as irrational antisemitic abuse, sometimes associated with violent activity. This activity and violence increased in the run-up to the last election, and then seemed to dull down a bit. To me, however, the Hamas outrage on 7 October—12,000 women, men and children raped, tortured, murdered and beheaded, and some 240 hostages—lit the fire again, as I have seen.

For many of us, this is the stuff of horror, but it has been submerged in the rise of these attacks on Jewish people, including the professional Jewish people in our community. These people have nothing to do with what Israel does to Hamas and no say in that, and what is happening to them is a complete disgrace, with hints of the early days of the Nazis in Germany. The attacks are frightening, and the most vicious, as I had explained to me by a very senior, top-notch dental practitioner, who is an expert on a number of key things and who is treating children—she had tears in her eyes as she was telling me this on Tuesday night—are the attacks on social media. Those attacks are coming on special social media for the profession, so we would assume that every single person writing on it was intelligent and educated, yet the vile abuse on it is ghastly. We are being asked to reflect—and I hope that we do—on whether, as many have said, this could be the thin edge of the wedge. It must not happen again.

I grew up in a household where it was common to hear family members discuss world war two. I knew about Hitler, the Sudetenland, Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill, and I had heard about Barnes Wallis and the Dambusters. To my shame, however, I have to say that I was an adult in full-time employment before I began to understand the meaning of the holocaust. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) for securing today’s debate and for her personal testimony. I also want to commend the other speeches we have heard, particularly the contribution of the right hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart).

My education has been assisted by a few very specific things. One is the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust. I will never forget going with a group of sixth-formers from a local school to Auschwitz one bitter cold February morning. I do not know who was more distraught by what we encountered, these young sixth-formers or me, but it was a total education and it left an impression on me that I will never forget. I am also extremely grateful to Scott Saunders, the chairman and founder of March of the Living, who has done so much to help inform and educate people, particularly about the events in Poland, but also about what happened in the concentration camps. I am indebted to him for helping me to learn that, before the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, there were 3.3 million Jews living in Poland, but by the end of the war, less than 400,000 of them had survived.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, including in highlighting the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust.

Mine was one of those families in Poland. There are now very few survivors left, and I think it is important that we recognise the experience of my father’s generation, or the baby-boomer generation—I went with him and my own children to Auschwitz last year—but also the work of independent researchers and organisations such as the Wiener Holocaust Library in bringing home to us what happened. We have the very last of that living testimony, so we need to encourage all those in the second generation and those research bodies to keep holocaust education alive.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is something of a theme today that we must do everything to remember and to preserve that memory so that people do not forget.

As I have said, Scott Saunders was one of those who assisted me. I also read fairly recently a book about Witold Pilecki. There have been lots of excellent books about the holocaust and about certain aspects of it, but he was the Polish resistance fighter who actually volunteered to go into Auschwitz to gather information about what was happening. That was then given to the allies, and we chose not to act on it. We heard earlier in the debate how we maybe should not always feel so proud of our own record, and I think that is another example of where—with hindsight, admittedly—we should have done better.

Going back to my hon. Friend’s point, the other thing that has really helped me has of course been listening to the testimonies of holocaust survivors. They are all amazing people, but two in particular have had an impact on me: Mindu Hornick MBE, who lives near Birmingham, who was sent to Auschwitz when she was 12 years of age and never saw her mother or her brothers again; and Harry Olmer MBE, who is just an incredible man and an inspiration to anyone who meets him.

When I hear protests about current events in Gaza, I wonder what we have learned. I deplore the killing and the suffering we are seeing there. I want a ceasefire and an end to the killing, an enduring peace and a two-state solution, with Palestinians and Israelis living side by side in recognised and secure independent states. I want that as much as anyone else. But I struggle when I hear marchers, demonstrators and protesters chant “Ceasefire now” in one breath, and “From the river to the sea” in the next. What are they saying? What have they learned, and what are they advocating? Some know well what they are doing, but others need to stop and spend a little more time learning the lessons of the past. They need to reflect on how little their behaviour shows a desire for peace, and how much it is encouraging division and hatred.

I also wonder at the genuinely concerned people who contact me about the deaths and suffering in Gaza but skip over the 7 October attack, and who use with ease terms such as “war crimes” and “genocide” to condemn Israel and the Israelis, but seem to have overlooked an attack on Israeli civilians that was based on torture, mutilation, rape, murder and hostage taking. Some even tell me that the Hamas attack needs to be understood because of Israel’s previous behaviour. They usually show little knowledge that Israel pulled out of Gaza and removed all its settlements there in 2005, in accordance with the peace accords, and was promised in return a demilitarised Gaza that could become something like a Singapore of the middle east. Two years later, Hamas took over Gaza, and it has been a launch pad for attacks on Israel ever since.

The Nazis took people in. They used excuses and demands. They talked about the suffering of the German people. They blamed the Jews. They offered seemingly plausible explanations for their actions, and they lied about their intentions, while laying plans to exterminate 6 million people.

I am, and I always will be, a friend of Israel and the Israeli people. I am not a fan of the current Prime Minister, and I totally disagree with him and others who oppose a two-state solution. I believe such views are an obstacle to peace, and that such attitudes and behaviour risk giving succour to those who oppose the very existence of the Jewish state. But I will not accept the blaming of the entirety of the Jewish people for things I dislike, and I will not demand higher standards of the world’s only Jewish state than we do of any other nation. We need to remember the holocaust, and the way that seemingly decent people resorted to cowardly, wicked and savage behaviour, designed to wipe out the Jewish people. Those who shout for peace and ceasefires but not for peace and reconciliation have not learned those lessons. Their shrill cries and disruption of meetings and events organised by those who will not support them are dishonest and irrational, and show how much more we need to strive to learn the lessons of history, and why we cannot ever afford to ignore real genocide and the events of the holocaust.

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that His Majesty has signified his Royal Assent to the following Acts and Measures:

Post Office (Horizon System) Compensation Act 2024

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2024

Church of England (Miscellaneous Provisions) Measure 2024

Church of England Pensions (Application of Capital Funds) Measure 2024.