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Volume 755: debated on Tuesday 29 July 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the reported rise in anti-Semitic actions across Europe in recent days, what action they are taking to avert such actions in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, the Government are deeply concerned about the rise in anti-Semitism across Europe. We work closely with the Community Security Trust, the police and the Home Office to tackle anti-Semitic incidents that have no place—absolutely no place—in our communities. My department hosts the anti-Semitism working group, which brings together community representatives and officials from across government to ensure a co-ordinated response to anti-Semitism whether at home, abroad or indeed, online.

I thank the Minister for his Answer. Like all Members of the House, he will be aware of the ongoing conflict in Gaza and the terrible loss of life as a result. Does my noble friend agree that it is unacceptable that many opt to use this conflict, instigated by Israel’s need to protect its citizens from lethal rockets, as a pretext for anti-Semitic prejudice, sometimes through the veneer of anti-Zionism by placards and rants in our own high streets, including the recent Mirror article which compared Gaza to a concentration camp? Many Jews in this country feel that their security is threatened and their safety prejudiced. Will my noble friend join me in supporting Muslins in the UK who condemn anti-Semitism wherever it may be found?

On that final point, as a Muslim in this country—a proud Muslim who is proud of his country—I totally condemn anti-Semitism wherever it is found in its ugly guises. I am sure that I speak for all Members of this House, irrespective of faith or belief. As a Government we are, of course, deeply concerned about the continuing violence in Gaza and Israel, and we have called repeatedly on both sides to de-escalate and work towards a lasting peace. The Israeli people have a right to live without constant fear for their security, but, equally, Gazans also have a right to live with dignity and peace, and we are deeply concerned by the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza. It is for all communities, certainly in the UK, to work together, and we are doing so, in countering extremism in all its ugly guises, and in sending a clear message that such bigotry has no place in our country.

My Lords, given that vile anti-Semitic views have now appeared on placards and in chants on British streets, not least in London, will the Minister assure us that the Government are taking steps to protect intercommunal relations in our country? Is he assured that the Government are in touch with the leadership of both the Muslim and Jewish communities? Would he join me in welcoming a very helpful statement from the Muslim Council of Britain two weeks ago, the concluding words of which were:

“We must not let conflicts abroad cause relations to break here in the UK. Jewish and Muslim communities have enjoyed good relations in the UK, and it is vital that is maintained”?

Again, I share the noble Baroness’s sentiments. It is important to look at our great country and see that over time people of different faiths have come to this country and have settled here. Different migrant communities have made this country their own and generation upon generation continue to respect each other, live with each other and build a prosperous nation together. I totally share the sentiment expressed by the noble Baroness, and the Government are working on the ground with people of all faiths and communities. We have invested £8.2 million in the Church Urban Fund’s Near Neighbours scheme; we have invested £1.8 million on the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust; and, more recently, noble Lords will know that we have also launched the Remembering Srebrenica campaign, which recalls the Srebrenica genocide that took place on European soil not so long ago.

My Lords, while fully associating myself with the Minister’s condemnation of anti-Semitism in all its forms, does he nevertheless accept that much anti-Semitism is a reaction to the appalling Israeli treatment of its Arab neighbours in Gaza, Jerusalem and on the West Bank?

Is not the best action that the Government can take to avert such activity to show not only that they deplore such actions as the constant growth of Israeli settlements and the disproportionate reaction of the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza but that they are prepared, with our European allies, to take effective steps to stop them?

My Lords, when it comes to conflict in the Middle East, the UK has three clear objectives: first, to secure a ceasefire; secondly, to alleviate humanitarian suffering; and thirdly, and most important, to keep alive the prospects for peace negotiations—I am sure that all noble Lords adhere to that. They are the only hope of breaking the cycle of violence and devastation once and for all. I can assure the noble Lord that the UK is working closely with the US and European allies in encouraging both sides back to dialogue, supporting the Palestinian Authority and keeping pressure on Hamas and other extremists—and also, most importantly, alleviating the humanitarian consequences of this tragic conflict.

My Lords, I would like to bring this back to the original Question, if I may. At demonstrations in London, anti-Semitic and pro-Hezbollah banners and placards have been freely displayed, with slogans such as, “Hitler was right”. What steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking to ban the use of pro-terror and racist placards at such demonstrations?

The Government totally condemn the use of such placards. Comparisons between the conflict taking place and reviving memories of the tragedy and disgust we all had for the terrible events of the Holocaust have no place in the protests. I am sure that I speak for all Muslims—indeed, for all Palestinians and for all people with sensible thoughts about resolving this conflict. No religion, no faith and no community sanctions such disgusting behaviour; and that is what it is. Placards that invoke any kind of terror against any community have no place in our country.

My Lords, as a grandfather of children at a Jewish school in London that has to be policed, can we hear the Minister’s reaction to the idea that anti-Semitism in Europe is a reaction to what is happening in Israel and Palestine—much as we regret that? Does he not agree with me that this would be rather like saying that the affairs in Syria would cause anti-Islamic feeling in this country?

I have already said—and I say again to the noble Lord—that irrespective of what is happening in the Middle East, there is no place for anti-Semitic behaviour, particularly when it is translated into action of a despicable kind against any community, including the Jewish community specifically. We have to be absolutely clear. Things happen around the world. As to what is happening in Israel and Gaza, we all deplore the loss of civilian life, the tragedy and the humanitarian crisis taking place on the ground. Let me be absolutely clear and perhaps put it into context as a Muslim. The Islamic faith is clear: in such situations you shall protect churches, cloisters, synagogues and all innocent life. That is the kind of message that needs to resonate, not just in this House but throughout the country.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that a year ago, after the beheading of Lee Rigby, the Prime Minister rushed forward to say that Islam was a religion of peace and that Islamophobia must be prevented; and the police made arrests in relation to tweets and demonstrations? Unfortunately, politicians have been in the forefront of making this link between Gaza, anti-Semitism, Hitler and all the rest of it. Will the noble Lord remind the House that the politicians should take the lead in calming down feelings, and that the police should be encouraged to prosecute where appropriate?

I totally agree with sentiments expressed by the noble Baroness. I am sure that we all recognise that we live in a multireligious society, and it is entirely appropriate that the House takes this opportunity to wish the Muslim community a very happy Eid Mubarak.