Question for Short Debate
My Lords, before we begin this debate I will gently remind all noble Lords who have signed up to speak that the time limit is two minutes. If everyone sticks to that, we shall reach all the speakers on the list. So when the clock shows “2”, time is up.
The Government are of course aware of the importance of the issues that this debate will raise. My noble friend the Chief Whip, with the full support of the Opposition Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, has agreed to find time for a further debate to be held in government time later this year. The Government Whips’ Office will write to all those speaking today to confirm the date.
My Lords, I start with a question: why me? Why have I taken it upon myself to bring this debate to your Lordships’ House? After all, I am not Jewish: why should anti-Semitism concern me? To that I answer: anti-Semitism concerns us all. The notion that it is solely a Jewish problem is as dangerous as it is wrong.
History is full of powerful words and actions, but silence can be just as formidable. When we are silent in the face of intolerance, we encourage prejudice. When we are silent in the face of falsehoods, we allow lies to become truth. When we are silent in the face of hatred, then hate will spread. I recall Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous words:
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me”.
What we must understand here is that hate knows no bounds. We saw that in the horrors of the Holocaust, and we see it now with extremist terrorism and the rise of both the far right and the ultra-left. Anti-Semitism is a threat that goes beyond Jewish communities and party politics.
For me, this is personal. As a member of the British Hindu community, I understand the pain that prejudice brings. My family and I came to this country from Uganda more than 45 years ago to escape the brutal dictator Idi Amin. We were welcomed by this country, and the Jewish community was at the forefront in helping us to settle in the part of north London where I live today. For us, the Jews were a positive example of what immigrants can achieve by integrating fully into society. In them, we saw people who not only survived horrific persecution but thrived despite it. Our two communities continue to live side by side and we have a number of commonalities and shared values. We both attach importance to hard work, education, enterprise, family and faith. We also share an unshakable loyalty to the United Kingdom, this great country.
If you want an idea of how much Jewish people value their Britishness, I suggest you visit a synagogue, just as the famous diarist Samuel Pepys did in 1663. You will observe, as he did and as I have done on many occasions, that, during every Sabbath service, the congregation reads out a prayer for the welfare of the Royal Family and the Prime Minister. What greater expression of patriotism and love of this country? What greater testament to the UK’s values of tolerance and compassion from people who have suffered so much throughout history?
This brings me to an important point. Jews have long felt safe in this country. Regardless of what was happening elsewhere in the world, here in the UK—like us—they felt at home. During the Second World War it was this country that took in Jewish refugees and offered them a safe haven. In the last couple of years, with anti-Semitism on the rise in France, Hungary and other parts of Europe, many Jews expressed relief that they were living here and not elsewhere. Even a growth in recorded anti-Semitic incidents in the UK did not dampen the Jewish community’s feeling that they were fundamentally protected by UK values, laws and institutions.
So when my Jewish friends say that they fear for their children’s safety in schools, synagogues and universities; when they are afraid of openly identifying as Jewish, and when they start to question their future in this country, the rest of us have a duty first to listen and then to ask: “How has it come to this? Why has it come to this?” And, most importantly, “What are we going to do about it?”
One of the striking features of anti-Semitism is its capacity to reinvent itself time and again. The former Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, is here and we look forward to listening to him later. He recently described it as a “virus”. Unlike the anti-Semitism of the past, which was rooted in religious and racial hatred of Jews, modern anti-Semitism is expressed through the anti-Israel and anti-Zionist movements. How many times have we heard that the problem today is not with Jews but with Zionists? Yet the connection between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism is not always understood.
Zionism is the proposition that the Jews have a right to their own state in their ancient homeland. Anti-Zionism advocates the opposite. Present-day anti-Zionists also believe that the Jewish state is not only illegitimate but should be dismantled. They argue that they are simply standing up to colonial oppression and for human rights and that it has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. But would they also, on anti-colonial and humanitarian grounds, question the legitimacy of the USA, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Australia and most modern states in the Middle East—countries created through colonial intervention? Would they question the legality of practically the whole of Europe, the borders of which were shaped, destroyed and redrawn through centuries of war? There are many Hindu, Christian and Muslim countries across the world, but just one Jewish state. Why is Israel—this tiny strip of land the size of Wales—singled out for criticism with so much intensity and loathing?
It is important to emphasise that criticism of the Israeli Government is not anti-Semitic. This is healthy democracy. I am a Zionist and, like many of the most passionate Zionists I know, I am also a critic of Israeli policies. But here is the crucial difference. Once you begin to challenge a country’s right to exist; once you take to marching in the streets and on university campuses, calling for boycotts of anything and everything to do with a country; once a whole country becomes the subject of your obsessive hatred; then you have to ask yourself honestly, what is your motivation? Is it purely a moral reaction to the unjust policies of a Government, or are you driven by a deeper hostility? Is it a coincidence that every time there is a flare-up between Israel and the Palestinians, there is a spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK?
Look up Israel on social media and you will be shocked to see the level of hate directed against Jews. There are phrases such as,
“Zionists controlling the media, financial institutions and foreign policy”,
It is not long before you find yourself in Holocaust-denial or blood-libel territory. Both of these are integral to myths of Jewish power and influence. They are part and parcel of conspiracy theories that blame Jews for all that is wrong in the world. These age-old anti-Semitic tropes have found a new audience in both the far right and far left of the political spectrum. Whether it comes from the left or the right, make no mistake: today the word “Zionists” is code for Jews. Jews have long suspected it. Anti-Zionists have always known it. Recent events have exposed it.
So what can be done? First, it is essential to uphold the great effort which took place after the Second World War to ensure, through our Government and the rule of law, that anti-Semitism in all its forms will never be tolerated. Secondly, the Government must not allow the passage of time to soften our resolve against anti-Semitism. There is a generation of young people who did not grow up with the same awareness that many of us have of the Holocaust, but they are politicised in other ways. They must understand that hatred of Jews—hatred of any community—is a danger to us all.
As many noble Lords know, I am not a career politician or an activist. When I joined your Lordships’ House eight years ago, I could never have imagined that I would be standing before you in 2018—in living memory of the Holocaust—speaking about the hatred of Jews in this great country. But it is happening now and I will not go down as one of the good men in history who stood by and did nothing. I refuse to bear witness to hatred as it eats away at our social and moral fabric. I will stand up for my Jewish friends who love this country; who have given so much to this country and who ask for nothing more than to feel protected. All of us—Hindus, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and those of no faith—must stand up and speak out for the oppressed, whoever they are and wherever they are. As Pastor Niemöller warned, if we do not look out for each other, no one will look out for us. I stand here today to say, loud and clear, “Enough is enough”.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Popat, for introducing this debate, for his outstanding speech and for his solidarity. As a Jewish Member of this House, I am proud to describe him as my noble friend.
How did things get so far that recent polls have shown that nearly 40% of Jews in Britain feel so uncomfortable that they are thinking of leaving the country? Close to 90% are convinced that the leader of a main political party is an anti-Semite, as does a staggering 39% of the general public. How is it that a part of the UK no longer feels that a party which has always stood up for justice, liberty and progress is the one to which they can entrust their lives and those of their children? They feel this so intensely that many are considering emigration.
Since the Second World War, the Jewish community has been alert to all manifestations of anti-Semitism and, more latterly, to the particular threat of terrorism. I have always felt that the acts of solidarity and the breadth of the coalition against such manifestations of anti-Semitism have demonstrated the very best of Britain. In the 1980s, I felt what others had felt before, not just the conditionality of the far left—not of the Labour Party but the far left—but its movement to embrace aspects of anti-Semitism. I felt it on campus, with the banning of Jewish societies and even with the actions, in 1994, of some student activists who bombed a Jewish community centre in north London—an act which singlehandedly transformed the view of the security of this community.
In 1984, an anti-Zionist Jew, Steve Cohen, wrote a book calling out the far left for its anti-Semitism, called That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic. I commend it to everyone. It is as relevant today as it was then. Far too few of the non-Labour Party left were prepared to accept it then. But it illustrates a direct line, the politics of which have entered the Labour Party en masse and are now causing this current crisis. That crisis has never been gripped since the start of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and it has, over the summer, placed his position—his record, his views and his conduct—at the heart of it. It astounds me that it is a revelation no longer worthy of questioning that I too believe that the leader of my party, Jeremy Corbyn, has been a perpetrator of anti-Semitism.
How to solve this? It is hard to be positive. The leader of my party needs to reflect carefully on this. The deniers, those who seek to try and throw Israel and the Palestinians up as a smokescreen, who whip up unrelenting hostility and target those who show the noblest instincts of fighting for their legitimate rights or for acts of solidarity—may they be shamed by their indifference and understand that they are no more than perpetrators themselves.
This is not an organisational problem but a political one, and the approach of the party since the shameful Chakrabarti report and up to today will not be enough. Do not blame the victim. It hampers our party because it is a problem of our party.
The time up to the Labour Party conference is time for reflection and I hope to hear something meaningful and transformational, not just about anti-Semitism but about the place of everyone in society. Without that there will be an increasing view that the way that the Jewish community—my community—is treated is the canary in the coalmine for others.
My thanks also go to the noble Lord, Lord Popat.
Anti-Semitism is not new but recently has achieved publicity beyond the Jewish media. On Monday and Tuesday I attended my synagogue to celebrate Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. There was a strong security regime in place, consisting of trained members of the community plus professionals from CST—the Community Security Trust. All wore protective vests. The synagogue has a gated security fence. Security is not paranoia but is part of providing security for Jewish communal life, be it at synagogue or school, in old age homes or in other buildings. There is a great fear of anti-Semitic attacks. I declare that I am on the Advisory Board of CST, which is inspirationally chaired by Gerald Ronson. I will give a couple of typical examples. Vandals targeted Urmston Jewish Cemetery in Manchester, shattering 30 headstones. Anti-Semitic graffiti was daubed on the Etz Chaim Synagogue in Leeds.
Can the Minister confirm that the Government will continue to contribute to funding this vital CST service, not just on an annual basis, and that banners at marches and demonstrations must be controlled to prohibit words of hate, such as the dreadful banner saying “Hitler was Right”? Can he confirm that the Government must prosecute with the full force of the law hate crimes against the Jewish community wherever it occurs, be it in the UK or indeed abroad: the desecration of cemeteries, graffiti on synagogues or other buildings, verbal abuse and denial of the Holocaust?
Anti-Semites must not be able to hide their hatred of Jews. The vile outpourings of anti-Semites on Facebook and Twitter and on other social media must be stopped, and if the service providers do not stop them they should be made to do so by statutory means. Service providers should suffer significant fines if they allow anti-Semitic vitriol to go unchecked. To allow expressions of anti-Semitism on social media, on our streets or in any other public place must be made legally unacceptable.
My Lords, I am so grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Popat, for initiating this debate, and I want to explain why. The greatest danger any civilisation faces is when it suffers collective amnesia. We forget how small beginnings lead to truly terrible endings. A thousand years of Jewish history in Europe added certain words to the human vocabulary: forced conversion, inquisition, expulsion, ghetto, pogrom, Holocaust. They happened because hate went unchecked. No one said stop.
It pains me to speak about anti-Semitism, the world’s oldest hatred, but I cannot keep silent. One of the enduring facts of history is that most anti-Semites do not think of themselves as anti-Semites. “We don’t hate Jews”, they said in the Middle Ages, “just their religion”. “We don’t hate Jews”, they said in the 19th century, “just their race”. “We don’t hate Jews”, they say now, “just their nation state”.
Anti-Semitism is the hardest of all hatreds to defeat because, like a virus, it mutates, but one thing stays the same. Jews, whether as a religion or a race or as the State of Israel, are made the scapegoat for problems for which all sides are responsible. That is how the road to tragedy begins.
Anti-Semitism, or any hate, becomes dangerous when three things happen. First, when it moves from the fringes of politics to a mainstream party and its leadership. Secondly, when the party sees that its popularity with the general public is not harmed thereby. Thirdly, when those who stand up and protest are vilified and abused for doing so. All three factors exist in Britain now. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. That is why I cannot stay silent. For it is not only Jews who are at risk—so too is our humanity.
My Lords, for some reason, anti-Semitism is the one intolerance, the one form of bigotry, that now dares, once again, to speak its name. I thank my noble friend for reminding us of the need for eternal vigilance.
As a founder, supporter, trustee and now vice-president of the Holocaust Educational Trust I am always eager to raise awareness of our vital work here in the UK, including our celebrated outreach programme, which sends Holocaust survivors to schools, colleges, universities and organisations throughout the year. It is often a life-changing experience to hear first hand about where hatred can lead, and about the dangers of allowing incendiary language to go unchallenged—and I speak as an avowed supporter of free expression. We have also, so far, taken more than 40,000 students and teachers to the former concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. We also boast of an impressive network of over 27,000 ambassadors, who help to take our message to their own generation and the next, and we educate over 1,500 teachers every year on their teacher-training programmes. As the Holocaust inevitably begins to fade from first-hand memory, and as anti-Semitism suddenly rears its profoundly ugly head once again, the trust is increasingly involved in the broader cause of combating anti-Semitism. That is a regrettable necessity.
I join all colleagues in this House in saying that the message must go out from this place today that there is no place for anti-Semitism here—now, tomorrow, or ever again.
My Lords, in a recent interview, my noble friend Lord Sacks said that,
“the hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews”.
Anti-Semitism is a virus that singles out Jews but which then spreads its hateful contagion to other minorities and to vulnerable groups, who are all too easily scapegoated. The noble Lord, Lord Popat, reminded us how Pastor Martin Niemöller, having failed to speak out against the rise of Nazism, described how a democratic nation with, nominally, millions of good citizens, succumbed to the virus of anti-Semitism, paving the way for the Holocaust. One who of course did speak out was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was executed by the Nazis. He famously said:
“Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act”.
Never let that be said of any of us.
There is an urgent need to confront anti-Semitism and to ensure that vibrant and inspiring educational learning hubs are created that challenge the rising generation to see the link between the Holocaust and contemporary forms of genocide, and to see the links between anti-Semitism and racism. As recent events have underlined, we must urgently redouble our efforts in combating this hateful virus that, yes, invariably begins with the Jews, but never ends with them.
My Lords, as we have heard, there is a need for constant vigilance to ensure that anti-Semitism plays no part in the life of our country. To continue its determination in this aim, the College of Bishops of the Church of England, building on 75 years of friendship marked by the founding of the Council of Christians and Jews, has adopted and adhered to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism, including all examples without qualification or exception. This is in the context of our conviction, which I trust will be affirmed today by Her Majesty’s Government, that anyone involved in political, spiritual or national life should reject all language and activity that leads to prejudice, stigma or hatred towards people on the grounds of their religion, culture, origins, identity or beliefs. This includes issues related to those we are discussing today, such as Islamophobia.
Continuous, intentional effort is required in achieving and maintaining these standards, recognising the failures of negative stereotyping in the past, which the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, mentioned in his remarks. A further report on the theology of Christian-Jewish relations is in preparation, led by the Bishop of Lichfield. Recent public conversation between the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Chief Rabbi is evidence of mutual commitment to justice, safety and friendship. In practice, this means not talking about people but talking with them. As we have heard, it does not preclude constructive criticism of the policies of Israel, but demands appreciation of and participation in solving intractable issues together.
In my own context of Birmingham, with rabbis and imams of many different traditions, helped by some programmes supported by the Government—which, I hope, will continue—we are learning to live together across all faiths and none as good neighbours, disagreeing well and using the highest standards of language and attitude for the common good of all. I hope this year, and in years to come, we can say, “Happy and peaceful Rosh Hashanah”.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Popat, for bringing the debate to the House but my understanding is that the current Government have a clear policy against any form of racism. The real question should be put to the leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. The Labour leader allowed the issue of alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party to ramble on for months.
What kind of leader is he not to take his party by the scruff of the neck, make it see sense and kill the matter off once and for all? He should terminate the obsession of the hard left with Israel and Palestine and focus on far more pressing matters, such as Brexit and jobs. Labour eventually adopted the IHRA but, from what I hear, Mr Corbyn tried to add an 11th-hour rider, which resulted in hours of debate among his own people; people such as Peter Willsman, who once accused Jewish “Trump fanatics” of fabricating allegations of anti-Semitism. What a complete and utter clown; everyone knows no Jew in the UK in their right mind would be a Trump fanatic.
Mr Corbyn allowed matters to ramble on because, frankly, he does not give two hoots about what Jews in the UK think. He simply does not care. Of some 250,000 Jews in the UK, let us say 220,000 may be eligible to vote. If it comes to an election, 220,000 votes are a drop in the ocean. We mean nothing to him. Perhaps Mr Corbyn has taken a leaf out of the aforementioned Mr Trump’s book in alluding to support for issues which he believes that a lot of the voting population are also thinking about.
We are all familiar with the expression, “There is no smoke without fire”. My request to the UK Government is to extinguish the flame, and use all efforts to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn does not become the leader of our country. That would be the day Britain died.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Popat, on this timely debate. I am the UK delegation leader for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. I was part of the team that persuaded the IHRA to accept this definition. It was necessary because anti-Semitism in all its forms is growing right across Europe; it has been accelerated by the growth of ultra-nationalism and its marriage to social media. It is also necessary because of the way that anti-Semitism has changed and adapted. In particular, it now hides behind, for example, criticism of Israel or support for Palestinian rights. It is less obviously hidden by attacks on Zionism. The repackaging of these old anti-Semitic tropes is perhaps the most horrible aspect of this. Even the blood libel has been repackaged and reworked for a modern audience. It is all designed to make Jewish citizens feel uncomfortable. We might suggest that they lack irony; that they are not capable of understanding the culture of their own country; that they somehow have an alliance to another country outside the United Kingdom.
We have seen in Europe what happens when the Jewish community is taken out of a country and seeks to migrate elsewhere: the very heart of that country is removed. I certainly believe that the Jewish identity is a fundamental part of the British identity. Without a vibrant Jewish community, this country would be a lesser place. As my noble friend said: enough is enough. Let us stand by our Jewish friends.
My Lords, in admitting that anti-Semitism today is characterised largely by hatred of Israel, the calls for a one-state solution are straightforwardly calls for the persecution, if not the destruction, of six million Jews living in Israel. History shows that when Jews are in a minority and do not have their own state—especially when they are in a minority in a Muslim state—they are subjected to persecution, expropriation and, ultimately, expulsion and killing, as happened across the Middle East in the 1940s and earlier. The disproportionate number of Israel questions in this House is not healthy, nor is it effective in any way in the pursuit of peace. It beggars belief that anyone should go on the radio to say that the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, does not know what he is talking about when he addresses racism.
The Government should be commended for setting aside £50 million for a Holocaust Memorial and Education Centre but I am concerned that this might go wrong. There are already a number of Holocaust exhibitions and memorials, for example at the Imperial War Museum, in Newark and in Hyde Park. Sadly, the proposed siting in Victoria Tower Gardens is arousing opposition, in part, but not wholly, justified by the small location. Controversy is exactly what one does not want to surround a venture such as this, which needs to start with acceptance and reverence. The winning design must be obviously Jewish; it has to have something that strikes the passer-by as pertaining to this important issue. The exhibition that will go with it must include the origins of and the need for Israel. Only by studying anti-Semitism over the centuries, and its continuation today, can one understand the need to support and celebrate the establishment of Israel. Children need to learn that at school in Holocaust education. Had Israel existed in time, there would have been no genocide.
My Lords, I had an opportunity to discuss this Motion with my rabbi, and we both agreed that the law is pretty robust. So where does all this anti-Semitism come from? It comes from long-established prejudices and the modern polarisation of identity.
Yes, there are religious prejudices, as the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, told us, but people still believe there is a vast Jewish conspiracy against working people and the establishment. Yes, I too find it difficult to believe, but occasional incidents remind me from time to time that it still exists.
The identity prejudice is due to mixed loyalties, because some people look upon Israel as a sanctuary from persecution. The harnessing of emotion, prejudice and identity for political purposes, particularly by the extreme left and the extreme right, has a long history, but not only as regards anti-Semitism, as the noble Lord, Lord Popat, told us. It has become more so as our politics have become more polarised.
In these circumstances, the Government’s responsibility is not to pass laws but to create a positive atmosphere in which citizens will feel confident enough not to need to pick on minorities, to go to extremes or to feel that their prejudices have been confirmed. The cross-government working group on tackling anti-Semitism helps to create this atmosphere, but they must be more robust in condemning prejudice and anti-Semitism.
We also need to review the all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism. Many of its recommendations have been implemented, but some have not. There are also recommendations from the Antisemitism Policy Trust, particularly relating to cyberhate, and these are important. The issue of anti-Semitism on campuses has been frequently raised in your Lordships’ House. The Community Security Trust does excellent work, as the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, told us, but this needs to be continually acknowledged and supported by the Home Office.
However, we can all play our part in creating a more positive atmosphere and environment by speaking up against anti-Semitism and prejudice whenever we come across it.
I was privileged to chair the 1994 Runnymede Commission on Antisemitism. The title of our report was a phrase from Conor Cruise O’Brien—A Very Light Sleeper—and that, I am afraid, is all too apparent at the moment. The light sleeper has started to stir and wake up, as we have heard very powerfully in this debate, for which I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Popat.
For nine years, I chaired the Council of Christians and Jews, which encourages Jews and Christians to work together against anti-Semitism. We found of course that the subject that we had to discuss with sensitivity and care was always the State of Israel. I have always found some words of an American scholar helpful. He studied all the statements of Christian churches since World War II and summarised the minimum consensus as follows:
“Because the state of Israel is in part the product of the ancient and living hope of the Jewish people and is of deep concern to almost all Jews, disregard for its safety and welfare is incompatible with concern for the Jewish people”.
I repeat: disregard for the safety and welfare of Israel is incompatible with concern for the Jewish people. But of course that concern for its safety may very well go with a critique of the policies of a particular Israeli Government, as we have seen quite dramatically recently in the statement of Dame Margaret Hodge.
There are some other words that I have always found extremely salutary, and it may be that other of your Lordships will also find them helpful:
“Pray not for Arab or Jew,
for Palestinian or Israeli,
but pray rather for ourselves,
that we might not
divide them in our prayers
but keep them both together
in our hearts”.
My Lords, as I have grown up in this wonderful country, I have never understood how the Holocaust could have happened. My family fled Nazi persecution and I would not be here today had they not done so. I am grateful to this country for having welcomed them. I never understood how European citizens could turn on friends to the extent of being willing to murder them as aliens. This was beyond my comprehension, until the last couple of years. Before that, I had blindly believed that it could not happen again and certainly not here in the UK.
Of course there will always be anti-Semitism and hatred on the fringes of society—minorities filled with hate towards some “other” or someone “different”, perhaps because of their skin colour, their sexual orientation or whatever—but western society seemed to have made huge strides since World War II in eradicating and outlawing such discrimination. For the entire post-war period, Britain has been increasingly an accepting society—until now. All Governments in power in my living memory have been tolerant and welcoming of Jews. I have never felt any threat to my chosen religious beliefs, until now.
I say from the heart that this Government have done much to support the Jewish community. This party on these Benches has shown me absolute tolerance, respect and welcome as a religious Jew. Yes, more is needed to curtail the hatred spread by social media and the hatred still found on university campuses, but the hatred that seems to have spread through political discourse much more recently is truly frightening. I urge noble Lords on all sides of this House to take note that one of our mainstream political parties is led by an anti-Semite.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Popat, for calling this debate and for speaking up. As Edmund Burke said, all it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to be silent.
My Lords, nearly 50 years ago, I was sitting as the most junior member around the board table of a children’s charity. Discussing a problem that had arisen, a more senior member remarked that we should have known better than to employ “a scheming little Jewess”. Pretty shocked, I said that as a Jewish woman I found that remark unacceptable. There was an embarrassed silence and eventually the meeting continued. However, the point of this story is what happened next. At the end of the meeting, the chairman came up to me not to express support but to ask me to apologise to the woman who had spoken. She was an important donor to the charity. He said that I had offended her and that my remarks could harm the organisation. It was my comment, not hers, that was seen as the problem.
I fear that there are parallels half a century later. Those who call out anti-Semitism are themselves accused at best of hypersensitivity, at worst of disloyalty. A dismal absence of principled leadership has unleashed a second wave of abuse against those who challenge anti-Semitism, and Labour MPs who tell it as it is are being punished in their constituencies. As others have said, it is time for the leadership not only to speak out but to act.
However, standing up to racism of whatever variety requires more than action from the top, necessary though that is; it requires individual action and responsibility from each of us, whether the insult is directed against us personally or not. Returning to my story, I would argue that the blame lay not simply with the chairman, pusillanimous though he was, but with every other member of the committee, who said or did nothing. That is why I want to salute the noble Lord, Lord Popat, and every other non-Jewish member of this House who has stood out against anti-Semitism today.
My Lords, perhaps I may observe that we are slightly slipping with time. It is important that other contributors have a fair shot and that the Minister has proper time to address the points raised. I invite the co-operation of the remaining speakers to stop when the clock shows “2:00”.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Popat, for the opportunity to join others in reassuring the Jewish community that they are greatly valued for all that they are and all that they represent. I have many Jewish friends, one of whom has been my adviser for years. I greatly admire their hard work, their sense of humour and their loyalty to this country, and the many contributions they have made to science, music and the arts, as well as their emphasis on the importance of the family.
The Wolfson Foundation illustrates the impact that the Jewish community has had on the United Kingdom. The charity was set up in 1955 by Isaac Wolfson. He came from a Jewish refugee family fleeing the pogroms of eastern Europe in the 1890s. His is a classic rag to riches tale: from the Gorbals of Glasgow to creating vast wealth through retail. His motivation in the 1950s was simple: he wanted to give back to the society that had helped him and his family.
Today, the Wolfson Foundation is worth nearly £1 billion, having given away nearly £2 billion in real terms in the intervening years. The foundation continued to flourish under Lord Wolfson, Isaac’s son, and does so now under Lord Wolfson’s daughter, Dame Janet de Botton, who has proved to be an outstanding and very generous chairman. I am privileged to serve as a trustee of the foundation. The foundation gives away £35 million every year. There is no community in the United Kingdom that has not been affected by the foundation’s giving—to hospices, health centres, churches, and so on. All that is due to one Jewish family who found refuge in Scotland. As Isaac Wolfson used to say, “Not bad for a boy from the Gorbals”.
My Lords, during the past few weeks members of the Jewish community, including MPs and Peers, have been subjected on social media to the most abhorrent and abominable abuse. I condemn this abuse and express my sympathy for the Jewish community. That community’s contribution to all areas of British life has been greater than that of any other and its members have been at the forefront of the struggle against racism. I cannot think of any piece of race legislation passed during the past 40 years that has not been the creation of a member of the Jewish community. Like the noble Baroness who spoke a little earlier, I find it very puzzling that the Holocaust should have happened at all, in Europe, in a country which was highly civilised, only 80 years ago. As somebody who grew up in India, I find it very bewildering and puzzling, but there it is.
I would like to provide some balance, given that the Labour Party Benches are a little under-populated—partly as if there is a sense of guilt. But there is none and I suggest that the Labour leadership’s handling of the whole controversy could have been much more expeditious, much more public and much fairer. There is no reason why the leader could not have written an article or given a major speech, in which he could have explained why he found the definition unacceptable. What prevented him from saying that? In the absence of that, there were a few remarks here and there, and then a complete vacuum. I wish, therefore, that Labour had been more active, not just in making soundbites but in explaining more fully what the definition would not allow him to say. Nobody is going to say that that definition, or any definition, is perfect—no definition is. In this particular case, in fact, the Home Affairs Committee report on anti-Semitism says that the definition needs to be changed and has made two amendments to it. The Labour leader was right to suggest that the definition should be changed, although not necessarily the amendment that he was proposing. However, not to have explained why was certainly unacceptable.
What worries me most, as a Labour Party supporter, is simply this: in the course of this controversy there has been an unfortunate polarisation between the Jewish community on the one hand and the Labour Party, or the left, on the other. That is most unfortunate. It is unfortunate, first, for the Jewish community, because one day Labour will come to power, as I am sure it will; and, secondly, for those in the Labour Party who have close friends in the Jewish community and would not dream of anything happening to that community. I therefore suggest that the time has come for both sides to stop polarising the issue and to develop friendship and trust in a spirit of mutual understanding and forgiveness. In the heat of the moment, both sides may have said things that they regret, and therefore the time has come for reconciliation.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Popat, for this timely discussion. I rise to express my personal outrage at recent events and my commitment to fighting the woeful and wilful ignorance that is anti-Semitism, which I fear may never die but must be called out for what it is, wherever and whenever it occurs. I rise also to express my quiet pride in two of my forebears, both of whom were Members of your Lordships’ House.
My great-grandfather, Stanley Baldwin, appalled by the Kristallnacht, launched the Lord Baldwin Fund for Refugees in December 1938. In eight months it raised £522,000—slightly over £34 million in current money. It is rightly regarded as the most successful UK public appeal of the interwar years and it resulted in the arrival of many of the Kindertransport children—one or two of whom are also Members of your Lordships’ House. My grandfather and namesake was the senior officer in the Judge Advocate-General’s office responsible for overseeing all war crimes trials in British-occupied Germany between 1946 and 1950. What he experienced led him to write the first factual description of the Holocaust, in The Scourge of the Swastika—which is still in print, I am ashamed to say, after 64 years.
I have just reread Martin Gilbert’s searing and definitive book, The Holocaust. It haunts me, and I defy others not to be similarly affected. It is for us to continue to call out anti-Semitism, wherever it festers, in all its malignity, malevolence and mendacity.
My Lords, what a splendid address by my noble friend Lord Popat, spelling out the great shared values of the Hindu and Jewish communities. I am humbled by and proud of the contribution to mankind of the Jewish people, from their very early history through the dispersion to the present day. Of the 892 individuals who have been Nobel Prize winners since its inception, 201—22%—have been Jews or of Jewish descent.
On Sunday 18 November, the Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women—AJEX—of which I have the honour to be president, will be marching in its annual Cenotaph parade, as it has done since 1934. In the First World War, more than 50,000 British Jews served, out of a community of 350,000. Likewise, in the Second World War, 60,000 served. A further 30,000 Jews who lived in the British Mandate for Palestine—now partly Israel—volunteered to serve this country. Very large numbers were killed and wounded in both wars and a significant number of Victoria Crosses, DSOs and other awards for bravery and distinguished service were awarded. I intend to lodge this information in the Library.
In the prayer that is used in synagogues for the Royal Family, the present Chief Rabbi introduced the following words: “May God bless and protect Her Majesty’s Armed Forces”. I, and unquestionably those in AJEX and their families, as well as those serving today—and, indeed, the vast majority of the Jewish community—would totally disagree with the view that many would leave this country if Corbyn got to power. We are proud British Jews. We will fight with all the weapons that a great democracy such as ours will allow us to use. What is splendid is that people such as the noble Lord, Lord Popat, all the other Peers here today and vast numbers of the British people would be alongside us in such a fight. It goes without saying that, like the Popats of this world, we Jews would also fight just as strongly for other ethnic minorities who found themselves under attack. Never again will we be carried away in cattle trucks.
My Lords, there is an old Jewish joke. Manny and Issy are facing a firing squad. Manny says, “Please can I have a final cigarette?”. Issy whispers to him, “Ssh. Don’t make trouble”. I am very pleased that the Jewish community and all our many friends, including the noble Lord, Lord Popat, are making trouble about the scourge of anti-Semitism. There have always been anti-Semites and I am afraid there always will be. But what is so alarming is that, in this great country—a country that gave refuge to my great-grandparents when they were fleeing pogroms at the end of the 19th century—the leadership of one of our major political parties is incubating anti-Semitism.
When the leader of the Labour Party calls representatives of Hamas his friends, despite the fact that their policy is to kill as many Jews—I emphasise Jews—as possible, when he applauds graffiti that show the working man oppressed by Jewish bankers, when he expresses support for a vicar who suggests that Mossad was responsible for the 9/11 outrage, and when he contends that British citizens who are Zionists do not really understand this country, it is not surprising that his shameful conduct encourages the release into the political atmosphere of a poison that is polluting our civil society. No politician who tolerates, far less encourages, such a virus is fit for public office.
My Lords, I refer to my interests as vice-chairman of the New Israel Fund UK and as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism. It is deeply disappointing that this appalling manifestation of racism should still be with us, especially in the light of the dreadful history of the 20th century. It is especially troubling that there are people who are in denial about the problem, with some people in the party that I joined 58 years ago refusing to accept that it exists, even when Jeremy Corbyn has, belatedly, recognised it and pledged to eliminate it.
Let us be clear that this is not just a matter for the Labour Party. All three major parties have encountered the problem to some degree. But there has for some time been a rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents, including violence and vandalism, and latterly a tidal wave of vile abuse and threats through social media—perhaps in this area it is better labelled anti-social media—to which Jewish Labour MPs, particularly women, have been subjected. Members of your Lordships’ House will join me in paying tribute to their courage in the face of such appalling treatment.
The Community Security Trust has for 24 years worked to promote the safety of the Jewish community and is now also assisting the Muslim community, which has also been subjected to racism. The trust deserves our gratitude and continued support. Two areas require urgent attention. The first is the problem of social media and the failure of the industry to tackle misuse. The second is the need to do more to promote the concept of a tolerant, multi-ethnic society through our education system, starting from a young age.
My Lords, we have been treated to a debate of incredible quality and I thank my noble friend Lord Popat for his stirring, thoughtful and perfectly crafted speech, which set the tone for the whole debate. I also pay tribute to members of the Labour Party, in particular the noble Lords, Lord Beecham and Lord Mendelsohn, who have shown considerable courage in criticising their own leadership—and rightly so.
I will try to deal with some of the issues that have been raised. I agree very much with the importance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition. I am very proud that this country and this Government were the first in the world to adopt the definition in 2016. I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham and through him the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for their work and for the actions of the Church of England this week in adopting the definition, which sets out an important signal of where British faiths are and where the great mass of people in this country are.
In preparing for this debate, part of me said that the issue was so important that I should not be party political. Another part of me said that it was so important that I did need to be party political. That part won out. But it is not an unqualified criticism of the Labour Party—far from it. It is not really the Labour Party but the leadership of the Labour Party. It is impossible to think that the Labour Party of Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock—now the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock—Tony Blair, John Smith, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband would be where the Labour Party is today. We know that that is not where the bulk of the Labour Party is. It is certainly not where its leadership in this House is, or where this House is at all. But it is a problem that needs addressing and needs addressing quickly. I also should have thanked the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, for what he, too, said about the Labour Party and the need to act.
But the issue extends beyond that; of course it does. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, correctly said, there is the issue of online cyberactivity. We have acted, and let us be clear that there is much more to be done, not just in relation to anti-Semitism—although certainly in relation to that. There are issues, too, with Islamophobia. I hope and believe—and I work with my noble friend Lady Williams on this—that the party will move to a definition of Islamophobia. We will be doing that in considered time with others because it is important that we demonstrate that this is broader than anti-Semitism.
But this debate is rightly on anti-Semitism. I am pleased that, given the paucity of the time that we have had for contributions, we will have another debate in government time before Christmas. I know that my noble friend Lord Polak withdrew from the debate because time was so pressured. It was important that noble Lords were able to speak as they did, so very powerfully. That is why I am left with little time myself—but I will write to noble Lords on specific issues that they raised in this debate.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Sugar, for what he said about the state of British politics, and I, too, will say something about the importance of education and more broadly about Holocaust denial. In the last 10 days, I have returned from Bosnia-Herzegovina. I travelled to Srebrenica, which, as I have said to people, was both a harrowing and awe-inspiring thing to do. I met some truly extraordinary people there. It is extraordinary that such a thing could happen in a country where people were living side by side, just as the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, was talking about—I thank him for his contribution and for being here. Noble Lords should believe me when I say that he does know what he is talking about, and anyone who says otherwise is not listening properly.
It is important to recognise that, in parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Balkans, there is still denial of a genocide that happened such a short time ago. Despite DNA identification of more than 6,000 victims, which is pretty conclusive in legal terms, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, would know, there are still people denying that there was genocide in that country. We have this too of the Holocaust, which is something that we must confront as a House. Very powerfully that message must go out as it has today.
I was moved too when my noble friend Lady Altmann talked about the contribution that the Jewish population had made to Britain. That community is as much a part of Britain as I am or as all of us are, and it is important that we recognise that and the massive contribution it has made to our society, as my noble friend Lord Sterling also said.
It is difficult to think that we are where we are now. Not long ago and not far away, we witnessed the most dreadful tyranny that the world has ever seen—the most odious ideology driven against the Jewish community and others. This country then was a beacon of light, and so it must remain. But these things are very fragile, as I know from my recent visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina, and we heard most powerfully from my noble friend Lord Popat about that too.
My noble friend Lord Finkelstein, who alas is not in his place, wrote of his unswerving commitment to this country and his feeling of safety and security here. Yet he said that he found himself understanding how those who used to fear the knock on the door were fearing that knock on the door now. There were hints of that in the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Palmer of Childs Hill, and in the understanding of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, when she talked of the importance of the state of Israel. It has to be seen very much in that context.
So let us be clear about the united message that is going out from this House today. It was led by many speakers in the debate, with important contributions from the noble and right reverend Prelate, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool. The message is that in this country we remain totally committed to tackling anti-Semitism alongside other religious hatreds and doing whatever is needed to remain a united country of all faiths and no faith. That is the message that must go out powerfully to all politicians and to all people throughout this country.