Before I call the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, I point out for the benefit of the Front-Bench representatives, of whom there are three for the purposes of this debate, that no fewer than 18 right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch the eye of the Chair. I know, therefore, that while addressing the issues fully, they will wish to tailor their contributions to take account of the likely level of Back-Bench demand.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered antisemitism in modern society.
Today’s debate is timely, given the growing challenge of antisemitism, and fittingly, it comes less than a month since we marked Holocaust Memorial Day and a short few weeks after I had the privilege of joining mourners from around the world to bury six unknown victims of the holocaust—the Shoah—including a child. It was the first time that this has happened on British soil and probably the only time that it will. These were incredibly moving moments not just for the Jewish community, but for our entire country. For me personally, it was a poignant reminder of my father-in-law, who escaped Nazi Germany and came to Britain with the help of the MI6 agent Frank Foley, whose actions also saved the lives of thousands of other Jews. Millions of others were not so lucky. I pay tribute to Members across the House for their powerful testimony and reflections in remembrance of what was one of the darkest chapters in human history. That chapter should have been, as the last of those who lived through it leave us, the final word on the evil of antisemitism and hatred and bigotry in all their forms, but sadly, as the need for today’s debate demonstrates, the oldest hatred is still with us.
I wish to say how grateful so many of my constituents who attended that service—as did Lord Pickles and I—were when they saw Government representatives at that event. I did not know what the event would entail. I did not know how many people would attend and I did not even know if I was even invited to the funeral, but it was truly a special event that I certainly will never forget. Many people are very grateful to my right hon. Friend for his attendance on the day.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. I certainly endorse his reflections of a very poignant, very powerful and very special moment for us all, and the message that it was able to send about this country’s position and the sense of safety and security that we all want to underline.
For the third year running, the number of antisemitic incidents in the UK is sadly at an all-time high, according to the figures released this month by the Community Security Trust. This equates to 1,652 incidents last year, with over 100 incidents reported in each month for the first time in a single calendar year. The surge of antisemitism online, up 54% on 2017, is a particular area of concern, with the CST finding that almost a quarter of all reported incidents had an online association—a development that echoes the experiences of other organisations such as Tell MAMA that work to combat Islamophobia.
I thank the Secretary of State for celebrating the work of CST, which has done extraordinary work to keep many of us safe. The Government currently provide a significant proportion of funding for security guards, on a commercial basis, to support CST’s work and to keep schools safe. Has he considered making that a multi-year grant, rather than a one-year grant, to ensure that political affiliation does not matter and that the Jewish community has assurances that they will be kept safe?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for highlighting the incredible work of the CST not simply at these memorials and annual events but week in, week out, in schools, synagogues and other places, and the safety and security it conveys in so doing. She will understand that funding decisions are quite germane, particularly given the upcoming spending review, but I understand her call for a multi-year settlement, and I will take that away and reflect on it further. This is about providing assurance and confidence, and I know the difference the CST makes in that regard.
Some of the increase in the number of antisemitic incidents will be down to increased reporting, which we encourage through our hate crime action plan. Similarly, however, a survey carried out by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights in December found that 89% of respondents felt that antisemitism had increased in their countries over the past five years. When asked how big a problem antisemitism was, three quarters of respondents from the UK answered that it was either a “very big” or a “fairly big” problem. I say that with a very heavy heart. It troubles me deeply that some Jewish communities are concerned about their future. It should trouble us all.
The House will know that through my mother I am of Jewish descent, and in 1938 my uncle found a safe haven in this country. Does the Secretary of State agree it is regrettable that this country might lose its good reputation as a safe haven if we continue with this tendency?
I believe that this country is a safe haven. It needs to be that safe haven. It is important that across the House we underline the significance and importance that we as a country attach to that intrinsic value.
On that point, I want to give the following assurance to our Jewish communities: you are an intrinsic part of what makes Britain great, and the Government will always stand by you to challenge bigotry and intolerance. We will not walk by on the other side when that is present. That means learning the lessons of the past and facing up to modern manifestations of antisemitism, which continues to evolve. To quote the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks:
“Antisemitism is not a belief but a virus. The human body has an immensely sophisticated immune system which develops defences against viruses. It is penetrated, however, because viruses mutate. Antisemitism mutates.”
Does the Secretary of State think it possible that the term “antisemitism” itself is not sufficiently understood in this country and that there are plenty of people who, once they are clear that we are talking about race hatred directed against people who are Jewish, will want to have absolutely nothing to do with it and will want to make no effort to excuse, justify or defend it?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. At its heart, this is racism. That is why it is so intolerable and unacceptable. As the powerful analogy I just used suggests, repelling this insidious threat takes a strong immune system, in the form of leadership at all levels, in all parties and in all areas of public life, and nowhere is this more important than here at the heart of our democracy. It is why we have chosen next door to Parliament as the site for our new national holocaust memorial and learning centre, which commands cross-party support. I believe there can be no more fitting place, no more powerful symbol of our commitment to remembering the men, women and children murdered in the holocaust and all other victims of Nazi persecution, including Roma, gay and disabled people, than placing the memorial in Victoria Tower gardens, literally in the shadow of our Parliament.
In that context, I welcome the cross-party support, which was evidenced today by a joint letter signed by more than 170 Members of Parliament and Members of the House of Lords endorsing the memorial and the positive and enduring impact it will have. It will draw on the history of the holocaust and subsequent genocides with an education and learning centre at its core as a national resource. It will stand as a national memorial at the heart of our democracy, but equally it will stand as a warning of where hatred can lead; the role that government can play, both good and bad; and what happens if people are bystanders as it develops—what happens if they walk by on the other side. It is not just for future generations, but for us all in Parliament.
It pains me hugely to hear the powerful testimony of colleagues in the House of the abuse they have suffered either for being Jewish or for standing up to antisemitism. Some have even asserted that part of our politics is poisoned by antisemitism in an institutional way. That does not reflect the country we are or the politics for which we stand. Our debate today gives us the chance to say that we reject and oppose antisemitism and to stand together against anyone seeking to advance a narrative of bigotry, hatred and division.
For our part, the Government are taking comprehensive action to fight antisemitism and all forms of hatred. We are proud to have been the first Government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism in 2016. Although not legally binding, it is an important tool for criminal justice agencies and other public bodies to understand what antisemitism looks like in the 21st century. It covers examples of the kind of behaviours that, depending on the circumstances, could constitute anti- semitism. Those examples include making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective through the myth of a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions, or accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
Those narratives have increasingly poisoned public discourse and we should speak out against them wherever they arise, but aside from pinning down what we mean by antisemitism, the Government’s first priority must be to keep people safe, as underlined by the horrendous events last October in Pittsburgh. That people should be attacked in that way while gathering in prayer is profoundly shocking. To strengthen our determination to ensure that the Jewish community here are safe and feel safe, we continue to support the Community Safety Trust to provide security for Jewish places of worship and institutions. In recognition of the vulnerability felt by all faith communities, the places of worship security grant scheme allows places of worship facing threats to apply for funding to improve their security. To that end, the Government have provided more than £2.4 million to increase security provision for churches, gurdwaras, mosques and temples across the country. We committed further resource for that in the hate crime action plan refresh.
I am hugely conscious of the problems online, which we need to confront further and which I am sure will be a focus of a number of contributions to the debate. We will continue to work to strengthen our approach and confront all types of hate crime to ensure that it is appropriately dealt with. We will soon publish a White Paper on online harms that will consider legislative and non-legislative approaches to combat online hate crime and hate incidents alongside other forms of harmful behaviour.
Our engagement with communities on the ground and education are vital, particularly when it comes to tackling stereotypes and prejudices at an early stage before they harden and become more harmful. That is why we are supporting programmes that work with young people to challenge over-simplified narratives and encourage open conversation.
I want to pay tribute to the outstanding work of our partners. I have already mentioned the CST, whose work to facilitate reporting, to support victims of antisemitism and to provide security for Jewish institutions is vital and greatly appreciated. I want to thank the all-party group against antisemitism, so passionately chaired by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and supported by the Antisemitism Policy Trust. The work of the group ensures there is continued momentum to tackle antisemitism as part of the working group and helps to hold the Government to account. I also want to pay tribute to the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, whose input to the cross-Government working group is invaluable in ensuring the community is properly represented, and to our Haredi stakeholders, including representatives of Shomrim and others, who make sure the specific needs of orthodox communities are not forgotten.
Together, we can and will overcome the challenges we face. Antisemitism has no place in our society—however it evolves, it is still hatred and bigotry—and we should not be afraid to call it out and to champion our Jewish community, which continues to make a towering contribution to our society without reservation. Indeed, Britain would not be what it is without our Jewish friends, neighbours and cousins. That is why in standing up for them we are standing up for all communities who are facing hatred and for the values of tolerance, freedom and fairness that define us and define our country.
This is a mission bigger than politics—bigger than any party—and it is in that spirit that I urge all hon. Members to be standard-bearers for these values: values that are our best hope of ensuring that when we say, “Never again” we mean it.
May I just say that I agree with every single word the Secretary of State said? I thought he spoke incredibly powerfully, with great seriousness and with great measurement.
It has always been a mystery to me how anyone can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow human beings, yet here we are again in 2019 debating history’s oldest hatred. I am glad to have the opportunity to express my opposition to this unique evil and I thank you, Mr Speaker, for presiding over the debate today on antisemitism in modern society.
Antisemitism has led to some of the worst crimes in human history: pogroms, massacres, oppression, dispossession and of course the holocaust—the systematic and bureaucratic attempt to erase European Jewry from existence. Thirty years ago, in the summer of 1989, I travelled through the Berlin wall into what was then East Germany and on into Poland, where I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is one day in my life I will never forget as the full scale—the industrial scale—of the atrocities and mass murders that were committed there etched themselves into my consciousness. Never before and never since has the world seen such a cold, calculated and industrialised plan for the murder of an entire people.
That Jew hatred—for that is what antisemitism is—still exists should shock us; that it is on the rise should appal us. Antisemitism is a cancer which finds new ways, as the Secretary of State said, to mutate and to infect our political discourse, and it is not enough to be shocked and appalled; we have to act to stop this disease poisoning our society.
Before I go any further, I pay tribute to the work of the Community Security Trust and Shomrim in the Haredi community. Those organisations are tireless in their defence of the Jewish community and its synagogues, businesses, youth clubs and schools.
May I also pay tribute to the CST and thank it for the work that it did with us in working out our community cohesion policy? I found it to be an organisation that was very engaged with the wider concerns about racism in our society, and it helped me enormously.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am sure that we all have similar stories to tell about the CST’s work in our constituencies. In my own constituency of Brent North, we have a Jewish community of just under 2,000 people, and we are the home of the Jewish Free School, which is one of the oldest Jewish institutions in the UK and the largest and most academically successful Jewish school in all Europe. I worked with Arnold Wagner and David Lerner to help the school to move from its old home in Camden to the purpose-built facilities in my community. I particularly want to thank the CST for all that it does to keep the pupils and staff there, and in all the other primary schools, safe. I just wish, as we all do, that its work was not necessary.
The CST does more than work on safety. Its work to record and analyse antisemitic hate crime is integral to our understanding of the scale of the problem that faces us. Last year, it recorded 23 antisemitic incidents in my borough of Brent alone, and 1,652 across the country. That makes for sober reading. Antisemitism is at a record high, with a 16% rise in incidents nationwide year on year and 100 incidents every month. This is the lived reality of our Jewish fellow citizens living under the strain of antisemitism. It is appalling—the arson attacks on synagogues, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, the neo-Nazi graffiti on posters for Holocaust Memorial Day, the vandalising of centres of Jewish life, the physical attacks on Jewish children at their schools or on public transport, swastikas daubed on Jewish homes and antisemitic hate mail sent to Jewish workplaces and schools. These hideous crimes are a warning to us all. We must do better, and we must be better.
That brings me to the issues facing my own party, the Labour party. It was the Labour party that introduced the Race Relations Act and the Equality Act, and it has put fighting inequality, racism and prejudice at the core of who we are and what we believe in. How can it be that we are struggling so badly to eradicate antisemitism from our own membership? I joined the Labour party because I believed it was quite simply the best vehicle for progressive social change in this country. I still do, but no party has a monopoly on virtue, and in the Labour party we are learning a bitter lesson. For all the strength and passion that we have derived from the mass influx of new members that has seen our party grow to more than 500,000 strong, we have not had adequate procedures in place to react swiftly and decisively to that small minority of members who have expressed sometimes ignorant but often vicious, dangerous and vile antisemitic views.
On behalf of my party, I want to publicly apologise to the Jewish community that we have let them down. We know it and we are trying to do better. We are trying to become the party that we have always aspired to be. We will not stop working until we once again become a safe and welcoming political home for people from the Jewish community, as from every other. The Secretary of State said that we stand here today to say of antisemitism that we reject it. We do. We must.
My hon. Friend is making an important point, but the reality is that words, however sincerely meant, must be matched with action. Does he agree that it is completely unacceptable to have, for example, elected Labour representatives saying things like, “The Jewish community have got it all in their own heads”? He gave us examples of the reality of antisemitism affecting communities, and I have seen it with my own eyes in my communities in Cardiff. It is not “in their own heads.” Neo-Nazi and far-right activity is real and it is hateful, and we must unequivocally stand against it.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I do not understand how the people who say the things that he quotes can, with any integrity, think that they belong to our party.
What message does my hon. Friend think is sent to the Jewish community when the Labour party readmits Derek Hatton, who tweeted something that seemed to imply that every Jew, wherever they live in the world, is responsible for the actions of the Israeli Government? Does he share my view that Derek Hatton has no part to play in our Labour party?
This morning, I saw the reports that I am sure my hon. Friend saw about not just the readmission of Derek Hatton, but the tweets that he mentions, and I wrote to the general secretary of our party and lodged a formal complaint. I understand that action has since been taken in respect of the complaint, and I will be looking out to see precisely what appropriate action is taken in due course. I totally agree that it was a travesty. I think many of us knew for some while that Derek Hatton had applied to rejoin the party, but it was appalling for the news of his readmission to come to public attention on the very day when some members of our party were forced out.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I will in a minute, but I want to make a little progress.
We recognise that social media can be a tremendous tool, enabling a more democratic and open media, but too often it has become the fertile breeding ground for antisemitic trolling and bullying. We have seen that in the horrifying antisemitic and misogynistic abuse targeted at several of our MPs, and I want to speak specifically about the disgraceful treatment of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger). I deeply regret that she has left our party, but I regret most of all the antisemitic abuse that made her feel that it was necessary to do so. I have not always shared her political judgments, but she is a strong and principled woman and a kind and loving person, who has been bullied by antisemites to a point at which most of us would not have had the strength to bear it. I wish that she had stayed to help us defeat the evil in our party, but whichever party we stand for in this Parliament, she should have our unqualified solidarity as she stands against her aggressors.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and I am listening carefully to what he says. Why does he think that the Labour party allowed the antisemitic bullying of my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) to continue? He has expressed concern about it, but it is the Labour party that allowed it to continue. The problem is with Labour party members, not the people of Liverpool.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Indeed, it is those who have bullied my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree who will have to answer for it. I hope the processes within our party will be able to deal with that.
I thank my hon. Friend for recognising that we have let down the Jewish community. We have lost a very good colleague because we failed to stop what was essentially constructive dismissal. Does he agree that this is not about asking our Jewish members to stay and sort it out? In a movement built on solidarity, it is for all of us to act. In this instance, the concern that many of us have is that there are so many cases outstanding, yet time was found to deal with Mr Hatton’s application for readmission. We want to show that we are serious about this, and we must change our priorities and deal with these cases now.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right that we are responsible for dealing with this. She will know there are procedures and committees within the national executive committee that deal with complaints and others that deal with other processes.
Let me be clear that anyone who denies the reality of antisemitism on the left, anyone who thinks that antisemitism is a legitimate part of criticising the political actions of the Israeli Government and anyone who says that complaints about antisemitism are smears on our party is wrong. They do not have the endorsement of the Labour party, they do not have the endorsement of its leader and they need to take a long, hard look at themselves. They have adopted what Bebel labelled the “socialism of fools.”
Our party must call out this poisonous ideology, which encourages people to place the blame for society’s ills at the feet of the vulnerable and persecuted, whether they be immigrants, the unemployed, refugees or those from a different ethnic or religious background. The Labour party has long fought the dissemination of such false narratives, which we know serve only to divide us and distract us from our common cause of a fairer society.
Antisemitism, with its conspiracy theories, seeks to divide ordinary working people. The lies that it propagates about wealth, power and designs on world domination are as dangerous as they are stupid. Those on the far left who are foolish enough to believe that their antisemitism is a form of anti-elitism or anti-imperialism have no place in the Labour party or any modern political party.
Last year, a major study analysing news stories across the English-speaking world found that, according to every metric, fake news is more popular and more widely consumed than factual, accurate stories. We truly live in an era of fake news and imagined enemies, where explicit abuse hides behind anonymous avatars and where political debate is shaped by memes and viral videos. The rise of fake news is dangerous for all of us, but this danger is most acute for the Jewish community and it is felt intensely. There are approximately 170,000 antisemitic online searches each year in the UK alone, but the scale of the challenge must not daunt us or deter us from what needs to be done.
Over the last 16 years, I have written repeatedly to every single party here today to raise specific issues, with great success across every single party. In every single instance, I have written to the relevant party leader. Does my hon. Friend accept that people are interested in the structures, in the machinations of those structures and in leadership? What leadership will the Labour shadow Cabinet specifically give to Jewish members of the Labour party and to the Jewish community?
Quite simply, my hon. Friend is right, and I pay tribute to the work he has done for many, many years; it is for our shadow Cabinet, as it is indeed incumbent on all of us in this party, to ensure that we have the processes in place to eradicate this poison from our party. If we look at what took place in our party recently after the change in leadership, we see that the number of places on the committee concerned, the national constitutional committee, had to double to deal with the cases that were there; new processes were introduced so that we could speed up dealing with the number of cases that were there. That is the process that is going to take place, but he is right to say that it is not just about process—it is not. It is about leadership and politics, and making sure that we get the message out there into the wider society that wherever this happens it is unacceptable and will be dealt with. Yes, it will be dealt with by the proper process, but the outcomes at the end of that process must be the right ones.
I will give way, but it will be for the last time.
Does my hon. Friend, to whom I am grateful for making this speech, agree that under any other leader of the Labour party the leader would have instructed people to be expelled?
I cannot agree with my hon. Friend on that point because it is for the national executive to take that decision—
Would my hon. Friend, who invoked the national executive committee of the party, of which I am a member, like to give way?
If the hon. Gentleman wants to take the intervention, we will then hear the content of it? Does he wish to do so?
I will, of course, take, as I said before, one final intervention.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As a member of the Labour party’s NEC, may just say three things? First, we have been far too slow to deal with some appalling cases of antisemitism. Secondly, I do not know whether it has been formally announced yet, but Lord Falconer has offered his services to look at how we can deal more effectively with such cases that are brought to the attention of the party. Thirdly, on a purely personal view, I agree with the comment made a few moments ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) that, frankly, there is no place for any of these people in the Labour party. Sending them on courses is not good enough; they need to be kicked out.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend and I am glad he has been able to talk about the progress that the NEC is making. I believe that more progress will be coming in terms of education, but it has not been formalised at this stage.
It is important to recognise that the antisemitic views harboured by those people, a small minority within Labour, do not exist in a vacuum. No political party should fool itself that it is immune from this poison, and it would be wrong and dangerous to underestimate the scale of the problem across society at large. A few weeks ago, on Holocaust Memorial Day, a survey revealed that 5% of British adults do not believe the holocaust took place and one in 12 believe that its scale has been exaggerated. Clearly, something has gone deeply wrong with our education and our collective memory. The holocaust was the worst crime of the 20th century, in which 6 million Jewish people were murdered. Every single person in Britain should know that. I thank the Holocaust Educational Trust and Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for the work they do to ensure that this atrocity is never forgotten and never repeated.
I am not taking any more interventions, as I said.
It is only through education that we will protect future generations from falling into these insidious falsehoods—[Interruption.]
Mr Ivan Lewis, calm yourself, young man. I am sure what you are saying is absolutely fascinating—riveting stuff—but we would prefer to hear you on your feet in due course, rather than from your seat. Do the Front Bencher the courtesy of hearing him.
It is only through education that we will protect future generations from falling into insidious falsehoods and conspiracy theories. I had the privilege of hearing Gena Turgel, the holocaust survivor who was known as the bride of Belsen, speak to a group of children at JFS school a few years ago. She was the most wonderful, humane and powerful voice, educating successive generations about the horrors of antisemitism. I simply record with sadness her passing since our previous debate on antisemitism in this Chamber last year.
Those horrors are not yet a distant memory. Our colleague Lord Alf Dubs was one of the children who came to this country as part of the Kindertransport, which brought 10,000 Jewish children to safety in Britain. Alf’s work, both at the Refugee Council and in setting up safe passage for refugee children today, is just one example of the legacy that survivors have bequeathed to this country.
It is now 80 years on from Kristallnacht and we must amplify the voices of people like Alf, Gena Turgel and other holocaust survivors as they share their stories and educate the next generation. The holocaust happened. It counts as one of the greatest crimes in human history. This January, in Bushey, I was with the Secretary of State when 1,200 mourners attended the burial of those six unknown Jews—five adults, one child—murdered at Auschwitz. Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis spoke powerfully at the funeral, saying:
“We need a strong reminder such as this to let us know what can result, even within a democratic society, what can result if anti-Semitism, if racism and xenophobia, go unchecked.”
Looking around the world, it is clear that to tackle this evil we must adopt an internationalist approach. A survey published by the European Union in December found that almost nine out of 10 European Jewish people feel that antisemitism has worsened in their respective countries over the past five years. Right-wing nationalist politics continues its forward march, with devastating consequences for minority communities. In France, the torching of synagogues and assaults on Jewish people on the Metro have resulted in thousands of Jewish people leaving for Israel.
The horrendous mass shooting of Jewish congregants at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history, and watching far-right protesters in Charlottesville chant “The Jews will not replace us” was quite simply chilling.
Last year, the Polish Government introduced legislation that reads:
“Whoever claims…that the Polish Nation…is responsible or co-responsible for Nazi crimes committed by the Third Reich…shall be liable to a fine or imprisonment for up to 3 years.”
That is an attempt to whitewash the Holocaust.
Viktor Orbán’s Government in Hungary has deployed antisemitic rhetoric, and their campaign against George Soros has invoked obvious antisemitic tropes. I shall not talk about the support that the Hungarian Government received in the European Parliament, because the Secretary of State set the tone for the debate, which is that antisemitism is something that we need to tackle from every corner of this Parliament.
I thank all colleagues from all parties who are here to express their solidarity with the Jewish community. To all who may be listening and paying attention, I would like to say something very clearly: when Jewish people express their concerns about antisemitism, regardless of their background, their beliefs or where they sit on the political spectrum, they must be listened to. Their anxieties are genuine, they are real, and they should be a cause of concern for every person, for every socialist and for every anti-racist in this country. In this place, we create laws to solve the fundamental question of how, with all our differences, we can live together.
I wish to conclude by reading the words of one of Israel’s greatest poets, Yehuda Amichai. He said:
“Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David’s Tower, I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. ‘You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch from the Roman period. Just right of his head.’ ‘But he’s moving, he’s moving!’ I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them, ‘You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.’”
Once we can stop seeing the race, the religion, the colour of the skin, and to see through the man or the woman, perhaps we will rid our world of antisemitism, wherever it is found.
Order. There is no time limit yet, but I hope that colleagues will be sensitive to my determination to accommodate every would-be speaker in the debate. I call Guto Bebb.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. I commend the speech of the Secretary of State, which I applaud and agree with fully, and I welcome the comments from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), too. It is not for me to comment on what is going on in the Labour party, but suffice it to say that what is happening to our politics and to some Members of this House as a result of antisemitism stains us all. We should all offer solidarity to those Members who have been affected by vile and disgusting abuse, whether online or in person. I have nothing but admiration for hon. Members in this place who are standing up to those threats and doing so with dignity, which shows why they have been elected to this place. I congratulate them all, whether they are in the Labour party or not, for the stand they are taking. They have the support of those of us on the Government Benches.
This is a cross-party issue. One reason I wanted to speak in the debate was that back in 2013, I joined the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism. I represent a small constituency in North Wales—I think it is the smallest constituency in population terms represented by a Conservative MP—and I have a very small Jewish community. I felt that the issue was coming to the fore, however, and I decided to join the APPG. That has been the most informative and valuable work that I have done in Parliament, as well as some of the most depressing. I pay tribute to the chair of the APPG, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), for his leadership of that effort and for the opportunities he has afforded to somebody such as myself.
Back in 2013, one of the few Jewish members of my constituency was elected mayor of Conwy, and I remember having a lot of fun at the fact that Edward I, when he gave Conwy its town charter, stated that no Jews and no Welsh would be allowed to live within the town walls. It gave me a certain degree of pride that Conwy had a Conservative Jewish mayor and a Conservative MP who is as Welsh as Welsh can be.
The APPG gave me the opportunity to see the virus of antisemitism. I went to Amsterdam with the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, and I was absolutely shocked by what I saw. Back in 2014, when we were preparing a report on antisemitism, we went to a Jewish high school in Amsterdam, a city that I would consider to be a liberal city in Europe. We met a group of sixth formers, the same age as my children, and asked them a simple question, “How many of you, in a class of 22, see a future for yourselves in Europe?” One hand went up in that classroom. One single hand. If that does not shame us as Europeans, I am not sure what does.
Something bright is happening in Sarajevo. There are 1,000 Jews in Sarajevo—10,000 were killed by the Ustaše, the Croatian fascists, in the war. These 1,000 Jews consider their home, Sarajevo, to be the safest place for a Jew in Europe. Is that not amazing, colleagues, when we think what happened there just 20 years ago?
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. Obviously, it is good to hear that there are good news stories out there.
I undertook my second visit as part of the APPG to Brussels, with my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy). We visited another Jewish school. Imagine my horror, when we drove down that street in Brussels, the capital of the European Union, to be faced with armoured personnel vehicles, protecting that school. It is very difficult to convey the shock that one feels as a parent when one sees that kind of thing happening on the streets of the capital city of the European Union.
As a result of that work, we produced a report in 2015; I think, Mr Speaker, you were there at Lambeth Palace for its launch. One success that I achieved as part of that effort was to ensure that the radio station in Wales—Radio Wales—decided to cover the launch, because in me, as a Welsh MP, they had someone willing to talk on radio about the issue. I was struck by the fact that the reporters who visited Jewish communities in constituencies such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) were taken aback by what they found. What we had noted in Amsterdam and Brussels was starting to infect the capital city of Wales and other cities across the United Kingdom. What I had seen in Amsterdam and Brussels as something new and strange, shockingly was affecting the very Jewish communities that we represent as MPs—whether in Wales, England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. That report was an important piece of work because it highlighted the need to change. We should take the APPG’s contribution in that respect very seriously.
Unfortunately, even though that report was produced in 2015, the situation has got worse. I am not sure how we explain the virus that has infected social media and our political discourse. I am not going to stand here and say that it is all the fault of the Corbynista takeover of the Labour party, because there are problems on both sides of the political equation. We must deal with a fundamental issue—the way in which the discourse on social media has been so badly polluted by this age-old hatred. There is a responsibility on all of us, especially those in positions of leadership in any political party in the Chamber, to take those issues seriously. It is simply unacceptable, when members of political parties are identified as being responsible for this hate speech on social media and in person, that they are not thrown beyond the pale of our politics.
I entirely agree with what my hon. Friend is saying. Does he agree that, unfortunately, what we are seeing on social media is a swamp in which everything else breeds, and whether that is going on in my party or in society more generally, it gives rise to some serious and violent behaviour? Does he agree that groups like System Resistance Network—neo-Nazi organisations operating in Wales, targeting Jews, Muslims, gays and the police—need to be proscribed and dealt with, and that Twitter, still hosting an account called Radio Arian which broadcasts neo-Nazi ideology, needs to take action today to remove it?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. One of the APPG’s current work programmes deals with the behaviour of social media companies, such as Facebook. We all know that they have a responsibility, and it is imperative that we speak with one voice on that issue. How much more important it is, however, that we face those social media companies knowing that we have put our own house in order. So I fully agree with those comments, but we must do more.
I highlighted the fact that this issue does not just face one party in this place. Part of the “Jewish conspiracy” issue, which appears online, is the detachment from reality of those conspiracy theories. Nothing illustrates that better than a rather vile piece of work that has appeared online, entitled, “A Very Jewish Coup: The Plot to Stop Brexit.” It is really shocking. Mr Speaker, you are named as an individual who is part of the plot, as are my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Nick Boles) and my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve). They are all highlighted as part of a Jewish plot to stop Brexit. That is utterly vile and unacceptable. It is also nonsense, because another individual highlighted as part of that plot is none other than my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole. Now, we are good friends, but on Brexit we do not agree. However, I would be hard-pressed to categorise my hon. Friend as an individual who is devoting his time in this place to stopping Brexit. That is the point—truth has nothing to do with anti- semitism, which is about hatred, inadequacy and attacking others for being different. That is the key point about this vile piece of work. It is an attack on others simply to justify political views that are unacceptable.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that part of the problem is that on social media people can hide behind an anonymous handle, and can spread this type of vile abuse—lies and untruths—and bounce off one another? One of the things that social media companies could do to prevent that from happening is identify who these people are so that when these things are reported to the police they can be prosecuted and banned from social media sites.
Once again, I agree with the sentiments that the hon. Lady has expressed. That was taken up with some social media companies on a recent visit by the all-party parliamentary group to Washington, so I subscribe to that comment.
Clearly, we have a problem, but there are good news stories out there. I want to touch on one of them, although it is tinged with a degree of regret. In my constituency, our holocaust memorial event, which takes place every year has gone from strength to strength. It has been one of the greatest privileges in my time as Member of Parliament for Aberconwy to welcome holocaust survivor after holocaust survivor to speak at these events. It is not just one event on a Sunday evening with 300 or 350 people turning up. The organisers ensure that the speakers visit local schools on the following Monday and Tuesday, and the feedback from those schools has been absolutely phenomenal. The opportunity to speak to someone who survived the holocaust will never be forgotten by the young people of my constituency.
This year, for the first time ever, the holocaust memorial event in Llandudno highlighted not only the historical tragedy of the holocaust but invited a group of Jewish people from Manchester and their rabbi to highlight the threat that they face in 2019, in Manchester, in the United Kingdom. I have to say, listening to the comments of a Hungarian survivor of the holocaust, then listening to fellow citizens from Manchester on the same evening, was a truly shocking experience. If we have not learned anything, it is shame on all of us.
Finally—and this is a point for my Front Bench—the holocaust survivor from Hungary, Susan Pollack, spoke passionately. She was an 86-year-old lady, and she said at the event:
“We could not escape. We did not have passports. We had lost our passports. They had been taken away from us.”
That really made me think very hard about freedom of movement, because there are Jewish schools in London where a significant proportion of the pupils are French by birth. Their families have opted to escape what is going on in France at this point in time. I would say to the Front Bench that when we talk about curtailing freedom of movement, we should be very aware of what freedom we are giving up in relation to the history of Europe in the 20th century.
It has been a pleasure to speak in the debate. It is a shame that we need to have this type of debate in the United Kingdom in 2019, but we do need it, and we need to carry on working as parliamentarians to make sure that this virus, which is a plague on our politics and on our communities, is dealt with.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb). Although some time has passed since his resignation from the Government, this is the first chance I think I have had to say to him in the Chamber that Defence questions are not the same without him. His contribution was heartfelt and welcome, as indeed was the tone set by the Secretary of State at the beginning of the debate. I should acknowledge, not least because he is a fellow Glaswegian, the tone struck by the shadow Secretary of State.
It is somewhat depressing, as the hon. Member for Aberconwy has said, that we are debating antisemitism for the second time in less than 12 months, and we are doing so against the backdrop of Members of this very Parliament feeling that they have to leave their political party because of antisemitism. Although I have no desire to tread on the broader political grief of the Labour party, I will single out, if I may—I did not tell her beforehand that I would do this—the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger). Having looked at some of the vile poison that she has put up with, I can tell her that she has the solidarity of Scottish National party Members and our admiration for the way in which she has stood up to it.
In the previous debate on antisemitism, I was able to say, in setting out the history of antisemitism in Scotland, that we are one of the few countries, if not the only country, never to have had an antisemitic law on the statute book. Indeed, the declaration of Arbroath, which is understood to be the most ancient medieval text in existence, specifically refers to Jews and gentiles as equal. To bring things a bit more up to date, I am pleased to say that the Scottish Government have accepted in full the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism.
I do not want to deceive Members into thinking that all is well and rosy north of the border, because the sad fact is that it is not. I thank Joel Salmon from the Board of Deputies of British Jews for the briefing he has given me, with some specific key figures on what is going on in Scotland. There have been 21 recorded incidents of antisemitism in the past year. Although that may not seem like a huge number, it does not feel all that small to Scotland’s Jewish population, given how small it is.
I want to read out a few examples of what has happened in the past 12 months. A brick was thrown at a glass door on a synagogue, but thanks to their foresight in expecting something like that to happen, they had put non-smash coating on the glass so it did not shatter on that occasion. In another example, a woman who was converting to Judaism was spat at in the face while being called a Jew on a bus in Edinburgh.
In possibly the most vile of the examples sent to me, a Jewish organisation in Scotland received the following email:
“I’m going to kill every single one of you ugly rat-faced kikes. I think I’ll use a knife. Then after I’ve cut you, I’ll shut that dirty, filthy, lying Jew mouth of yours once and for all. Make sure you have a good hiding place ready. I’m gonna stick your children into an oven and then I’m gonna serve roasted kike to my dog. Good luck finding, you worthless piece of shit.”
I will not read out the rest, as though that was not bad enough.
A few weeks ago, the front page of the Sunday Herald featured a story about the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities highlighting the deep problem of antisemitism that too often plagues elements of Scottish society. Too many responded to that story with conspiracy theories or by saying that somehow that could not happen in Scotland or that the Jews were complaining about nothing. That is rubbish. As with any other minority community, when the Jewish community complains about being the victim of hatred and highlights it on the front page of a national newspaper, any decent person would respond by extending a hand of friendship.
Is it not the case that we are all responsible for this problem? Sometimes we just say, “Oh, these sorts of things exist,” but we do not stand up enough and we do not say loudly enough, each time, that this is totally unacceptable.
I completely agree with the hon. Lady. As the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) mentioned when he intervened on the Secretary of State at the start of the debate, there is perhaps a misunderstanding about how bad it actually is to be called an antisemite. I think the hon. Gentleman is right that the term perhaps feels a little too gentle sometimes. The Secretary of State himself said that people should be confronted with the fact that it is Jew hate. Let us put it to people in those stark terms, and then I think they can understand exactly what they are being accused of.
I want to draw the House’s attention to a school, Calderwood Lodge, which is actually just outside my constituency and in that of the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton). This is a brilliant example of bringing together children of different faiths to better understand people from those faiths. Calderwood Lodge is the first joint Catholic and Jewish school anywhere in the world, and I encourage all hon. Members, if they get the chance, to visit it.
In thinking, as the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) just said, about how we get young people and others to better understand the problems and understand that this is a problem for all of us, I reflect on what my own mother chose to do. My own mother, when I was in my early teens, gave me a copy of the book “The Five Chimneys”, written by Olga Lengyel, a survivor of Auschwitz, and that book has stayed with me forever. I have read it a great many times, and I will probably give the book to my own nephew when he is of an age to take in the horrors of the holocaust.
That brings me to something that had never actually crossed my mind before. About this time last year, I was very kindly invited to dinner at my vet’s house. My vet, who looks after my cat very well, is himself Jewish, and he invited me and my partner, Gordon, to come and have dinner with his family, which we duly did. This had not even occurred to me, but when we were there and we got talking around the table about antisemitism, he had to explain to me that he had not yet told his young daughters what the holocaust was and did not quite know how to approach it or at what time. It was not until I was in the car afterwards that I said to my partner, “How do you even begin to explain to your children that they belong to a faith that has been hunted in the way that Jewish people have over time?”
I want to draw my remarks to a close because I am conscious of time, and many hon. Members want to speak, so I will end with this. I was heartened, and at the same time quite depressed, to see the scenes last night from Paris, where a great number of people took to the Place de la République, rising up against antisemitism in France. The Chief Rabbi of France, Haïm Korsia, put it perfectly, in outlining the challenge for all of us not just here but around the world, when he asked in Paris last night
“who must lower their eyes? The anti-Semites or the Jews?”
Let us flip that question around: who is it who gets to raise their eyes? I preferred the days when antisemites and racists felt ashamed and they kept their eyes to the ground. But when the Jew raises her eyes, what will she be confronted with? Will she be confronted with love or hate, friendship or hate, solidarity or hate, understanding or the ignorance that drives the hate we are trying to drive out of our society today? The Jew is looking up at this debate today, and although I suspect we will all speak with one voice, as we should, against antisemitism, what will happen when the Mace is lifted up? Will we all go back to our constituencies with a hand genuinely held out and renewed in our desire for friendship and in our desire to drive out antisemitism from society, or will we have a lot of warm words and not very much by the way of action? I sincerely hope not.
Order. We will begin with a 10-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, but I warn colleagues that I suspect that will not last for long.
Like everyone in this debate, I want to emphasise that antisemitism is completely unacceptable—whether it comes from the hard right or the radical left—and it is utterly unforgivable if it permeates a mainstream political party. I also want to say that I rise with regret to make this speech, which is not one I ever thought I would have to make. It is deeply regrettable that we are all here to talk about this issue once again, but I feel I have to speak out about the current situation.
I found it truly shocking when, in September last year, the hon. Member for Streatham (Chuka Umunna)—then, of course, one of Labour’s own MPs—stated that the party’s problem with antisemitism had become so serious that it had passed the threshold and could be considered institutionally racist.
It is deeply disturbing that concern about problems with antisemitism in Labour are now so disturbing to the Jewish community that they felt the need to come to Parliament Square to protest about it. In many conversations I have had on the doorstep in my constituency of Chipping Barnet about this issue, a significant number of constituents have told me that they are making active preparations to leave the country if Labour wins the next general election. That is an appalling and unacceptable state of affairs.
In the debate last April in this Chamber, it was harrowing to hear about the abuse, threats and hatred to which colleagues such as the hon. Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) have been subjected. The fact that much of it appeared to be coming from their own party members and supporters was all the more shocking.
I believe that that powerful debate should have been a turning point—a point at which the Labour leadership gripped the problem and took action to rid the party of this poison. Yet it took another four months of wrangling before they actually managed to adopt the internationally recognised definition of antisemitism overseen by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. What was the cause of that prevarication and foot-dragging? Attempts by the Leader of the Opposition to preserve the right of Labour activists to call Israel “a racist endeavour”.
The leadership of the Jewish community is clear that much more effective action is needed. The Board of Deputies recently reiterated its disappointment at the lack of leadership on this matter shown by the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn). Indeed, there are many who doubt the Labour leader’s commitment on this issue. He is, after all, the person who once accused “Zionists” of having
“no sense of English irony, despite having lived here all their lives”.
He is the person who attended a ceremony that appeared to commemorate the Black September terrorists who slaughtered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. He defended an artist whose mural featured obviously antisemitic imagery. He has shared platforms with and promoted a number of antisemites, including inviting the blood libel antisemitic conspiracy theorist Shaikh Raed Salah to this Parliament. Mr Salah is a man who has described Jewish people as “monkeys” and “bacteria”, yet the right hon. Member for Islington North chose to describe him as “a very honoured citizen”.
Those may be past episodes, but the present response of the Labour leadership to the antisemitism crisis in their party continues to be inadequate. The right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) set that out in her devastating resignation statement. Pointing out that it is three years since the Labour leadership pledged to tackle the issue, she said:
“At every turn, it has resisted, ignored and snubbed the legitimate demands of the Jewish community”.
She went on to say that the Labour leadership have “offered white-wash reports” and
“operated a revolving door disciplinary policy”.
“it has allowed its surrogates to belittle the scale of the problem and attack those who try to bring it to light.”
Even the deputy leader of Labour, the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Tom Watson), has said that he sometimes does not seem to recognise his own party:
“We know in our hearts we have been too slow to respond to the shaming scourge of antisemitism in our ranks.”
This week, eight MPs who have spent decades in Labour left their party, and their criticism was damning. They describe a party
“hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left”,
where a message of optimism has been replaced by
“an all-consuming narrative founded on rage, betrayal and the hunt for heretics”.
The hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes)—someone whom I had always seen as being as Labour as Labour could possibly be—said he was sickened that the Labour party had now become a racist, antisemitic party. I believe he was right to be sickened and gravely concerned by what has happened to the official Opposition —so, too, am I; so, too, are many of my constituents. That is why decisive action is needed now to put this right, so we can see antisemitism driven out of British politics forever. Enough is enough.
I rise to speak feeling a mixture of anger and anguish: anger at the shocking increase in antisemitic incidents in our country, and anger at the abject failure of the Labour leadership to root out the cancer of antisemitism within our party; anguish because of the stuff of antisemitism, whether online, verbal or physical, constitutes an unspeakably dreadful stain on our society, and anguish because my colleagues, the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan), both of whom have dedicated themselves to fighting antisemitism, feel that they can no longer stay in the Labour party and work with Labour MPs, both Jews and non-Jews, to eradicate antisemitism from our party.
It just beggars belief that on the very day the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree chose to leave the Labour party Derek Hatton was readmitted. This is a slight deviation, but I knew Derek Hatton in the 1980s. A leading member of Militant, he holds bigoted views and never believed in consistency between what he said and what he did. I remember a meeting of rate-capped councils, when he harangued the leader of one council who had told us his council was going to set a rate that night. Hatton accused the man of betraying the working classes by complying with the law. I was fed up with his hypocrisy, because that was precisely what Hatton had done the previous year. When I told him to be quiet, he turned on me and shouted, “If it’s too hot for you Margaret, get back in the kitchen.”
To return to the debate, I never ever thought that my Jewish identity would be central to my political work. I have always been secular. I arrived as an immigrant with my family at the age of four. We were not active in the Jewish community, although all our family friends were also Jewish refugees. But like so many other Jews, I lost family in the holocaust. In recent years, as my sisters trawled through family letters and diaries, that family history became more vivid and poignant for me. I read a letter from my aunt—after fleeing, she found herself in France—that she sent to Marshal Pétain, pleading with him to release her husband who had been taken from their home in the Ardèche:
“He is only a number to you. He is everything to me.”
Her husband, my uncle, was later murdered in Auschwitz.
At Auschwitz, years later, I walked into a room filled with luggage and was confronted with a battered suitcase bearing his initials. I read my grandfather’s diaries and heard the despair he expressed as he visited his parents’ graves in Vienna for the last time before fleeing the Nazis. And most painful of all, I read my grandmother’s last letter, written to her son, my uncle, nine days before she was shot in a trench outside a concentration camp, in which she twice says, “Don’t forget me completely.”
Stamping out antisemitism matters. We must never shirk our shared responsibility to prevent such horrors from happening again. We ignore the present increase in antisemitism incidents at our peril: a 16% rise, as others have said; the third year in a row that figures have reached an all-time high; a 54% increase in just one year in antisemitic abuse on social media. Complacency, denial, the shifting of blame on to others—all that is unacceptable.
This is not about weaponising racism for political advantage, an accusation that makes me profoundly angry. Likewise, for some people to claim that those fighting antisemitism are simply protecting the Netanyahu regime in Israel is deeply insulting and utterly wrong. I often criticise the actions of successive Israeli Governments where I feel that is justified, but legitimate criticism of a foreign Government should never morph into racist abuse against all Jews, as it too often does.
The increase in antisemitism comes from both the left and the right. On the right, CST analysis tells us that one in four of the incidents of recorded abuse involved language used by the far right, but under the leadership of my right hon. Friend the Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn), a platform has also been given for antisemitism, which was always present on the hard-left fringes, but has now moved into the mainstream of my party. That is why we have experienced a surge in abuse against us—abuse particularly targeted against female Jewish MPs.
I have seen the internal Labour party documents leaked to LBC that formed the agenda for one single meeting of the group tasked with investigating allegations of antisemitic abuse, and I congratulate LBC on doggedly pursuing this story. There are 47 antisemitic allegations in these documents against Labour party members. The evidence of abuse is shocking. I quote:
“He needs to check out the love fest between the Zionists and the Nazis.
People are finding out how much power Jews have. They seem to have a lot of power over the main opposition party. Might they rebel if…the reason they didn’t get a job or a home was because a Jew got it.
You are paid by Israel to destabilise UK Labour.
A Zionist plot to oust Jeremy Corbyn.
A swastika is appropriate as Israel is a fascist state.”
Some of the abuse is directed at Members of this House. LBC gave the file to Mak Chishty, who ran the hate crime unit for the Metropolitan police until 2017. He identified 17 cases that he judged were “race hate incidents” and four cases that crossed the threshold for criminal investigation. It took three months for the Crown Prosecution Service to give the police the go-ahead just for a criminal investigation. Will the Government urgently inquire into why this delay occurred and will they also provide me with written assurance that the delay will not result in cases being dropped because they run out of time?
The documents leaked to LBC covered less than 50 cases. The Labour party has received hundreds and hundreds of complaints, yet only 12 individuals have been expelled from the party since April. I could have identified more than that from the one set of papers I saw. This tells me that the leader of the Labour party is not demanding zero tolerance of antisemitism in our ranks. Until he does, I and other members of the party will continue to call it out fearlessly, loudly and persistently.
Trust between the leader, his staff, Labour headquarters and Back-Bench Labour MPs has now broken down completely. I have absolutely no confidence in the integrity of the data that the party has provided concerning its progress. I submitted a dossier of abusive communications. The only communication that I have received back is a letter from a party member—about whom I had complained —in which he says of my complaint:
“I can’t tell you how pathetic I think this is of you, going crying to the complaints department when someone says they don’t like you.”
He had accused me of “hysterically abusing Corbyn” to advance my own agenda and had said that Jewish people in this country are not victims of anything and that I was a nasty, dishonest person. The level of care provided to MPs by the party is so pathetic that the only response one gets to complaining about antisemitic abuse is further abuse from the culprit.
This week, two Labour MPs quit the Labour party, mainly because they think the party is institutionally antisemitic. I understand and respect their decision and mourn their departure. I joined the Labour party 56 years ago because it was the natural home for Jews, with its proud tradition of fighting racism, promoting equality and fostering tolerance. I do not yet want to give up the fight for the heart and soul of a party I have worked for and with throughout my adult life. The leader of the Labour party must really listen, must really understand and must really change. If he does not do so, he will be culpable for sabotaging the values that led to the creation of the Labour party and responsible for the withering away of a once great political force.
Order. The limit on Back-Bench speeches is reduced to eight minutes with immediate effect.
It is a pleasure to follow the powerful speech of the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge). It is also an honour to speak after my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), who made an excellent speech. We have been great friends since I made a speech here against tuition fees in 2010. He told me I was wrong then and has not stopped telling me I am wrong about Brexit, but we have been great friends even since, and on this issue, as on so many others, we have worked together closely. I join him in paying tribute to my constituency neighbour the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) for the work he has done chairing our all-party group on antisemitism, often in the face of abuse and, sadly recently, of threats and abuse against his nearest and dearest. He deserves great credit for his work.
I want to start on the good news. As this debate is demonstrating, most people in this country are decent, tolerant and open-minded, and that is proven, I think, by surveys in recent years. The annual Eurobarometer has consistently shown that Britain is one of the most tolerant societies in Europe, with some of the most positive views on immigration. We should never forget that that is how most people in this country feel and think.
That is the good news. The bad news, as many Members have said, is the rise of antisemitism in our country. I share the growing concern and alarm. The statistics that the Secretary of State laid out—I will not lay them out again—should shame us all in this House, on whatever side, as should the views of young Jews living in this country. A recent survey showed that 29% of British Jews had considered emigrating because of safety concerns. That is up from 11% in 2012 to now nearly a third of Jews living in this country. About a quarter of them have suffered antisemitic harassment in the last year and about one in three have suffered such harassment in the past five years. This should shame us all. It makes me embarrassed as a Member of Parliament and should shame us all.
My hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy made a great speech about the experience of Jews living in mainland Europe. I cannot reiterate the feeling we had going to that school in Brussels, which is guarded by armed Belgian soldiers, with armoured vehicles outside. I was a schoolteacher. I never had to go through those hoops to get into my school to teach, and to think that pupils have to go through that in mainland Europe just to go to school and do the things they have a right to do is truly shocking. We asked the young people there if they could see a future for themselves in Europe and only a very few hands went up to show they could.
As many Members have said, we have a problem on both sides of politics in this country. There is a growing movement on the far right. According to all surveys, those on the far right hold the most antisemitic views in society, and that is a huge and growing problem. It should concern us all that the far right is getting younger in this country. It is tapping into this feeling of discontent and all the rest of it. As I said in the Holocaust Memorial Day debate, I am disgusted, as somebody who believes in and campaigned for Brexit, that some of these people are now trying to use that issue to further their own hateful, spiteful and poisonous political ideology. It disgusts me, and I say not in my name and not in the name of the nearly 70% of my constituents who trudged out and voted to leave the EU.
The CST contacted me a couple of weeks ago saying, “We’d like to come and talk to you, because your name is on a far-right list as somebody who is trying to stop Brexit,” as my hon. Friend highlighted. I will sit down with the CST and find out exactly what was said, but that is the nonsense perpetuated on the far right. It is fair to say that UKIP has now become a far-right party. The new leader and some of their members seem to be revelling in embracing a far-right, fascist agenda.
As many colleagues have said, antisemitism is a huge problem on the far left of politics. I will not say a great deal about that—Labour Members can speak to it better than I can—but I was outraged at the report on Sky News that George Galloway, who has reapplied to join the Labour party, described the decision of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) to leave the Labour party as a black-ops plot against the leader. He also used the phrase “Goebbels-style” throughout.
To reassure the hon. Gentleman and the House, the women in the Labour party have spoken today collectively to push our Front Benchers and the leadership of our party to say that Mr Galloway is not entitled or able to join our party not only because of the rules, but because he is not welcome as he is a misogynist and an antisemite. I would never be in the same party as him.
I thank the hon. Lady for saying that. Let us call this out for what it was: it was Jew-baiting and a deliberate use of language and of Goebbels to bait. It is exactly the same on the far left as it is on the far right. Let us call George Galloway what he is: he is a misogynist and a racist. That is exactly what he is. He has no place in this Chamber or in politics in this country.
What do we do about antisemitism? We have identified the problem and we know that it is growing in our country. I want to reflect to the Secretary of State on where we are getting it right in schools and the curriculum—I used be a history teacher—but also on where we need to do a lot more. It is right that holocaust education is written into the national curriculum. When we teach holocaust education, we of course teach the history of antisemitism in Europe as part of it, but I fear that the teaching of the holocaust in isolation could leave pupils with the impression that that was the end of it. We say that antisemitism started and ended with the holocaust and the end of the second world war, but we need to look at how we can broaden the school curriculum so that the liberation of Europe and the camps is not the end of the antisemitism story. It is right that holocaust education is on the curriculum, but we need to look at how we can go further.
I had another good idea, but, as a former teacher, I cannot read my own writing. Not for the first time, I will follow up on that excellent idea with the Secretary of State as soon as I have deciphered my own code. I will end on that, but I associate myself with what other hon. Members have said. I am so proud that, in debates such as today’s, the Chamber is united in its revulsion of this disgusting scourge.
Why are we joined here for this debate? It was almost a year ago that I shared with the House my family’s history and experience of antisemitism through the centuries. My mother’s family were expelled from Spain in the 15th century. I spoke about the more than 100 members of my family aged from four to 83 who were murdered by the Nazis in the gas chambers of Treblinka, Sobibór, Mauthausen, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz.
What has happened since that last debate? It pains me to say this and share with the House that we have gone backwards, as we have heard from hon. Members’ contributions. We have not seen the progress we should have seen over the course of the past 11 months. On a personal level, I have in the past year alone seen a further two people convicted: one from the far-right, imprisoned after he threatened to kill me, convicted under counter-terrorism legislation, and another just before Christmas, a former member of the Labour party convicted of harassment. That takes my tally to six or seven individuals, depending on how you interpret it, convicted of antisemitic-inspired hate crimes and threats.
And there is a significant amount of antisemitism which might not reach the criminal threshold but that has surfaced. I have been subjected to thousands of messages of antisemitic abuse and hate, and I want to reflect on what I have seen in just the past week and share with the House the range of terms I have seen; they range from the ridiculous to the truly disturbing. There might be a small minority who think I am a “Zionist lizard” or that I am responsible for Eurovision taking place in Israel. It is sadly all too common to be addressed as “an evil little witch” or a “murderous Zionist.”
Abuse is only part of the problem. Arguably more concerning, as we have heard already, is the rise of insidious antisemitic conspiracy theories: that I am an agent of Mossad, that I am a traitor to my country, that I am paid directly by Benjamin Netanyahu, based purely on my Jewish background. The comments underneath my posts on social media are filled with individuals calling me the MP for Tel Aviv or asking whether a Member of Likud can stand for election in our country. And just yesterday an individual who says they are a member of the Labour party and with the hashtag “JCforPM” in their bio—they have been on Twitter for an extended period of time and have hundreds of followers, so this is not a bot that has been created—said:
“shame on Luciana Berger, A Zionist Bitch, I hate her, I hate her baby, her Israel.”
Elsewhere an official Labour-affiliated group, Young Labour, announced that the departure of my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) would mean that “Palestine Lived” and then proceeded in bullying the Jewish chair of Young Labour, while influential Twitter users have wished “good riddance” to “Israel’s fifth columnists.” They have called myself and hon. and right hon. Friends “the Israel stooges party”, “the Israeli apartheid democratic front” and so on. Others have alleged that the Rothschilds and George Soros will declare their backing for the new independent group. I share all this because this is what is happening in our country, from people across the country, during the past week and today in particular.
In the Labour party, my political home for nearly 20 years until I resigned from it on Monday, I have seen obfuscation, smears, inaction and denial every step of the way. We had a debate in this House following the unprecedented event of a minority community in our country, the British Jewish community, taking to Parliament Square outside this place to say enough is enough when it comes to antisemitism. It was not a demonstration against National Action or Tommy Robinson; it was against the Labour party, a political movement that is supposed to pride itself on the values of equality for all and anti-racism against all.
Yet what has happened in the wake of that unprecedented event in our country and in the wake of the debate in this House that took place just a few weeks later? Mr Speaker, you could not make up the catalogue of events that has shamed the Labour party since that happened: the countless individual cases, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) has alluded to already, that have been dropped or have not been responded to. In the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day this year, we learned of members of the Labour party in high-profile positions, a number of them councillors and one a Welsh Assembly Member, who had made antisemitic comments and had as their sanction a “reminder of the rules”. That was somehow a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism. We have heard the audio recording of a member of the Labour party’s highest governing body, the national executive committee, accuse 70 British rabbis of being Trump fanatics rather than addressing their very serious concerns about antisemitism. We had to fight for months to see the international definition of antisemitism with all its examples accepted and adopted by the Labour party, and even with a last-minute attempt to dilute it.
We had the summer of antisemitism, when not a day went by without another story in the British press about antisemitism in the Labour party and about its leader’s connections to the issue. One in particular, which caused gross offence, was the claim that British Jews do not get irony. We were told that the Leader of the Opposition was present, but not involved, at the laying of a wreath for the individuals who orchestrated the Munich attacks and the murder of the Israeli athletes. The commitment to meet a deadline to deal with high-profile cases has been deliberately missed, and the party is withholding details of physical threats to MPs, including myself. Just last week, the leadership of the parliamentary Labour party held members in contempt despite their reasonable request to answer 11 straightforward questions and to respond to serious concerns about antisemitism, which was ignored.
This is a shameful record, let alone from a leadership and a political party that seek the highest office in our land. That is why I have arrived at the sickening conclusion that the Labour party is institutionally antisemitic in its processes, its attitudes and its behaviour. We ignore this at our peril. Colleagues have referred to the figures. We have seen a 16% rise in the number of incidents since 2017, and behind every one of those incidents is a person who has been affected.
The hon. Lady is making some powerful points. I am reminded of the Russian saying that the fish always rots from the head. Does she agreed that that is apt in this case?
I hear the right hon. Gentleman’s comments, and of course people will contend with this issue in different ways. I have not held back from speaking out and seeking to challenge at every available opportunity what I have seen as antisemitism within the ranks of what was my party. This is an issue not just for us here in this country but for countries across Europe. We heard that there were demonstrations yesterday in 60 towns and cities against the increase in antisemitism there.
I will certainly not be intimidated, bullied or silenced. I have used and will continue to use the full force of British law to ensure that people are held to account for the crimes they commit. There should be no tolerance, and that extends to all issues and crimes when it comes to racism. However, this cannot be the British Jewish community’s fight alone. History tells us where this can lead. I am clear that, across the Chamber and in every institution in every part of our national life, we must drive out antisemitism and promote the values of respect, equality and tolerance. I am sick and tired of debating this and describing it. We have had enough warm words and read enough tweets of solidarity; now is the time for swift, strong and decisive action, so that when we debate this again in a year’s time, we can celebrate our progress rather than having to reflect once again on our collective failure. I implore all Members from across the House to do everything they can to tackle antisemitism in our country.
It is hard to follow the speech by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger). I pay tribute to her for the actions that she has taken in the past couple of days, as well as for all she has done since first being elected in 2010. It takes a huge amount of courage to do what she has done.
I have a large Jewish community in my constituency, and the work of the Community Security Trust is particularly important there. In fact, I called for this debate after the release of the CST’s figures. I pay tribute to the trust for the work that it does and for its selfless action in looking after the community. I was pleased that my first parliamentary question here asked for money to pay for the trust to look after schoolchildren at their schools. My right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) agreed with me at the time that he did not see why parents should have to pay to keep their children safe just because they were going to school. We continue to fund that work.
Several hon. Members have mentioned the fact that there have been 1,652 antisemitic incidents in the past year, but that is not the whole story. A further 630 potential incidents were reported, but they were not included by the CST because there was no evidence of antisemitic motivation, targeting or content. However, many of the people who suffered those incidents were from the Jewish faith. Previously, we have seen spikes in the number of incidents following military action in Israel or conflict in Gaza or even the west bank, but that has not occurred in the past year. There have been some border skirmishes in which people have been killed, but two particular periods stand out in which there have been spikes in antisemitic incidents.
The first period when the CST recorded an additional number of incidents came during April and May last year, which coincided with the Leader of the Opposition’s past support for a mural in Tower Hamlet coming to light. The so-called graffiti artist Mear One, whom many of us will remember, produced a mural showing people who very much looked like elderly Jewish men sitting around a table supported on the backs of, presumably, African-Caribbean slaves. Many comments were made at the time, which coincided with an increased number of incidents. The second period came in August and September last year, when there was much discussion in the media about whether the Labour party would adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, and the number of antisemitic incidents increased to 150 in those months. I certainly did not want this debate to be about criticising the Labour party per se, but I want Labour to know that when people make comments, there is an effect beyond the coverage in the newspapers.
I have listened carefully to everything being said today, and I want to assure my colleagues on the Labour Benches that we on the Conservative Benches support them and feel deeply that they are not antisemitic as a whole. We are sad that this is happening.
I do not believe that that intervention was aimed directly at me, but I will say that I have for some time been asked in hustings and during elections, “Is the Labour party antisemitic?” and I have never really engaged in that debate. The simple reason why I could not do that is because the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) is certainly not antisemitic and was very much part of the Labour party. I have therefore always resisted saying that the Labour party is antisemitic, and I have resisted saying that the Leader of the Opposition is antisemitic. I will let others make their minds up about that.
In a very good book by Anthony Julius called “Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England” that I found in the Library, the author suggests that there have been four periods in history when Jews have been prominent and have received antisemitic abuse, and I think that we are now in a fifth. The antisemitism of recent years has taken the form of criticism of Zionism and of the actions and policies of the Government of Israel, which has often manifested itself in direct action, such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. However, the new line of attack is different from traditional antisemitism, meaning the hatred of Jews, claims that Jews are inferior to others or a belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy or the Jewish control of capitalism. The new antisemitism differs in the political voices from which it comes. Previously antisemitism was perceived as coming from the political right, but the new antisemites are primarily on the left and, indeed, the far left.
I have a concern about how such views are communicated to the public through social media. The Antisemitism Policy Trust and the CST found that when Google removed “Are Jews evil?” from its autocomplete function in December 2016, 10% fewer people searched for “Are Jews evil?” than in the previous year. Search companies should stop directing people to antisemitic content on the internet, and we must better equip users and remove content when it is uploaded.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and I went to Dublin with the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism to visit Facebook and Twitter. I am sure that he will remember that when we spoke to Facebook, its reaction to any kind of racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynistic comment was, “We must remove it as soon as possible.” However, when we spoke to Twitter, it likened any such posts to comments made in the street to someone as they pass by. We felt that was certainly not an appropriate response. I would like to see the Government and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport consider legislation to prevent such comments from being allowed to remain online.
I am particularly disappointed by two comments that many of us will have seen online yesterday. The first was in response to the right hon. Member for Enfield North when she moved to her current position as an independent Member. Young Labour tweeted:
“Joan Ryan Gone—Palestine Lives”.
As though she had any effect on either Palestine, the west bank, Gaza or Israel.
The second comment, and I do not think it necessary to name the Member, was about the financial backers of the new Independent Group:
“Support from the State of Israel, which supports both Conservative and Labour ‘Friends of Israel’, of which Luciana was chair, is possible and I would not condemn those who suggest it”.
Well, I certainly would. I cannot speak for Labour Friends of Israel, but I am sure it is the same as Conservative Friends of Israel, which does not receive any money from the Israeli Government—it receives its finances from within this country, as per the law.
I ask the Labour Front Bench to do more, and not only about the members I have mentioned today and the comments they have made online; they also need to actively seek out those who are causing a terrible and emotional time for so many of my residents.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree has shown us today what antisemitism feels like, but many of my constituents show me on an almost daily basis how it affects them. One comment, on which I will end, came from a gentleman today and, like me, he is very concerned about the removal of a passport from a British person, “If Mr Corbyn was to be elected, he would know that I have the right of return to Israel, and no doubt I would have my passport taken away.” I do not believe that, and I certainly hope this country never ends up behaving in such a way, but we cannot go on like this. We cannot allow people to behave in the way they have, and we must stop it before people leave this country.
This debate comes at a time of unprecedented anxiety among the Jewish community in this country. A significant majority increasingly worry about their safety and security here, and they question whether their children and grandchildren have a future in the country they love. Yes, this is partially the result of a record number of antisemitic incidents, as reported by the Community Security Trust, and it is also because of the eternal threat from the far right and fundamentalist terrorism, which means that Jewish schools require permanent security guards and security fences, but it is mainly provoked by the fear that the Leader of the Opposition could become Prime Minister of this country.
That is distressing for the community, but it is heart- breaking for those of us whose lives and life chances have been shaped by both our Jewish and Labour identities. How the Labour party, a party that has always had anti-racism as a core value, has got itself into this position is both tragic and extraordinary, and I will devote my contribution to that today.
The current leadership have enabled it by associating for decades with people whose hatred for capitalism has included false assertions about the alleged malign influence of powerful Jews. The problem is not only their association with such people but their refusal to condemn them and call out their antisemitism. People who were previously involved on the fringes of mainstream politics are now members of the Labour party.
Then there is the leadership’s long-standing support for the hard left’s demonisation of Zionism and its global strategy to equate Zionism with racism and to bastardise the word “Zionism.” In the hard left’s world view, the west is the problem, especially the US, and Israel is a proxy of the US in the middle east, where it does not belong.
In reality, Zionism is the Jewish people’s right to self-determination in their own state. It is not expansionism, aggression or the policy of any particular Israeli Government. Many Zionists, including me, oppose settlement expansion and hope that, at some stage in the future, there will be leaders on all sides with the authority and credibility to create the conditions for a two-state solution.
The problem is that the current Labour leadership have always believed that the creation of Israel was a catastrophe and, whatever their protestations, favour a one-state solution—Palestine, not Israel. This is in stark contrast to their campaigning for the rights of minorities around the world to self-determination. So in their world view, Jews are the only minority who do not have that right to self-determination. Israel is singled out and demonised when human rights abuses and lack of democracy in many other countries are on a much greater scale, including countries deified by the hard left. Jewish people are held responsible individually and collectively for alleged actions of the Israeli Government.
After a summer when the Labour party was engulfed in a perfect storm as a result of its refusal to accept the internationally agreed definition of antisemitism, what was the reaction of the party leader? It was to go to a meeting of the party’s national executive with his own proposed amendment that people should have the right to say that the creation and existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour. In other words, based on this definition, the leader of the Labour party supports people’s right to be antisemitic. This is extraordinary. Then, we must consider the long-term support for terrorist organisations who kill and incite the murder of Jews—Hamas and Hezbollah. Of course, there is a perfectly respectable argument to be made for talking to terrorist groups in order to persuade them to end violence and become part of political and peace processes, but with neither Hamas nor Hezbollah, or the IRA, was this the objective of the Leader of the Opposition. His interactions were clearly to show solidarity with their cause and hence legitimise their use of violence in pursuit of their goals. That is the hard truth. Because of this, how can Labour, under his leadership, tackle the “cancer” of antisemitism when many of the accusations refer to people who articulate views he shares and their loyalty to the leader takes precedence over the party’s anti-racist values?
Why should this matter to the vast majority of UK Jews? It is quite simply because Israel is our best, and perhaps only, safe haven against the persecution Jews have suffered in every generation through history, most recently, with the pogroms of Russia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the horrors of the holocaust only 80 years ago. Jews’ fear of persecution is based on historical and contemporary facts, not irrationality or paranoia. Even in civilised France, we have seen tens of thousands of Jews leave our neighbouring European Union country in the past 20 years because of their direct experiences of antisemitism.
I salute my former colleagues who have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish community. But it has made me sick to the stomach to observe the silence of some in the party and, in other cases, the denial of the problem or attempts to smear those who have spoken out. The abuse and threats meted out to my courageous hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) have disgusted most decent people. Instead of empathy and support, the response of the hard left was to call a vote of no confidence in her—and they call themselves socialists! Quite simply, if all of this has happened in the party, imagine what would happen in our country if the right hon. Gentleman ever became Prime Minister. That is why UK Jews are afraid, and why I urge my friends and former colleagues to examine their consciences and act to put an end to this shameful chapter in the Labour party’s history. Antisemitism is not some second-class form of racism. A party rooted in the values of equality and anti-discrimination cannot collude with racism as a price worth paying for chasing an election victory.
A six-minute limit now applies.
I am sure that I represent all Members of this House in saying that the Jewish community is and has been a real blessing to our nation throughout its history; both inside and outside this House, Jewish individuals have contributed in extraordinary ways to the culture and prosperity we all share. We should take this opportunity to honour and thank their community for the contribution they make to our common good. In recognising and celebrating the Jewish community, we should condemn unequivocally all antisemitic behaviour suffered by our Jewish brothers and sisters. One antisemite is one too many, and there is much work to be done to tackle this.
Today, I wish to focus on the responses to the problem. An effect response will flow partly from the following two principles. First, we must do all we can through education to understand and accept our differences, and in this context our religious differences in particular. Although respect for freedom of religion and belief should not give special privileges to the religious, it should allow believers like our Jewish brothers and sisters the maximum possible freedom to live out and profess publicly who they are and what they believe. Secondly, we must re-emphasise the things that bind us all together, whatever our background or beliefs, and first and foremost that means our innate value as individual human beings—our shared humanity.
Before I touch on those principles in a little more detail, let me just say that true tolerance cannot just be of religions or practices with which we agree; it must also be of those who may be quite different from ourselves. Neither is true tolerance best fostered by state-established measures of what is good for all; rather, it is fostered by enabling those who are different to exist freely and together with those differences. One way to promote that is to facilitate better religious education in schools.
As chair of the all-party group on religious education, I am aware of the number of highly dedicated RE teachers throughout the country, yet as our report “Improving Religious Literacy: A Contribution to the Debate” highlighted, over recent years RE has not been given the priority or resources that it should have had in many schools. I am pleased that Education Ministers are now seeking to address this, because for many children today RE serves as the main or sole space in which they encounter and discuss different religious beliefs, values and meaning.
Poor-quality RE can have a lasting detrimental effect on the extent of children’s ability to understand and engage with those of different faiths. In turn, that can affect their ability throughout life to engage intelligently and positively in an increasingly diverse society. A submission to the all-party group from the University of Chester department of theology and religious studies said:
“Religious literacy enables willingness and ability to live with religious and cultural tensions and with conflicting beliefs and practices. It supports social cohesion by providing spaces where different views can be aired, listened to and engaged with without the pressure to conform to an overall perspective.”
I have been moved by the speeches we have heard, and particularly by the hon. Lady now. Does she agree that we need the three themes of love, tolerance and respect of everyone in society? That is what this debate is about and we should all practise those themes in our own lives, and those outside this place should do the same.
The hon. Gentleman hits the mark absolutely.
Good religious education will help to promote community cohesion, which is critical as the shape of our communities changes. I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Education appreciates that, too. He noted recently:
“It is mandatory for all state funded schools to teach RE and it is important that they do this well. Good quality religious education not only helps schools meet their legal duty to promote children and young people’s spiritual and moral development. It also gives them knowledge of the values and traditions of Britain and other countries, and so fosters mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs.”
Lord Alton said in the other place:
“Religious literacy and understanding of faith and no faith, the honouring of difference, the determination to understand one another and to reconsider bigotry, prejudice and caricatures, must surely be at the heart of how we form tomorrow’s citizens.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 17 December 2018; Vol. 794, c. GC158.]
We can promote true tolerance by reasserting the rights and respect owed to each person simply by virtue of their humanity. These rights, as intended in the universal declaration of human rights, assume that we all have equality by virtue of our humanity.
Before my hon. Friend moves on further from religious education, I should say that on the basis of what she has described, perhaps it is time for new guidance from the Department for Education, along exactly the lines she has described, to reinforce the importance of religious education and to firm it up and make it more substantial.
The hon. Lady has three more minutes, but I gently suggest that she is not obliged to use them.
I will endeavour not to, Mr Speaker.
I was speaking about the importance of our individual humanity, which we should respect before any differences in intelligence, strength, religion, ability or political views. We should understand that each of us is individually and uniquely created, and that no insignificant person has ever or will ever be born. It is this vision of dignity in our shared humanity that was lost during the holocaust.
My favourite teacher at school—I know we all had one—was a German who had, with her father, helped Jewish children escape from the Nazis. They then had to escape themselves. She taught me German, but she also taught me something far more important than that. She taught me that no ideology should take precedence over respect for an individual as a human being and as a person.
I note that we subtly enable persecution every time we promote the use of language that often accompanies identity politics. Our political opponents are not necessarily wicked. They are certainly not scum. They are due a respectable ear and proper dialogue. Those who differ from us, whether in their political or religious views, or in their ethnicity, are first and foremost our brothers and sisters in humanity. I know that our Jewish brothers and sisters teach and promote these principles. As a society, let us stand alongside them and do all we can to enable them to flourish in their unique identity and beliefs.
This is a traumatic time. In the past three days, eight highly respected hon. Members have left the Labour party, citing the Labour party’s antisemitism as the key reason. The antisemitic abuse that I receive includes claims that I do not have human blood, that I am a racist supporter of child abuse, that I am a Zio, a Zionist shill and the Jewish Labour Movement’s bitch, that I accept the Israeli shilling, that I am prepared to sacrifice the Labour party in support of a foreign power, and much more.
That could never have taken place in the Labour party that I joined, but today’s Labour party is dominated by a hard-left faction that too easily embraces centuries-old anti-Semitic conspiracy theories couched in left-wing terminology. It struggles to recognise that it has a problem. Perhaps it is the problem. That is why the party finds it so difficult to deal with the deluge of anti-Semitism it has unleashed. If the term “Jew” is replaced by “Zionist”, today’s Labour party is perfectly at ease with anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. Even as the eight hon. Members left, they were accused of being manipulated and funded by Israel.
Why is Jackie Walker, who repeats Louis Farrakhan’s racist lies that Jews were the main financiers of the slave trade, still in the Labour party? How could Kayla Bibby be let off scot-free after downloading an antisemitic image from the website Incogman that presents Jews as
“Parasites responsible for financial heists of entire nations”
and that is headed “Bloodsucking Alien Parasites Killing America”, the alien parasites being the Jews?
This is an abject failure of leadership for a party that aspires to government. No amount of reassurances from spokespeople can make matters right. In fact, they are insulting. Who do they think they are kidding? It is only action in drumming out the antisemites in the Labour party that counts, and there is little sign of that happening—unless, of course, the party becomes embarrassed by the public exposure of its failings. This is not just a problem for the Jewish community. It is about the nature of our society and the soul of the Labour party. Labour prides itself on being an anti-racist party, but a party that struggles to combat anti-Jewish hatred is complicit in racism. That is the reality.
Why am I still in the Labour party? I am not used to giving up. I still believe in the values that brought me into the Labour party 56 years ago—anti-racism, the struggle for equality, seeking the means to create a better society. I am still fighting, and I will not be hounded out. Indeed, I suspect that the leadership would be delighted to see all its opponents go.
I am encouraged by the support of the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs—Jewish and non-Jewish—and many members, including those in Liverpool. I am still battling for the soul of the Labour party as, with my Jewish and non-Jewish colleagues, I oppose antisemitism wherever it raises its ugly head.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Dame Louise Ellman).
One of the most poignant sayings is that history has a habit of repeating itself. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) put it in excellent terms this afternoon—that history tells us where all this will lead. Whether it was in the holocaust, or whether it was other genocides that followed, in which people of different faiths and from different communities have been tortured and murdered, whether it was in Rwanda, whether it was the Rohingya, the Yazidis, or in Srebrenica—all followed a similar pattern before genocide and holocaust took place. The warning signs are there long before the action happens.
Antisemitism was clearly evident long before the holocaust in which 6 million Jews were executed. Looking at the parallels between then and now, there are some disturbing similarities. Only a few weeks ago, as the Secretary of State said, many of us were signing the book of remembrance for Holocaust Memorial Day, promising that we would speak out if we saw those patterns of behaviour emerging in our society. That is part of the purpose of today’s debate. It is important not to sit silently by, not calling such behaviour out.
At the time in 1933 when Hitler took over as Chancellor, few saw that the creeping antisemitism would lead to the murder of 6 million Jews. Look at the building blocks that were put in place to get to that stage. A man got into power—a man that, in 1919 when he joined the German Workers’ party, many thought a political lightweight that would never lead the party. But he got into power, promising the masses, in the time of austerity following the first world war, that he would end austerity. He denounced international capitalism; he said he would install a new order to dismantle the broken politics of that generation. He promised increased public spending to build more hospitals, schools, roads. He would curb big business and end capitalism. He had sidelined traditional trade unions and established his own new group, the Labour Front. He set up a youth wing to indoctrinate the next generation so it would follow his values and beliefs. They were often found chanting at popular events such as the Olympics.
He changed the rules in his own party, so that people could not challenge him and get rid of him. He got rid of the moderates in his own party, using the Enabling Act, so that no one could speak out, and if they were afraid, they were gone in an instant. He ended the freedom of the press, and it was after he got into power that the antisemitism was really ramped up. Anyone looking at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum website should listen to the testimony of someone like Hedi Pope, whose parents lived through that. She said they were Jewish, but they dismissed some of the changes; they thought they would never last—he would be gone in a few years, and things would return to normal. But they never did.
After 1933, the Jews were dismissed from the civil service. People were told to boycott Jewish goods. They could not attend schools. They could not go to public areas, such as cinemas. There was the physical destruction that we have heard so much about this afternoon—of synagogues, Jewish homes, places of business. In 1938, Jews started to leave, but for many of them it was too late.
At Prime Minister’s Question Time this afternoon, I spoke about Anne Meadows, a councillor—a Labour councillor—since 1994. I know Anne because I was a Conservative councillor with her in the ward of Moulsecoomb and Bevendean—I was the first Conservative councillor there for 20 years. Anne is a fierce, patriotic Labour woman. You did not mess with Anne. I found that to my cost when I was a fellow councillor. To see a woman like that having to leave the Labour party because of antisemitism against her husband is absolutely shocking. What did her local Labour MP tweet today? That this was nothing more than a bare-faced career move by Anne. There was no sympathy for the plight of Anne and her husband. That tells us where we are today. If we think that antisemitism is something that happened in the past and could never escalate to the same levels, we are fooling ourselves and denying what has happened. There is antisemitism today, and as we remember the lives that were lost in the holocaust and previous genocides we are confronted with a question—what would we have done? Would we have prevented what happened then? Will we have a chance now, because history tells us that if we do not take it we know where this will end?
I beg the indulgence of the House. I have never stood before to make a speech in the House without notes and without something explicit to say. I never thought that I would do so on an issue so important to me, because I would be so emotional about it. I beg the indulgence of the House for the next six minutes.
A year ago, I stood in this House and read out some of my greatest hits. I got huge solidarity, and lots of people, both within the Labour party and outside, stood with me and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Dame Louise Ellman) as we continued our fight—a fight I never thought I would have to have inside my own party, and I promise one that I never wanted. As much as I would love—not love; happily—share the ongoing abuse that has happened over the past 12 months, I say with respect to everybody in the Chamber that it simply is not about us. It is about the chilling effect that this is having on people outside. It is about the young women who should be joining the Labour party who no longer have a political home. It is about those young women and young men who have decided that their identity stops them getting politically involved. It is for them that we continue this fight. It is for them that I stay on my Benches, inside my party. It is for them that I will fight every single day to ensure that antisemitism is removed from my party.
I say to the leadership of my party that one antisemite is too many. It should not be the case that I or my colleagues have to mention the names of antisemites either in this Room—in this wonderful Chamber—or to the parliamentary Labour party for someone to be thrown out. I would like to report to the House that Derek Hatton has been suspended from the Labour party. It took a complaint by my friend the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner), and for that to be mentioned in the House.
I am sick and tired, and my heart is breaking a little more every day, because of what I have to experience and what I have to read. I am devastated that my closest political sister in this House has been hounded out of my party, but I have a message for everybody. I will not be silenced. I am going nowhere, and they will have to take my membership card away from me, because this is too important—not for me, not for you, but for the people we represent outside.
I want to say thank you to everybody who has supported us. I want to say thank you to the CST, which has kept me safe. I want to say thank you to the police, who have kept me safe, and I want to say thank you to the Government, who have been there when my own party has not, which is shameful. But this fight continues, and it continues on behalf of all of us. Everybody should grant the CST more money, and they should support and join the APPG. Now is the time not only for words, not only for things in the Chamber, but for action, because we so desperately need it.
Order. There are six people wanting to speak—four minutes each. I call Stephen Kerr.
That was a most extraordinary speech and I compliment the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) for delivering it in the way she did.
I almost feel that little more needs to be said, but when I was first elected as Member of Parliament for Stirling I made a commitment to myself that I would stand up in this place, and in all other places, to defend any persecuted minority and to speak up against hatred in all its grizzly, ugly forms. That is why I want to take a few minutes of the House’s time to make it clear that I stand with my Jewish friends and neighbours against the racist vileness that is antisemitism.
Where are we going as a society when a person’s ethnicity or religion is used to demean them and their right to freedom of speech? I have never felt the need to apologise for or hide my religious convictions or affiliations, and no one in this country should ever have to do so. No one should ever have to suffer being the subject of public pillory because of their origins or their religious affiliation. Freedom of religion or belief is a foundational human right.
Based on my limited experience as a Member of this House, I cannot imagine the bullying, abuse and mockery that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and others have had to endure and are enduring. The grotesque treatment to which she and other hon. Members have been subject is deplorable and must be condemned, not least by the leadership of the Labour party.
I am deeply concerned about the rise of this hate, here and around the world. Jew hate seems to me to be a significant element in the overall increase of intolerance and hatred of all kinds. There is a coarsening of public discourse in the way in which intolerance and bigotry are being normalised, not least because of the prevalence of the abuse of social media platforms.
There is so much to be critical of in this world when it comes to injustice, whether it is the treatment of religious minorities in Saudi Arabia, the persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar, or the official Chinese persecution and imprisonment of more than 1 million Muslims. There is no small amount of injustice in this world, but it is telling that far more energy and importance is attached to divestment and boycott campaigns against Israel than against any other country. That was demonstrated last month, when Malaysia banned Israelis from participating in the world Para swimming championships. We have also heard calls for the boycott of Eurovision when it takes place in Israel, but protests against awarding the World cup to Qatar or against holding the Olympic games in China are muted at best.
In the minute I have left, let me say that this instinct of hatred, which some on the left and the right wish to bring to the surface of our natures, can only be truly defeated by love. Tolerance is not enough. Tolerance implies that we may dislike something but we will politely keep our mouths shut and grudgingly allow people to behave in a way that is destructive to our way of life. It is only when we truly see the common humanity that we share, free of the strictures of difference, that we will become free of intolerance and hatred. It is for that reason that I have made freedom of religion or belief one of the issues that I will continue to speak about in this Chamber. These hatreds—racism, religious persecution and intolerance—make us all slightly less human and diminish us all wherever they are. I cannot think of a more important subject to speak out on.
I shall comment on one issue only—not the racists and the antisemites who have been exposed, but the enablers, because the enablers are an equally big problem and there are a lot of them, not least in the Labour party.
I will give one example from the previous debate in which I spoke. One enabler went online and put out to a lot of people the suggestion that I had exaggerated and lied about an incident relating to a dead bird that was sent to my wife by a misogynist antisemite in 2012, for which someone was prosecuted. This enabler found a press cutting from the Worksop Guardian that showed that someone was prosecuted for the misogynist crime. That is accurate, but this enabler, a journalist, did not bother to contact me before he put this out to very many people. He did not ask me whether what I had said was wrong. He therefore did not know that, when in advance of that, I had given the specific antisemitic literature from a man called Roger Dyas-Elliott to Nottinghamshire police, the police requested that the antisemitism was not included in the prosecution—as a dead bird had been sent through the post, the prosecution would be immediate and successful, and this would therefore delay things—and, on that basis, I had agreed.
Dyas-Elliott is an antisemite whom I have challenged repeatedly in my local Labour party. I banned him from my office, and through his union, the National Union of Domestic Appliances and General Operatives, had his pass taken away at the Labour party conference in 2010. This is what he said in 2010, which led to my first action against him. In a letter to the Worksop Guardian, during the general election, he called for an investigation into the motives and machinations of the Zionist fraternity and the conduct and behaviour of the Bilderberg Group. He is an antisemite who repeatedly, in letters to the press and letters to me, put out this vile stuff, and therefore I challenged him. I took him on in meetings, and I banned him, kicked him out of campaigns and stopped him being a candidate.
That is the truth of what happened with Roger Dyas-Elliott, a misogynist criminal and an antisemite, yet this enabler, Kevin Maguire—a national journalist, associate editor of the Daily Mirror and correspondent for the New Statesman, a press pass holder here and one of the people used by Labour party Front Benchers to put out their message repeatedly—puts this out, and what do I get as a response? Let us quote from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party forum the next day:
“I enjoyed the too and froing when Mann was accusing a guy of being anti-semitic and racist”,
“I hate this man!... I’d like to punch him in the face!”
I do not have time to go through the rest, but that one was from Joe Kelsall in a private Facebook group. He was a Labour party member in Sefton, Liverpool, and he is still a Labour party member, despite my complaints. Joe Kelsall is a man who wants to punch me in the face, following the enabling of Maguire.
The enablers of antisemitism are as big a problem as the antisemites, and they are more numerous. It is time the enablers were exposed. I have exposed one: Kevin Maguire—an enabler of racism.
For me, this debate is personal. I am not Jewish, but as a black man I know what it feels like to experience racism of both the individual and the institutional kind. I understand how a racist insinuation is not just offensive, but isolating, making you suddenly feel vulnerable and excluded. I know how the repetition of a well-worn stereotype or trope, followed by the inevitable denial that it is racist, can be undermining and exhausting. I know, because I have seen it and felt it, as well as read about it, that hostility to Jewish people and age-old antisemitic stereotypes, are becoming more common.
Many people speaking in this debate will have experienced antisemitism at first hand, as we have already heard in some of the distressing testimonies today. As has been stated, it is clear that most of the well-documented rise in antisemitic incidents here and in many other parts of Europe is driven by the alt-right, the far right and the fascist right. They are emboldened by the xenophobic rhetoric of our age to form a sickening new far-right internationalism, with sometimes devastating consequences for all racial minorities.
Did I believe that in 2019 I would wake up to the news that “No blacks” signs had been daubed on the front door of the home of a 10-year-old boy who had just started a new school, or that Islam would be seen as a threat to the British way of life by one third of people in the UK, according to a poll commissioned by the anti-fascist group, HOPE not hate?
I know that racism can take different forms and all of us can hold unconscious biases. In a frank self-admission, George Orwell, writing in 1945, suggested that the starting point for any investigation of antisemitism should be not just condemning others but looking inside ourselves. This is good advice, even today, that I know some people in my party seem to find quite difficult to follow. The fact that the left is opposed to racism in principle does not mean that it is immune to being, consciously or unconsciously, racist or antisemitic in practice. It can be all the more difficult for us to face up to this fact given the extent of unacknowledged racism in other parties, which goes deep.
In the 1930s, assertions of hidden power and wealth were routinely hurled at hundreds of thousands of poor Jewish immigrants living in the slums of London and Manchester. Today, similar projections, conscious or otherwise, can be heard in the repeated association of Jewish people with shadowy conspiracies, often associated with Israel—especially when complaints of antisemitism are made, even when the evidence of it is before our eyes. And it is before our eyes.
The same HOPE not hate report affirms the seriousness of modern antisemitism, online and off, including the very real problem of left-wing antisemitism. Sometimes I hear it said that antisemitism should not be focused on at all in modern Britain as that takes space away from highlighting racism against other groups—as though there is a finite space for this discussion that cannot expand. That can unwittingly reproduce a stereotype of Jews as somehow powerful and privileged even when they are calling out the racism that they experience.
As a black man who has experienced racism all my life, I see the situation very differently: to my mind, closing our eyes to racism against one group only emboldens racism against us all. The only way to combat racism is to show no tolerance to any of it, ever. In that spirit, a few of us have recently formed the new Black, Asian and Jewish Alliance, which we call BAJA. Through our existence, we aim to highlight diversity within our groups as well as between us. Based on the principle of mutual solidarity, we recognise that what we hold in common is considerable, but we also try to listen and learn from each other about our distinctive experiences.
Above all, we know that racism can be defeated only if we stay united and refuse to be divided by any of the current tensions that swirl around us. As we look around the world today, with the rise of the hard right in the form of Trump, Bolsonaro, Salvini and too many others, we know that tackling the scourge of growing antisemitism, wherever it is found, has rarely been so urgent.
It is a great sorrow that we are once again debating the rise of antisemitism. As a Labour party member for 40 years, now a former member, I am sickened and ashamed that we have seen antisemitism rear its ugly head in British society—and at the core of British politics: in Her Majesty’s official Opposition.
Yesterday, I made the terribly painful decision to resign as a member of the Labour party. I could not remain a member of a political party whose leadership allows Jews to be abused with impunity and the victims of such abuse to be ridiculed and have their motives questioned and integrity called into doubt. It is that antisemitism that is found on the left, and the connection between it and anti-Zionism is what I particularly want to address today.
There is nothing antisemitic about criticising the policies and actions of the Israeli Government—millions of Israelis do so every single day—but there is an undeniable link between antisemitism and anti-Zionism: those who deny the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, who attempt to demonise and delegitimise the world’s only Jewish state and who invoke antisemitic conspiracies accuse Jews of dual loyalty and—most offensive of all —compare Israel’s actions to those of the Nazis during the holocaust. To deny the link does a disservice to the victims of antisemitism and prevents us from tackling evil.
Let me be clear: no one can pretend to be an ally to the Jewish people while denying their right, and only their right, to self-determination in their historic homeland. No one can oppose antisemitism if they also oppose the existence of a state that exists to provide the ultimate safe haven for Jews facing antisemitism. No one can declare themselves to be a lifelong anti-racist if they single out for disproportionate criticism, above and beyond that expected for any other democratic nation, the world’s only Jewish state and its citizens and deny the religious significance of Israel to the Jewish people.
Over the past three years, we have seen in the Labour party how quickly hatred of Israel and attacks on Zionists can morph into vile racism against Jews—whether through repellent myths about the Rothschilds or the sewer of holocaust denial. Those in the current Labour leadership opened this door. They have shamed and demeaned a once-great party. They have allowed its bonds with Israel to be severed, its anti-racist credentials to be shredded and Jews to be driven from its ranks. I can no longer fight for the values that brought me into politics—equality, solidarity and against discrimination—from such a party. I respect my former colleagues—and still my friends—in the Labour party who have made it clear that they will carry on that fight from inside the Labour party. It needs to happen inside and out. I hope that what I and other colleagues have had to do will be a real wake-up call.
It is a privilege to follow the right hon. Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan).
In my limited time, I would like to concentrate on just a couple of points. I am not Jewish, but I was talking to a constituent of mine a few months ago, a perfectly ordinary, normal middle-aged lady who is a Brit. I did not even know that she was Jewish, but during the conversation, it became clear that she was. She told me something quite shocking. She said that, with the change in antisemitism over the past couple of years, she and her friends no longer feel safe in the United Kingdom. This was so astonishing and extraordinary that I chanced it a bit and said, “How can you really feel that, considering all the challenges around the rest of the world?” but she was absolutely clear on that. In the ensuing months, I spent time talking to a number of other Jewish British people in Eastbourne with a similar background—they are not into politics or campaigning—and again and again I found that genuine fear.
That brings me to two outstanding speeches, one of which was from my friend, the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) who I have known for a long time. He made a very strong point about enablers, which is crucial. The other speech—I am sorry to see that she has left the Chamber—was from the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge). Again, I have known her for over 30 years from before I got into politics. She made a crucial point about how promoting pro-Palestine and pro-Palestinian rights has over the years gone over the line, so that it is no longer a case of, “I disagree with the Israeli Government,” but “I disagree with Jews.”
How did that happen? Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember the hard left from 30 years ago. I hate to say it, but many of us in the Chamber will know that that was always there in the hard left 30 or 35 years ago; it was just that the hard left then did not have any control. Bluntly, it was ignored. Should something have been done? Perhaps, I do not know, but it was ignored. What has changed—I am afraid this is true, although I do not mean this about every member of the Labour Front Bench—is that a cabal of people I would define, many would define and I suspect colleagues behind me would define as the hard left now controls the Labour party. That very same nonsense—and it is nonsense—openly talked about 30 years ago, but by those who had no power, influence or traction, is now everywhere. It has got into normal, ordinary day-to-day conversation. That is why my constituent—this lovely lady who is a friend of mine in Eastbourne who is British, middle-aged and just happens to be Jewish—feels frightened.
That strand now walks the land, and I do not really know what the Labour party is going to do about it—I really don’t. It is different from the hard-right antisemitism that is hundreds of years old. That is thuggish and thick and has been around forever. We could almost take that on. It was easier in a way. But the antisemitism we now have is mainstream with a lot of the supporters of the current Labour party, sadly, and some of its members. That is a real problem. What I do know is that that type of antisemitism is the canary in the mine. The canary is choking and we really have to deal with it. We have to deal with it now or we will all live to regret it.
Antisemitism is trending again. Antisemitism is rising again. Antisemitism is an attack on Jewish people, and when our Jewish communities speak of the fear that they hold, we must listen. When there is anxiety and anger, we must learn and act on these determinations. Whether we are talking about Macpherson, #MeToo or the motion today, this begins with believing the victim and their powerful testimony. It strikes me as well that, as we consider antisemitism, all too often the haters hate harder when it is a woman, so let me condemn both antisemitism and the misogyny we see.
The endless values that we share bring me here today—values of equality, fairness and social justice. Let me also say that it is sometimes more important to single out the calling-out of antisemitism than it is to simply smooth the issue over with a catch-all view of being against racism—just as sometimes I tell each of my children by name that I love them.
Humbly I say that I have no easy answers, but my own perspective guides me. I am the son of a Church of England minister. I am not Jewish, but my wife is. Her Jewish heritage is one of the many things I love about her. We are raising our young family in the traditions of both our faiths, both our cultures. That pursuit is not borne easily. Time spent with mixed-faith couples before my wife and I got married highlighted to us both the anguish that many people face when love and relationships collide across cultures to form family. I am not here just to defend Jewish people from the rising attacks or to call out antisemitism, though I do both; I want to celebrate and affirm Judaism and Jewish people and the contribution that they make to our society, our country and to my life.
My mixed-heritage family is a picture of the messy, beautiful multiculturalism of our country and of modern Jewry. It is also a portrait of hope—I hope—for a better future. For me, this is not about party; it is primal and my principled, personal belief. Modern love, relationships and family across races, religions and cultures can blur the old lines of religious dogma, intolerance or hate-filled political division. Rooted from here, even the most steely glare of these ugly politics can begin to soften.
This has been a difficult debate to listen to, and it is one we have repeated. This is not the first time that we have had this debate but it is important that we have done so, and I hope that if we have such a debate in a year’s time, we are reflecting on a year of progress, particularly in my party. I take no pleasure at all in—in fact, I am very hurt by—the experiences of people in my party and what they have to go through on a regular basis.
I pay tribute to a number of people who have spoken today. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) talked about her family history and told us some very human stories. When someone looks at their family tree and goes into the stories of people from many generations ago, those stories are not distant or abstract. They form part of a person’s identity and who they are. When someone reads stories that are so harrowing, it affects them as a person. I know that from my own family, although it is nowhere near comparable with the type of loss and suffering of members of the Jewish community.
My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Dame Louise Ellman) spoke about how people’s motives are being questioned. If legitimate views that a member of the Jewish community might have are posted online or are stated in the press, they are questioned on a range of motives. People ask, “Why is that being done? In whose name is it being done? Who are you really working for?”, and I just find that sickening. I think that the questioning of motive that has infected our political debate is fundamentally damaging for democracy.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) for his outstanding work on the all-party parliamentary group—he has shown real leadership. He told a very personal story about the impact antisemitism had had on his family. We choose to come into politics—we stand for office and we know what comes with that—but we are all hugely protective of our families, their privacy and their right to be normal, non-political people and to live their lives, and when they become the target of abuse in the way he explained, it hurts all of us who believe in common decency and fairness.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (James Frith) talked about—celebrated, if you like—his life and how special it was. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) said that about 100 members of her family had been affected by the holocaust. I want to mention her in particular. Until a couple of days ago, she was a fellow co-operator in Parliament—one of our finest—and in case any members of the Labour party are celebrating the loss of someone like her from our movement, allow me to say this: we are much, much poorer for not having her part of it, and I am so sorry for what she has had to go through.
I believe in the Labour party. We do not have a right to exist, but I think we have a purpose to exist. There is a reason the Labour party was born, and that need is still very much here, but, as has been explained today in very human terms, we have a lot of soul searching to do—who are we and what are our values? I take responsibility, as does every fair-minded member of the parliamentary Labour party, for trying to address that. That is why I am at the Dispatch Box today—not to apologise for a system that is not fit for purpose or right, or for a party where people feel marginalised and as if they ought not to be a member, but because I believe we must all work together in solidarity to make it the party we want it to be.
We have a lot of work to do, not just to improve processes, not just to say it, but to live and breathe it, and we can only do that through our actions. It is important that the backlog of complaints be dealt with, and additional capacity has been put in, but Members are rightly questioning whether some of the judgments made were the right judgments, given that we ought to be taking a zero-tolerance approach. I apologise to other Members for focusing on the Labour party, but it has been a large part of the debate so it is right that I do.
There is an iconic poster from 1945 that reads: “Now let’s win the peace”. I reflect on that quite a lot. Many members of my family served in the armed forces, and it matters to me that every generation coming into this place should take on that responsibility. Every day, when I look at the news, when I go on social media, when I see what happens in my own community, I feel we are far from winning the peace. I take a generational responsibility in doing what I can do to win the peace, but at the moment I would say we are falling backwards. When I look at the rise of racism, at how people are being marginalised, at the tone of political debate and how polarised it has become, it does not seem to me that peace is valued or that we understand the sacrifice people made to give us the type of society we hold dear today.
I pay tribute to the work of the CST, the Board of Deputies, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Shomrim volunteers, who work to protect, educate and make sure we never forget one of the biggest human tragedies in history. This is no theoretical or abstract debate; rather it goes to the core of who we are as a country and a society. I hope she does not mind, but I will conclude by quoting my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth):
“It is time to be counted in the battle to remove antisemitism from the Labour Party, as it is a battle for the heart and soul of the labour movement.”
I agree with Ruth.
With the leave of the House, I would like to conclude this extraordinary debate. It is a difficult debate to summarise, however, because we have had such wide-ranging, heartfelt and painful contributions that have underlined the chilling aspect of antisemitism and how, while this place is a bastion of free speech, actually that free speech is at risk from bullying and intimidation. That was hard to listen to. It gives us a warning that antisemitism is serious. I quoted the statistics in opening the debate, but it does not give us the colour or sense of reality that we were given by so many of the appalling examples that hon. Members underlined in their contributions.
Given the wide-ranging nature of the debate and the passion and honesty with which hon. Members have spoken, it feels slightly invidious to draw attention to specific contributions, but I was struck by the contribution of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth). Standing here at the Dispatch Box, I can see the Jo Cox coat of arms just above the hon. Lady and am struck by that sense of there being more in common than divides us, and yet this afternoon we have highlighted a lot of division.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) highlighted the theme of family history, which was mentioned by a number of colleagues. That history matters to us all. She rightly said that she will not be intimidated—I am going back to the issue of freedom of speech. She made the point, as did the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North, that she is not going anywhere, and nor should she. They or any hon. Member should be able to make the points they wish to make in the House as they have done.
The comments of the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) were equally notable. She talked about anger and anguish, which came through in a number of contributions, probably most notably in the contribution of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I pay tribute to him for his courage and bravery, and for the leadership he has shown through his work and the all-party parliamentary group.
That sense of leadership was a theme in the debate. We need to show leadership as the Government, but equally all leaders of political parties need to show it. I deliberately opened by saying that we should not make this a partisan debate, but people outside the Chamber might wish to reflect on the powerful contributions that have been made by so many this afternoon.
Education and learning the lessons of the holocaust was a strong theme. Our holocaust national memorial and learning centre has been widely supported. It matters that it will be here, next to this seat of democracy, because of the warning it provides to all of us. We may take comfort in having a democratic society, but we cannot take it for granted. A number of hon. Members gave that warning this afternoon.
The challenges of the online world were mentioned by a number of colleagues. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) also mentioned the education theme. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers) spoke of the regret she felt at having to make the speech she made this afternoon. It is a regret that we are here today to debate this again. We have heard the message: we have had so much talking, but it is now about action more than words. We all need to instil that sense of action within us.
I conclude with the words of the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis. At a recent sitting of the Home Affairs Committee, he drew a black dot on piece of paper to represent the stain of antisemitism and said:
“The white area represents the situation of Jews in the UK today. It is great to be Jewish in Britain and we are proud to be British. This is a truly wonderful country. But, in that context, we’ve got a problem. It used to be smaller, but it has now got bigger, and it could get bigger and bigger unless we deal with it effectively.”
As long as I am in this role or involved in public life, that is what I will continue to do. It is our responsibility to shrink that black dot. I hope that, by virtue of what we have done today, we will help to turn it into a full-stop.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered antisemitism in modern society.