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Antisemitism

Volume 742: debated on Monday 4 December 2023

Tragically, we have seen a significant increase in antisemitism since the events of 7 October. The Community Security Trust recorded 1,500 antisemitic incidents between 7 October and 22 November, the highest total in a 47-day period since records began in 1984 .

Despite the first-hand accounts of survivors such as Yoni Saadon and organisations such as ZAKA—whose members collected the bodies following the Palestinian terror attack of 7 October, and have described mutilated genitals and women’s bodies having been so badly abused that their pelvises were broken—there are some in the pro-Palestinian movement who continue to deny that these atrocities took place. Whether we are talking about dead babies or gender-based violence against Jewish women, it appears that Jews do not matter. Does the Secretary of State agree that this risks fuelling further the antisemitism that we have seen in this country since those attacks?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right; the events of 7 October were uniquely horrific. It was an exercise in calculated, premeditated sadism which everyone in the House condemns. However, as my hon. Friend says, some voices, including some prominent media voices, have considered it appropriate to cavil, to question and to prevaricate in the face of this violence. It is vitally important for us to recognise—even as we recognise that all life is precious, and even as we recognise that it is vital for us to do what we can to minimise casualties in this conflict—that the events of 7 October stand out as the biggest slaughter of Jewish civilians since the holocaust, and for that reason there can be no quibbling when we face such a transparent evil.

I agree with everything that was said by the previous questioner. Could the Secretary of State engage with his opposite number in the Department for Education and argue for the promotion of education about the events of the holocaust? I have believed for a long time that one of the reasons behind the increase in antisemitism, notwithstanding recent events, is the fact that the holocaust is now slipping from memory into history, and we need to perpetuate the analysis and grasp of that particular period of history.

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and it gives me an opportunity to thank the Holocaust Educational Trust, which enjoys support across the House. The work done by its chief executive, Karen Pollock, is exemplary. As the hon. Gentleman rightly points out, as the voices of survivors fade and the holocaust moves from memory to history, it is vital that we ensure that every successive generation appreciates the unique evil of that event, the origins of antisemitism and the need to be vigilant against its recrudescence.

I thank the Secretary of State for his robust answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy). Does he agree that the sight this weekend of bereaved family members from both the Muslim and Jewish communities joining together in a combined rally against Islamophobia and antisemitism was an inspiring sight that we should all hold in our hearts and honour? Does that not serve as a lesson to those people from one community or the other who preached hatred against others who are in fact innocent victims?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct. All of us approach any conflict with a sense of horror and foreboding for what it may mean for innocent civilians, and it is in that spirit that the vigil that he mentions was held. It was great to see people from across communities expressing solidarity. I had the opportunity last week to talk to leaders from various Muslim community groups across the United Kingdom, and I pay tribute to them for their work in challenging extremism of all kinds.

If we are to tackle the reality of antisemitism in the present, it is vital that we learn from the past. In the summer of 1945, 300 Jewish children who had survived the death camps in Nazi Germany made their lives and were rehabilitated on the banks of Windermere lake at Troutbeck Bridge. They are affectionately and proudly known by all of us as the Windermere boys. As we work together to celebrate their legacy, and to use that legacy to ensure that we fight antisemitism in every part of our country, will the Secretary of State meet me and the people involved with the project to discuss how we can build a lasting memorial to the legacy of those wonderful young children who built a new life in this country and overcame the horrors of Nazi Germany?

I am really grateful to the hon. Gentleman for reminding us of that episode in our history, and I would be absolutely delighted to work with him to ensure that that signal moment in our history is properly celebrated. It has been a feature of the United Kingdom that we have always recognised the importance of standing up against antisemitism and providing refuge to those fleeing persecution, so I look forward to talking to him in due course.

The London Borough of Havering has now reversed the appalling decision it made last week to cancel its Hanukkah festivities for the Jewish community. It is impossible to imagine any local authority in the country trying to cancel the annual celebrations of any other faith group. Does my right hon. Friend agree that all local authorities should be careful to avoid any such rash action at this sensitive time, and that they should use intelligence and common sense in their decisions?

My right hon. and learned Friend is absolutely correct. I understand that the London Borough of Havering has now reversed its decision, but it seems to me that it was based on a misconception, which is that the idea of the celebration of any faith should be seen as provocative at this time. We know that there are individual Jewish citizens who feel uncomfortable wearing the kippah or any outward symbol of their faith, and to have a London borough saying that the menorah should not be lit because it would be provocative at this time is wholly wrong. Freedom of religion—the chance for us all to express our faith—is fundamental to British values, and he is right to say that other local authorities should not go down that same route.