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Antisemitic Offences

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2024

[Valerie Vaz in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the matter of increases in anti-Semitic offences.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I will begin by reminding colleagues that 7 October saw the biggest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the holocaust. The number of Jewish people currently displaced within Israel is the largest since the holocaust. In response to this, antisemitic incidents worldwide have soared.

Since 7 October, Auschwitz-Birkenau has been called an “embarrassment to humanity”. “Heil Hitler” has been shouted at Jewish students in the UK. Protests have included shouts to “burn the Jews” on the streets of London. The hats of Jewish men have been thrown off them in our capital, and menorahs have been attacked. We have seen threats from a professor to blow up the Jewish Labour Movement conference. University societies have championed “the resistance”, glorified Palestinian “martyrs” and denied the murder and rape of Israelis at Nova music festival. Synagogues have been targeted and threatened, Jewish schools have been attacked, and Jewish businesses have been vandalised.

In Bristol, “Free Palestine” was shouted at visibly Jewish men walking to a Sabbath lunch. In Leeds, a Jewish university footballer was called a “big nose Jew” by a member of the opposing team. In Manchester, a Jewish school was sent a letter saying

“warning your school is being targeted, No one is safe, no one should support killers, Palestine forever”.

In London, the Wiener Holocaust Library, a great organisation named after Lord Finkelstein’s grandfather, who escaped the Nazis, had “Gaza” spray-painted on its sign. In my area of the west midlands, a swastika was painted on a bridge, and a curry house announced its full support of Hamas. I thank West Midlands police for its support over the last few days in dealing with localised incidents incredibly fast.

That is by no means an exhaustive list; rather it is just a small insight to the Jewish experience in Britain over the last few months. Dr Dave Rich of the Community Security Trust describes antisemitism as a

“light sleeper lying just beneath the surface of society, ready to raise its head whenever the opportunity arises”.

These worrying statistics make clear the disturbing reality of the current situation.

I congratulate the hon. Member on the timeliness of her debate. Does she agree that there is not much that unites the far right and the hard left, but what does seem to unite them—for whatever reason that mystifies me, and possibly her as well—is their innate hatred of Jewish people?

The hon. Member is of course right.

Around the world, we have also seen arson attacks on synagogues in Germany, Tunisia and Armenia. In Canada, Jewish buildings were firebombed and Jewish religious schools were shot at. Terrorist plots against Jewish targets have been foiled in Germany, Cyprus, Denmark, the Netherlands and Brazil. Israeli flags were burnt outside synagogues in Spain and Sweden. In Vienna, part of the Jewish cemetery was set alight and swastikas were painted on walls. Jewish homes were marked by antisemitic graffiti in Paris and Berlin. In the US, a man fired shots outside a synagogue, and declared “Free Palestine” to the police who arrested him. In Russia, a mob stormed an airport looking for Jewish passengers to attack. A Jewish American, Paul Kessler, was killed by a pro-Palestinian protester in Los Angeles. A holocaust memorial in Berlin was defaced.

I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Does she share my concern that so much of the work done in this country by the CST and Tell MAMA to build bridges and understanding is being undermined by what is happening across the world and, frighteningly, in this country? Does she share my fear that there are people up and down this country—students, schoolchildren and the elderly—living in fear in a way that we never envisaged in this century?

The hon. Lady is right. We see some great examples of communities working together. A few months ago, I visited the Jewish community in Birmingham, who told us about the support they had had from the mosque in Birmingham and faith leaders across the board. This by no means describes everything that is happening at the moment, but there are plenty of examples. We have a chance on Thursday to debate some of the more positive aspects of community relationships, but sadly today’s focus is on what is going wrong at the moment.

Across the UK, in the days following Hamas’s barbaric massacre on 7 October to 13 December, the Community Security Trust recorded 2,098 antisemitic incidents. That figure is expected to rise and 2023 is expected to be the year in which the highest ever number of antisemitic incidents was recorded in the UK. The figure of 2,098 dwarfed the 800 or so incidents recorded up until 7 October and was the highest ever number reported to the CST across any similar period, even during other conflicts in the middle east. To clarify, that is 2,098 incidents of antisemitism as a result of a massacre of innocent Jewish men, women and children in Israel. The impact of this is massive and should not be underestimated.

Whereas the police require only for victims to say that they have been the target of a hate crime, the CST requires evidence of antisemitism. The CST logged at least another 1,288 incidents, which have not been classed as antisemitic. Those include criminal acts affecting Jewish people and property, suspicious behaviour near Jewish locations and anti-Israel activity that is not directed at the Jewish community or does not use antisemitic language. Many of those potential incidents involve suspicious or hostile activity at Jewish locations.

The 2,098 incidents included hateful comments, threats of violence and death threats. Among them were 95 assaults, 165 direct threats, 127 instances of damage and desecration of Jewish property, and 1,677 incidents of abusive behaviour. One hundred and thirty-three incidents related to schools and included the abuse of schoolchildren and teachers; I will talk about universities later.

Meanwhile, some of the focal points of the recent rise remain a source of concern. Rallies have taken place across our nation weekly. Of course people have a legitimate right to protest, but that is not the same as feeling free to support terrorist groups or attack Jewish people. The Select Committee on Home Affairs recently investigated the protests, and I think that it will be helpful to highlight some of the contributions from the CST’s Dr Dave Rich.

Dr Rich explained that 7 October left the Jewish community in the UK “completely traumatised and grief-stricken”. He explained that within 24 hours of that largest murderous assault on Jews since the holocaust, the first pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel demonstrations were beginning—some of them while the attack was still continuing. The protests appeared supportive of the barbarism: for example, the announcement on Facebook about one such march called the attack “heroic”. More people have been on these marches than there are Jews in Britain. The CST has had impact statements from British Jews explaining that they feel unsafe living in this country and are changing dates of hospital appointments, forbidding their children to get on the train, and so on.

There have been some 300 arrests at protests—instances where the police have identified, located and arrested someone. There have been antisemitic placards and expressions of support for terrorism, which the organisers are not doing enough to stamp out. Their communications about a rally must include warnings not to engage in antisemitic conduct or support for terrorism, and the communications of the police during the rally must prioritise accuracy over speed. It would be helpful if my hon. Friend the Minister set out what the Government are doing to ensure that the rallies are not hotbeds of antisemitism, and how much it has cost to police them effectively.

Social media platforms must act too. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology has been holding meetings with the companies, asking them to set out their actions and policies. Despite that, the companies are failing in their duty of care to the users. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue found a fifty-fold increase in antisemitic comments on YouTube immediately after the 7 October attack. It found a major rise in threats made against Jewish institutions and individuals, as well as posts on X supporting and glorifying Hamas’s terror attacks. By 12 October, this content had been viewed more than 16 million times on the platform. TikTok has insufficient systems for monitoring live-streamed content, including antisemitism voiced at rallies. The Antisemitism Policy Trust and the Woolf Institute have already demonstrated a number of trends across social media platforms, including antisemitic supply rather than demand on Instagram. There are two antisemitic tweets for every Jewish person in the UK per year on X. It would be helpful if the Minister set out in detail the work that Ofcom is doing in relation to not just the platforms that I have mentioned but small, high-risk platforms such as 8kun and Rumble, both generally and specifically with regard to hate being spread by technology systems during the current middle east conflict.

The situation on university campuses, no doubt compounded by social media, is dire. Since the 7 October attacks, antisemitism on campus has risen sixfold, with 157 recorded incidents according to the CST. Jewish students have been the victims of death threats, physical assaults and violent abuse. There has been explicit support for Hamas and calls for an intifada. The Union of Jewish Students has provided examples, including a student in Scotland being pelted with eggs, graffiti on a poster in Manchester encouraging students to kill more Jews, and participants in an online lecture at Queen Mary University of London joking about Hitler’s gas bill and about getting a Hitler reboot card. The result is that some students remove visible signs of their Jewish identity, while others simply avoid campus altogether.

The Union of Jewish Students has been running training for thousands of union officials up and down the country. Are Government willing to support that effort? Last year, we witnessed what many had hoped would not be possible: three grown adults unable to clarify whether calling for the genocide of Jews was problematic, arguing that it depended on context. Those were not uneducated women; they were university leaders, and not just any university leaders; they were leaders of some of the most respected universities not just in the US, but in the world.

I thank the hon. Lady for for introducing this very important debate, as we see the oldest hatred in the world resurfacing so badly. Should we also deal with the argument about free speech? Free speech and discussion is vital in a democratic society but, in the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes of the US Supreme Court, it is not

“the right to shout fire in a crowded theatre”.

Words have consequences. Should not universities and public authorities be cracking down on this and taking determined action?

I totally agree with the right hon. Gentleman. Just in the past few days, I have been alarmed by the responses I have received on Twitter, having reported an antisemitic incident to the police, and by the support for Hamas, but also by the number of people who do not understand why hate speech, tweets and what they call freedom of speech are being reported to the police. They do not understand the consequences. The statistics I have read out today about the number of Jews living in the UK and the number of antisemitic tweets—two antisemitic tweets per year for every Jewish person in the UK—show why it is important to crack down on it.

Since 7 October, the call for an “intifada until victory” has been plastered up and down campuses, and a model motion calling for that was passed at University College London and the University of East Anglia students’ union. Does the Minister agree that motions passed that call for an “intifada until victory” are disturbing, and that calls to globalise the intifada are extremely worrying? Perhaps we could have some clarity on the legality of the term in those contexts. Will he say something about the role of the prevent duty in relation to speakers and other activity on campus? Will he make it clear that support for Hamas, whether voiced by individual students or groups such as the Socialist Workers party, must be investigated by the police, because support for proscribed terrorist organisations, including Hamas, is illegal?

As we begin 2024, let us be clear. Policing must be robust, with zero tolerance. Sentencing must not be lenient. Education must be improved and widespread. Relevant authorities, whether they be universities, councils or companies, need to work to support Jewish colleagues, employees or students, and ensure that they recognise their duty of care.

This is my message to those engaged in antisemitism in response to a conflict in a place they are unlikely to have visited or know much about. Last week, I met people my age who had survived a massacre at a music festival purely because of their immense courage and chance. I met heartbroken but determined families of hostages and people killed. I witnessed a nation still overcome with grief. For those who diminish what happened on 7 October—or worse, seek to justify it—I hope they will never witness what those strong and brave people did. I watched 47 minutes of the gleeful spree and slaughter by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as civilians. Nothing will erase those images from my mind: the look of fear in their eyes that I did not know was possible. Nothing will ever be the same again for Jewish people around the world following that dreadful day in October last year, so have some humanity, recognise the impact of your language and ask yourself what you stand for.

Antisemitism is centuries old, but it still persists. It does not give up, so neither should we. We must remain unwavering and uncompromising in our efforts to challenge it, and I thank all colleagues present for doing so. I hope this debate will play its part in doing that.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I thank the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) for securing this very important debate.

It has been the most horrific time since the attack in Israel. I was in the country with a delegation from Labour Friends of Israel almost three weeks to the day before the attack occurred, and I visited the Kfar Aza kibbutz. Luckily for the young lady who showed us around, she was with her husband and family further up, near Tel Aviv, at the time of the attack, so they survived. Sadly, her parents did not, and she is having to deal with that grief. Having seen the close proximity to Gaza, I just cannot imagine the fear that they must have all felt for the hours and hours that the attack went on, and the horror and atrocities that occurred. I am someone who witnessed the footage that the Israeli embassy shared with some of us, and there are things in it that I will never, ever forget.

As the hon. Member for West Bromwich East has outlined for us today, the wave of antisemitism we have seen across the country since 7 October is shocking and appalling. We have heard “Burn the Jews!” shouted at protest marches. Jewish children have been advised not to wear their school blazers. Swastikas have been graffitied in public places, and Jewish schools vandalised with red paint. Jews have been harassed, intimidated and assaulted in the street and as they leave their places of worship. The roll call of incidents is both long and shameful. It is shameful that in Britain, in 2024, our fellow citizens are subject to such racism and hatred. Sadly, however, it is not surprising.

As the Community Security Trust suggests, whenever Israel is at war there is an increase in antisemitism incidents, and an acute rise is usually reported specifically in and related to educational establishments, as the hon. Lady spoke about with regard to universities. None the less, the Community Security Trust suggests that, even compared with periods of previous conflicts involving Israel, the current statistics are unprecedented. This is grimly ironic, given that the state of Israel was established to provide the Jewish people with a safe haven, after centuries of persecution which culminated in the Nazis’ attempt to annihilate Jewish history and the Jewish people of Europe. The persecution continues to this day.

Let us be clear: these antisemitic attacks are nothing less than the latest iteration of the oldest hatred. In the charges levelled against Zionists—that they control the media and the Government, that they are disloyal, greedy and bloodthirsty, and that they are ideologically akin to, and collaborated with, the Nazis—we see the repetition of classic antisemitic tropes and smears. Our country, which rightly prides itself on its tolerance and its rejection of extremism, cannot allow antisemitism to go unchecked and unchallenged. We need swift, tough and comprehensive action to tackle anti-Jewish racism.

First, as the shadow Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), has rightly argued, we need an increase in policing and stronger action to tackle and monitor antisemitism, and we must ensure that the police have the powers they need to tackle to hateful extremism. Secondly, it is appalling that Jewish venues and institutions need extra levels of security and protection, but as long as that remains the case, it is imperative that the Community Security Trust receives the funding it needs to do its vital job. Thirdly, what is said online rarely stays online. The hateful conspiracy theories and lies about Jews and Israel that are peddled on social media by antisemites directly contribute to racism on our streets. Social media companies must enforce their own rules against hate speech, and where crimes are committed, they must co-operate with the police to ensure that the guilty are punished.

Fourthly, in relation to universities, the National Union of Students and student unions must do more to fight antisemitism and to ensure the safety of Jewish students. At the same time, surveys indicate shocking levels of ignorance about the holocaust, and strong public support for greater holocaust education. The work of organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust is of paramount importance; they are on the frontline of the battle for hearts and minds.

Finally, Iran is a leading purveyor of holocaust denial, antisemitism and extremism. Its terrorist proxy armies slaughter Jews, while its ideological arm, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, attempts to incite and perpetuate violence and spread disinformation globally, including throughout Britain. As Labour has argued, we must proscribe the IRGC and begin to turn off this pipeline of hatred.

In two weeks’ time, we will mark Holocaust Memorial Day. This year’s theme is the fragility of freedom, and that is especially relevant in the light of the antisemitism that we have seen on our streets over the past three months. Without security, there can be no freedom. Freedom from fear and violence is the prerequisite of any civilised country. We cannot allow Britain’s Jewish community to be denied that freedom.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) for securing this important and very timely debate.

According to the Metropolitan police, in my constituency of the Cities of London and Westminster, we have sadly seen an unprecedented 1,350% increase in the number of antisemitic incidents since the awful scenes on 7 October in Israel. I received an email from a Jewish constituent who is in her late 70s, I believe, and was born and bred in the United Kingdom. She says:

“Some of my non-Jewish friends ask me if I feel safe now. The answer is generally yes, but I would not want to wear my necklace with its star of David when it can be seen. I would not feel safe walking past the pro-Palestinian protests if they knew I was Jewish. I love this country. I cannot think of living anywhere else. I have never been to Israel, but Palestine supporters, when I spoke to them in the street a couple of years ago, said I had no business being here, and a neighbour told me I should not be living in Belgravia; I should go to Golders Green or Stamford Hill.”

Over recent months, my constituency has been the location of protests in solidarity with Palestinians. I support peaceful protest, and always will. It is important to recognise that the vast majority of people taking part in these protests do so peacefully, but I fear that a minority are using them for antisemitic purposes. I am glad to see that these protests no longer tend to end at the Cenotaph, and that the protest organisers have been more sensitive about moving start times and locations to reduce clashes with Shabbat services in nearby synagogues in my constituency. I really hope that that will continue.

As I said, the majority of those on the protests are peaceful, and that has been the case across the country, but we have seen too many incidents of antisemitism on these marches. The police were slow to react initially, but they have got better, and hundreds of people have rightly now been arrested. We cannot live in a country where we shrug our shoulders when somebody is antisemitic. We would not do it if someone was being racist towards a black person or somebody of Muslim heritage; equally, we must not allow it to happen to the Jewish community.

The incidents are wide-ranging, and include the use of intimidating language, physical abuse and criminal damage to property. They have all been reported. One of the biggest issues raised with me as the local MP is abuse on university campuses—places where students should feel free to express themselves and their identity without threat of intimidation.

The hon. Lady is making a very salient point. I was frightened by a recent conversation with a University of Glasgow student who went to a meeting about the war in Gaza. He thought it would be a wide-ranging discussion, but he suddenly found himself at the centre of a meeting that was very antisemitic. He did not feel comfortable; he felt under threat. Does the hon. Lady agree that part of the problem is that the public are not aware of this? They do not see it, and the media is not expressing the danger of growing antisemitism in this country in the way that we would like.

I absolutely agree. One of the most important books I have read over the past couple of years is David Baddiel’s “Jews Don’t Count”. I have always been a supporter of the Jewish community— I have spoken about going to a kibbutz when I was 18, and I have been to Israel several times—but I had never really thought about the cultural antisemitism in this country. None of us really thinks it is racism—well, many of us do, but it is seen as, “Oh, they are Jewish; it’s fine.” As I said earlier, if the target was a black person or anybody of colour, it would be considered completely differently. Those involved in that type of “humour” would be cancelled, and might even be prosecuted for hate crimes.

According to the Union of Jewish Students, there has been a staggering 500% increase in antisemitism on university campuses. I heard about that at first hand soon after the 7 October attacks, when a group of Jewish students from my constituency, from King’s College London, the London School of Economics, the University of Westminster and Imperial College London, came to visit me. One young man of Jewish heritage, British born and bred—from north London—experienced his first antisemitism on the tube coming to visit me. That was shocking for both of us. Those students, who are part of the UJS, have been doing absolutely fantastic work to support Jewish students over the past few months and before that. They informed me that they have received more than 400 calls to their hotline reporting antisemitic abuse over the past few months. The UJS not only supports students but provides training to thousands of people on campus to help them spot antisemitism and root it out before it can harm students. As has been said, one of the big points is understanding that antisemitism is racism, and that we need to call it out.

After I met the UJS, I wrote to all the vice-chancellors and their equivalents at King’s College London, the University of Westminster, Imperial College London and the London School of Economics and Political Science. I highlighted that, although of course it is critical to protect freedom of speech, there is a fine line between speaking freely and causing harm to groups of people and minorities. I reiterated in my letters that we must have a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism and Islamophobia on campus. I also asked the vice-chancellors to inform me whether they were providing additional support to Jewish staff and students after the 7 October attacks. I was encouraged by their responses, which were far more rigorous in their condemnation of antisemitism than some US college presidents have recently been.

Initiatives such as the LSE’s “Report It, Stop It” allow students to safely and anonymously report abusive or threatening behaviour. However, that sort of mechanism is effective only if the reported abuse is met with swift repercussions for the offenders, which I hope the vice chancellors of the universities will continue to provide. University campuses are rightly hotbeds of debate, sometimes on contentious topics and views, but as I say, there is a fine line between the protection of freedom of speech and the protection of people’s rights. People need to feel safe and welcome on their campus, at lectures and elsewhere.

It is not only Jewish students who feel intimidated. Unfortunately, Jewish primary school children are being targeted as well. Some feel so uncomfortable that they cannot show their true identity when on school trips. This struck me so clearly in November last year, when a group of Jewish primary school children visited me. They were from the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer). He could not make their meeting, so he asked me to meet them. They were boys, about 10 years old. The first thing I noticed when I met them was that they were all wearing baseball caps. I asked their teacher why, and it was to hide their kippahs. British children in the House of Commons were hiding their identity for their own safety. How have we come to that? That has to stop.

I have heard from rabbis across my constituency. I am blessed to have so many synagogues in the Cities of London and Westminster, but I have been told how fearful and scared their communities are. We must do all that we can to protect them. I am pleased that the Metropolitan police in Westminster borough have taken that very seriously. They have increased the number of patrols around synagogues, and now liaise with rabbis. I thank the Westminster borough command and the neighbourhood teams for their work.

I hope that through today’s debate, and the continuing hard work of organisations such as the Union of Jewish Students, the Antisemitism Policy Trust, the Community Security Trust and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, we can continue to support those impacted, and slowly and surely rip out any form of antisemitism in this country. We should celebrate and thank the Jewish community for the amazing contribution that they have made, and continue to make, in our country.

It is a real pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Vaz. Thank you for calling me. I thank the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) for leading today’s debate. She and I spoke in the Members’ canteen today. She said, “I suppose you will be there,” and I said, “I certainly will.” I ran the whole way from Horseferry Road, where I was meeting the Transport Minister, to be here on time, because I told the hon. Lady that I would do my best to be here. For a guy of a certain vintage, I am not sure whether that was a good idea.

It is good to see the Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety in his place. I look forward to hearing what he will say. He has always been positive in his response to these debates, and he encapsulates our concerns and requests. I also look forward to the contributions of the shadow Ministers, the hon. Members for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), and for Blaydon (Liz Twist), two hon. Ladies with whom I have had many debates. Their contributions will mirror what we all say; I am positive about that.

When we look at this important issue, especially this month, in which we celebrate Holocaust Memorial Day and recognise the devastation that the Jewish community has been subject to in the past, it saddens me—it saddens us all—to see that across the United Kingdom, including in Northern Ireland, we have seen a torrent of antisemitic attacks, more recently throughout the war on Israel. It is great to be here as a friend of Israel, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell) and I were when we were both on the Northern Ireland Assembly. We were in the Friends of Israel group there, and we are pround and privileged to be friends of Israel today in the House of Commons.

The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) was absolutely right in what she said, and I agree with it—I was nearly going to start cheering, so I was. I am the chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief. We speak up for those of the Christian faith, those of other faiths, and those with no faith, because we believe in our hearts that everyone who has a religious belief has a right to express it. The Jewish people have a right to express theirs, without any fear of threat or hindrance whatsoever.

On the issue of freedom of religious belief, does my hon. Friend agree that the protests, which get out of hand more than occasionally, are based on a false premise, and on misinformation peddled on social media? For example, in Israel there are hundreds of mosques, and freedom of religion for Muslim people to go to them. That is in sharp contrast with the very low number of synagogues in some of the adjoining Arab nation states. Those facts need to be spelled out, so that people have correct, factual information before they embark on any type of protests, which sometimes end up being violent.

Often—indeed, always—my hon. Friend brings forward very serious points. In my major town of Newtownards, we have a mosque. My second son grew up with the young boys from the mosque. We welcome that, and we speak up for them, and I am pleased to have the mosque in my town of Newtownards.

I attended an event in the synagogue in Belfast some time ago. I will speak about this issue quickly, because others have referred to it. There was a full house of people there, including some students. I sat beside a young student, and I said, “Tell me this: how are things in Queen’s University in Belfast?” That was where she attended. She told me that she felt threatened by some elements, but not by Queen’s University staff members—its policy is absolutely clear that there is to be none of that. However, there were threats, and I focus on them, from students of a different political opinion. She clearly felt threatened.

At times of conflict between countries, there are always religious and cultural tensions, with some communities feeling threatened and frightened to live in their own country. At the outbreak of the Israel-Palestine conflict, I received calls and emails in my office about an incident that occurred at the city hall in Belfast. There were pictures and videos going around on social media of Lasair Dhearg activists—those of a nationalist opinion—projecting on to city hall an image of Hamas fighters paragliding into Israel, alongside the words “smash the Zionists”. I want my police service, the Police Service of Northern Ireland, to make those people accountable for their actions. A section of the Jewish community contacted local representatives stating that they felt frightened—I felt frightened for them—and that the antisemitic language used threatened them. We reported that to the police as a hate crime, and thankfully the projections stopped, because the police acted properly and without much more correspondence from me.

Further to that, in North Down, a neighbouring constituency, a local Bangor Central councillor had incidents of antisemitic hate language scribbled on a local park bench reported to him. That is completely unnecessary and threatening, and it gives the local area such a bad look. It could have been left for children of all ages to see. There are those who think that they can do things and get away with them—no, they cannot. Let us make them accountable.

We usually see a string of attacks, or certainly an increase in them, when issues are going on across the world, but those attacks are often inflicted on minorities in our communities, further isolating them and causing a feeling of fright. I have heard of so many attacks recently, especially on the mainland. I am so sad to hear of the antisemitic attack on the office of the hon. Member for Enfield North (Feryal Clark)—that is disgraceful. There is absolutely no place for that kind of behaviour in our society. I am so pleased that the police took swift action in response. I am quite sure that the Minister encouraged the police to take that strong action.

Antisemitic crime in the UK has risen sharply amid the renewed conflict in Gaza, with 1,000 incidents logged by the Jewish charity Community Security Trust. What is taking place is just astounding. The trust works closely with police at local, regional and national level on joint patrols in Jewish areas, training classes and exercises, and exchanging antisemitic incident data, and in numerous advisory roles. As many will be aware, regional integration is so important to me and my colleagues.

I conclude with this, Ms Vaz, because I am conscious that you asked me to be fair to the other speakers, and I will be. There is no place in society for racially motivated groups who use threat and terror to achieve their aim. A just and harsh punishment must be implemented to ensure that these crimes do not go by with a mere slap on the wrist. I thank Members for their correspondence, for their comments today and for all they have done on behalf of my constituents in Newtownards and my constituency of Strangford. I support what the hon. Member for West Bromwich East has said, and I look forward very much to what the Minister will say to encourage us on behalf of our constituents.

Thank you, Ms Vaz, for your chairpersonship. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) for raising this important issue. I thank all those who work in Jewish community groups—the CST, the Antisemitism Policy Trust, the Union of Jewish Students, the Jewish Leadership Council or others—who do so much to bring attention to this appalling issue and to keep the Jewish community safe.

We know that a survey conducted by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research found that 30% of the public hold at least one antisemitic view, so it is fair to assume that up to a similar percentage of people who attend some of these marches, which have been deeply distressing for Jewish people, also hold some of those views. It may be true that the majority of people who have attended the marches have been peaceful, but if they find themselves marching alongside people who call for jihad, display symbols in support of terrorism and call for an intifada, perhaps they should consider whether they should be keeping that company. Certainly, if I ended up on a march where there were neo-Nazis, I would exit it fairly swiftly.

I will say more on the marches at another opportunity. This afternoon, I want to focus specifically on the issue of Israelophobia, which is really just a new and updated form of antisemitism, and particularly on what I think is institutionalised Israelophobia in parts of our media. When, in 2017, I had the privilege of responding to the Holocaust Memorial Day debate as the Minister, I said:

“Unfortunately, there has been an increased Israelification of anti-Semitism, using Israel and Zionism as a proxy for Jews. I have seen that and been on the receiving end of it, particularly on Twitter. There are pictures of the Star of David represented as the Nazi flag—that is unacceptable and a form of anti-Semitism.”—[Official Report, 19 January 2017; Vol. 619, c. 1168.]

That is exactly what we have seen displayed on the streets of this country in recent weeks. I have become increasingly concerned about the tone and what I believe is the one-sided nature of the coverage of this conflict in parts of the media, and about what that is doing to fuel Jew hate in this country. As has been said, it is bad enough that we already have people on the streets of Britain calling for an intifada. Let us remember what the last intifada involved: the bombing of a pub, the blowing up of buses and the murder of a nine-year-old Israeli child whose head was smashed between a rifle butt and a rock. That is what an intifada means, yet people are on the streets of this country marching for that and are not arrested for it. Indeed, at times, it has looked as though the Metropolitan police in particular have been the public relations arm of some of the protests.

My fear is that this Israelification of antisemitism—this Israelophobia—is now engrained at every level of British society. As Members have mentioned, we find it today in academia among university lecturers; it seems that it is tolerated in schools; it is promoted by ignorant football pundits, senior professionals and actors; and I am sorry to say that it is given succour in parts of the British media. Behind it sit age-old but updated antisemitic tropes, which include that Jews are too powerful and that they are untrustworthy, sneaky and greedy. That Israelophobia has been on display in recent weeks. It is a poison that has dripped into every aspect of western life and has been promoted by very clever activists who, over decades, have created a false history and a false narrative about Jews in the middle east, have smeared Zionism and, in so doing, have played on the victimhood of Palestinians which, itself, has taken away agency from Palestinians.

What is this Israelophobia—this updated antisemitism? As the editor of The Jewish Chronicle put it, it has three elements: demonisation,

“smearing Israel as evil and a threat to the world”;


“exploiting social justice movements as a Trojan horse for hatred of Jews and their national home”—

how we have seen that on the streets of Britain; and falsification,

“echoing the lies and canards of the Nazi or Soviet propaganda.”

That is what we have seen on the streets: people marching with banners and saying things about the state of Israel and this conflict that are directly drawn from Nazi and Soviet antisemitic propaganda. Never mind that Hamas want to murder all Jews. Never mind that the majority of Palestinians in recent polling reject co-existence with Israel. It is Israel, or rather Jews, who are the problem. As the late and great rabbi, Lord Sacks, said:

“In the Middle Ages, Jews were hated because of their religion. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century they were hated because of their race. Today they are hated because of their nation state, the state of Israel.”

A Jewish banker of the past antisemitic tropes is now the Israeli lobby. Never mind the truth of how much other countries spend on lobbying, which is far more than anything spent by the state of Israel, the medieval bloodthirsty Jew, who drank the blood of Christian children, is now the bloodthirsty Israeli. There is nothing new here. Israelophobia is antisemitism, pure and simple.

Sadly, we have now seen that ingrained in parts of the media. I am a big supporter of the media and the BBC, and I have never bought into the Defund the BBC campaign. However, I have serious concerns about some of the coverage we have seen—about how Israel has been singled out for special treatment, which is directly putting Jews in this country at risk. It plays into those tropes of bloodlust. Hamas’ figures on civilian casualties are reported without qualification or reference to the BBC being unable to verify their figures. The imagery of this conflict, as it would have us believe, is a well-armed Israel Defence Forces soldier versus a civilian of Gaza, never mind that the IDF is obviously seeking to destroy a despotic, terrorist death cult. For example, we are told by Jeremy Bowen that

“Israelis have hardened their hearts”.

That was in a report without any evidence, any reference to polling to back it up, or any reference to the Israelis who, even in this conflict, work hard for peace between Palestinians and Israelis to this day.

Where the reporting suggests that Israel’s claims are untrustworthy, they are treated differently to those of Hamas. We are repeatedly being told of the BBC being unable to verify claims. When the BBC reported on witness statements of Israeli Jewish women being raped and murdered, not only did it challenge those statements directly to the people making them, it included within its reports that it had been unable to verify those claims. I do not remember that appearing when we had reports about the awful rapes of Yezidi women by ISIS. It certainly was not included in BBC reporting of alleged incidents involving released Palestinian prisoners, some of whom not only owe a debt to Hamas but are convicted or accused of very serious offences. They were released and allowed to tell their story, with the BBC choosing not to mention in its reporting that it had been unable to verify the numbers.

Then, of course, we had the reporting of the “strike” on the Al-Ahli Hospital. Hamas propaganda immediately reported that there were 500 deaths and that it was an Israeli strike. We know that is untrue. It was a smear, it was a lie, and it remained on many media outlets and still remains on some of issues now. But when the IDF uncover a hospital that has weapons inside or is being used to hold hostages, what are we told? Once again, that the BBC has been unable to verify those claims, yet an unverified claim about a strike that never took place was push notified on social media. It is no wonder that 75% of British Jews consider the BBC biased in its coverage of this conflict. We have good reason to feel that.

I am conscious of time, and I think another Member wants to speak, but I would like to give a couple of other recent examples in the media that need calling out. On 23 December, Sky analyst Sean Bell said that Hamas’s strategy may prove to be “prudent”. The rape, murder and torture of Israeli women, the cutting off of children’s limbs and the slicing off of women’s breasts may prove to be a prudent strategy—Sky News. On 28 November, Dominic Waghorn of Sky said in a series of tweets that Yahya Sinwar had assured hostages that they would be well treated, and, indeed, that some hostages had said the only thing they feared was Israeli bombardment. His exact words were:

“They were held in reasonable conditions, reportedly, though those held above ground lived with the fear of being killed in Israel’s bombardment.”

Let us consider the facts. Never mind the mental health impact on these people; never mind the fact they were taken against their will; never mind that Mia Schem, one of the released hostages, described living in constant fear of rape and being operated on without anaesthesia; never mind that hostages were held in cages; never mind the reports of sexual assault on the hostages that have come out since 17-year-old Agam Goldstein-Almog was released. Never mind any of that. It is okay, according to Sky: the hostages were treated well because Yahya Sinwar, the leader of a terrorist death cult, assured them they would be okay. These are the things that are going on in our media. Is it any wonder that Jew hate is being fuelled in this country? We have institutionalised Israelophobia in the BBC and other parts of our media, and it needs to be called out.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East on securing this debate, as well as other Members present on their contributions. I know that another Member wishes to speak, so I will end on those numerous examples—all of which, I must add, I have made complaints about beforehand. I believe in making those complaints privately; the reason I mention them today is that none of them has been resolved properly. On that, I shall end.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Vaz. I thank the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) for bringing forward this important debate at such a critical time. It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), who is a member of the same synagogue as me, and with whom I have enjoyed mixing Hanukkah cocktails in the past.

As a proudly Jewish parliamentarian, this is an issue that has significance both to my constituents, of all faiths and none, and to me personally. The devastating attack on 7 October had a far-reaching impact on the Jewish community in the UK, not least because its scale means that most of us are only one degree of separation from someone killed, taken hostage or otherwise impacted, as well as the huge surge in antisemitism that has so shamefully followed the attack. The war in Ukraine has also led to an uptick in the conspiratorial filth I have received and seen online, in part due to the Jewish faith of Volodymyr Zelensky, but also the offensive denazification pretext for invasion by Russia. I had wrongly thought that this sort of conspiratorial nonsense was on the wane after covid and the George Soros and 5G conspiracies, but they have now been replaced by nonsense about Rothschilds, satanists and Putin propaganda.

I pay tribute to CST, which is such an invaluable resource to our community and to me personally, providing practical and moral support when things are at their most difficult. I also pay tribute to Warrington Borough Council, which has always acted speedily in clearing up the incidents of antisemitic graffiti we have reported, including the swastikas recently daubed on local playparks.

The hon. Member for West Bromwich East made specific reference to antisemitism online, which it is vital to mention. Twitter, or X, in particular, has mainstreamed antisemitism. The number of times I have reported objectively antisemitic tweets, with posters and names that specifically reference nazi ideology, only to get an email back saying the tweets have not broken any of the website’s rules since Elon Musk’s takeover is, frankly, staggering. More must be done to hold tech companies accountable for the hate that is peddled on their platforms.

Antisemitism online is bad enough; it not only has an insidious impact on the individuals to whom it is directed, but poisons the overall atmosphere of those sites. However, the online sphere does not stay online. Recently, I was accosted by a man on the street. While he was filming me—he later posted the video online—he made repeated references to me being part of a Jewish and Masonic conspiracy to commit genocide against Catholics and Muslims and shouted at me that I was a murderer. Thankfully, my team intervened and the police were nearby, so things did not escalate to where they so easily could have. Nevertheless, it left me shaken on that day and has led me to feel less safe when out and about, and to take additional measures for my physical safety.

Ultimately, hatred is only defeated by solidarity. We have some incredible local initiatives to build relationships between communities, which are more important now than ever, but constraints on local government finance mean that some of the more targeted support that can make the most difference is under-resourced. I welcome the additional funding for the CST as a result of the latest increases in antisemitic incidents, but there is much more that the Government could do here. There is also more that we can do with schools around education about the Jewish community. With the Jewish community as small as we are, it cannot be left to us to educate others about Jewish life and our common humanity to build that understanding.

I hope and pray that we will see peace in Israel and Gaza speedily, but ensuring that our vibrant and multicultural society is one in which all our constituents can feel safe is something that we must be proactive about. Our interventions and focus as Parliament in this area cannot be led by events overseas.

I know that my hon. Friend shares my concerns about antisemitism on university campuses. I recently spoke to Jewish students at Leeds University, where there have been a number of antisemitic incidents. One of those was when Moazzam Begg, who has diminished the role of Hamas in the 7 October massacre, was invited to speak. Jewish and other students raised concerns, but the student union did not cancel the room booking, citing the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act 2023, which my hon. Friend and I both warned would create scenarios that could unleash antisemitism on campus. It appears that we have been proved right, as the horrific events in October and the misguided aim of allowing freedom of speech on campuses have unleashed a wave of antisemitism. Is it not time that we looked at the legislation again, to protect Jewish students on campus?

My hon. Friend is absolutely correct that there have been some unintended consequences from that legislation, which were warned about. The very people that it sought to stop from coming on to campus have in fact been protected on campus. That is something we need to look at again.

Hon. and right hon. Members have picked up on a number of points in this debate, which I hope will help us to ensure that, as we tear antisemitism out of our society by its roots, we plant something better and more hopeful in its place. This is a good place to start.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Vaz. I am grateful to the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) for securing today’s debate. This is obviously an issue of great importance to her, as it is to me and others here. She spoke powerfully about the worldwide phenomenon and about the nature of this concerning upturn in antisemitism. She also spoke powerfully and clearly, as did the hon. Member for Warrington North (Charlotte Nichols), about the online space, which is often just a cesspit. I am keen to hear more from the Minister about how Government see the role of artificial intelligence in this space, which I agree is a serious cause for concern. The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) talked about the conspiratorial nature of much of this material, particularly online, and the need to tackle it. I would also be keen to hear more about that.

My constituency of East Renfrewshire is, on the face of it—and indeed under the surface—a very nice but perhaps unremarkable place. But scratch the surface even slightly and we are very much more than that. East Renfrewshire is one of the most diverse communities in Scotland. We have a fantastically active and growing Muslim community locally, which enriches the life of our area in many ways. We have a thriving and broad spectrum of Christian congregations, which are also all doing good work, and, similarly, significant Hindu and Sikh communities, which are all contributing brilliant things to our area. Our Baha’i community does so much to improve our local environment, and we are home to a significant Jewish community also. In fact, the majority of Scotland’s Jews have their homes in East Renfrewshire, and we are very much the better for that. We are the better for the contribution that the Jewish communities and these other faith and non-faith groups make locally. We are fortunate as well to live in a community where we respect, value and work with one another, and where we support each other in difficult times. That has never been more important, and it has never been clearer to me, than at the moment.

We have all watched in horror as events have unfolded in the middle east. Like the hon. Member for Warrington North, I have constituents with family members and friends in Israel and Palestine. People have been heartsore and so worried, and the wider community has worried along with them and continues to do so. Of course, these worries are now amplified by the spectre of hatred and the scourge of antisemitism, which has been described eloquently today. Some who have expressed concern to me locally have actually been members of other faith communities, troubled by the worries their neighbours face. I visited an excellent local Muslim centre recently to discuss the worrying rise in Islamophobia, and was struck by the sincere concerns raised by the people I was speaking to about the impact on the Jewish community locally and the increase in antisemitism.

The headlines might not always reflect that kind of thing, but there is a deep and broadly held concern about the impact of the terrible stain of antisemitism on our communities. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) spoke well about the issues with neighbours and people’s worries. This is a real stain on our society; and it is increasing, and alarmingly so. We have heard today that antisemitism always rises at home when there is conflict in the middle east. We have seen overt threats. We have seen the horrible denial, the stereotypes and the tropes online, but not only online. The Community Security Trust, which does hugely important work, reflects all that in its output. It has shared eye-watering figures, which we have heard today, that should give us all pause for thought. I was struck by the description we heard earlier of antisemitism as a “light sleeper”, according to the Community Security Trust. That is true, and there is no excuse, no justification and no reason why antisemitism should ever raise its head or be accepted. Conflict somewhere else can never justify hatred here.

No one’s identity should ever be a reason for hatred. That is never acceptable. There is no place for antisemitism or hatred in our communities. Nothing can justify expressions of racial or religious hatred—nothing at all—and history has surely shown us the peril of not standing up and rejecting intolerance and prejudice. That rings particularly true today, and we need to heed the lessons of history.

I hope the hon. Lady will allow me to use her as a conduit to the Minister. She is talking about people holding particular views, and I mentioned the Institute for Jewish Policy Research’s previous study, which showed that up to 30% of British people hold at least one antisemitic trope. Does she agree that now is perhaps a good time to update that, and for the Minister to look into whether we can fund another piece of research in the area?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. The more we can do to shine a light on the realities of people’s lives, the realities of communities and the issues people face, the better. We are all the better—Scotland is the better, and I am sure that others would agree that the UK is the better—for our diversity and for the different contributions that communities make to that plurality of cultures.

I am ignoring that contribution from the hon. Gentleman! [Laughter.]

Scotland’s Jewish community plays a very important part in our country and civic life, along with other faith communities. It was right that the Scottish Government formally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-semitism, as did my own party, and the continued dialogue and solidarity is particularly important at the moment.

I was privileged to speak alongside our First Minister, Humza Yousaf, at a moving and profound service at the Giffnock Newton Mearns synagogue in October, and the mutual sorrow, concern and respect between the Muslim First Minister of Scotland and the Jewish hosts of the ceremony was clear. We have to stand collectively. The joint statement of solidarity issued by the First Minister and faith leaders in Scotland is really important; that joint commitment to working to foster cohesion and good will across Scotland really matters. I am grateful for the meetings between the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council, the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities and the First Minister, and for the exemplary ongoing work of those organisations. The hon. Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) mentioned a number of other organisations that are similarly doing important work.

It is really important that, as elected representatives, we have zero tolerance of hate crime and Islamophobia. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine), who is no longer in her place, spoke about the worry that antisemitism creates, and it is really important that we accept that in our roles. Like others, I have spoken to students and parents who feel vulnerable, anxious and unable to express their identity. That is unacceptable. Again, I am grateful to the First Minister, who has committed to meet those students to hear their concerns, and to ensure that they are well understood and can be dealt with. Our universities are there for all our communities, and everyone must feel safe and able to be themselves in them.

When I spoke to my constituents about Remembrance Sunday events, I was very sorry to hear some of them express a reluctance to wear medals or carry wreaths that showed their Jewish identity. Nobody should fear laying a star of David wreath or wearing a star of David medal. The irony that they were fearful at that event should not be lost on us. We have heard about incidents at such occasions and in day-to-day life. We heard about the young pupils who wear baseball caps over their kippahs. People’s identities are not to be toyed with; we absolutely must respect them. We all matter, and we must all feel safe.

It is not just the horrible spectre of antisemitism—we have heard some terrible examples of antisemitism—but the cumulative worry, the build-up of concerns and the impact on people’s general confidence about going about their business that matter. We need to seriously take account of the anxiety that people experience about the prospect of antisemitism. There is obviously considerable anxiety at present.

I am pleased that the Scottish Government recently published their hate crime strategy, which was informed by communities with lived experience of hate crime and sets out strategic priorities for dealing with hate crime, including antisemitism. That really matters. I also thank Police Scotland, which has been outstanding and constructive in my local community; it is very aware of communities’ worries.

I am heartsore that we have to have this debate, but I am grateful to the hon. Member for West Bromwich East for securing it. I am deeply concerned that a creeping intolerance has evidently ramped up over recent times. Scotland is a safe place, but it is important that we are clear that we are not immune from this old hatred. We need to stand collectively against antisemitism. We have a particular responsibility here, and I am keen to hear further how the Minister believes the Government can support that work.

It is a pleasure to serve under you in the Chair in this important debate, Ms Vaz. I thank the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) for securing it, and my hon. Friends the Members for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and for Warrington North (Charlotte Nichols) for their important contributions.

The horrific attacks carried out by Hamas on 7 October have caused and continue to cause widespread grief within the Jewish community here in Britain. On top of that, the substantial increase in antisemitic incidents and offences in the months since has created an environment in which many members of our Jewish community feel threatened, vulnerable and unsafe, as we have heard.

We thank the Community Security Trust for its tireless efforts alongside the police to protect and support the Jewish community across Britain. Between 7 October and 13 December, the CST recorded more than 2,000 incidents of antisemitism, including 95 assaults and 165 direct threats. That is the highest total number of incidents it has recorded in that kind of time period since its records began 40 years ago. Police forces around the country have similarly recorded spikes in antisemitic offences in the months since 7 October. We know that many hate crimes go unreported, so those figures by no means reflect the full picture, and nor can they fully capture the deep and tangible impact that these incidents are having on the Jewish community as a whole.

Of course, events unfolding internationally have had alarming repercussions on many facets of community life. As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington North, some of the most shocking incidents have included graffiti on a holocaust library and a Jewish primary school vandalised with red paint. We have also seen unacceptable words on placards at protests and rallies, and a steep rise in antisemitic incidents at schools and on university campuses. Threats have been made against Jewish institutions and individuals across major online platforms. All those disturbing developments have heightened feelings of vulnerability among British Jews, a sizeable majority of whom have said that they have felt less safe in this country since 7 October.

Sadly, the appalling spike in antisemitism over the past few months has been paralleled by rising antisemitism across the world. In Russia, a mob stormed an airport looking for Jewish passengers to attack. We have seen arson attacks on synagogues in Germany, Tunisia and Armenia. Jewish homes in Paris and Berlin were marked by antisemitic graffiti. It is essential that we stand together in condemning such horrifying attacks.

Urgent action must be taken to prevent antisemitic hate crime, as well as all categories and strands of hate crime, which have soared over the last decade in Britain. We must take steps to ensure that incidents are reported, investigated and prosecuted, and be clear that we mean business in tackling antisemitism. Labour stands totally and wholeheartedly with the Jewish community in that vital task. That is why we are grateful for the reassurance policing work that has been taking place across communities, and why we supported additional funding for the Community Security Trust. However, we remain concerned that the Government are taking too little action, and that the monitoring of antisemitism and Islamophobia has been downgraded by the Government in the last 12 months. Specifically, incidents that do not cross the criminal threshold are no longer being recorded by the police, despite the Home Office’s assessment that such data is vital for targeting resources and preventing serious crime.

Over the past decade, the staggering year-on-year rises in hate crime have laid bare the Conservatives’ decade of failure to keep our communities safe. More than 145,000 cases were recorded in 2022-23, and violent crime rose sixfold in the 10 years prior. Hate and division have surged in response to conflict in the middle east, and we desperately need reassurance from the Government that they take hate crime seriously and that perpetrators will face the full force of the law. We cannot and must not accept this hatred, which corrodes our communities. Will the Minister back our calls to strengthen monitoring requirements around antisemitic and Islamophobic hate incidents in response to the current tensions? There has not been a refresh of the hate crime action plan since it expired in 2020. A refresh is vital. Do the Government intend to refresh the plan? If so, when?

Between 7 October and 13 December, the CST recorded 133 incidents of antisemitism related to the schools sector and 157 incidents related to universities, and there have been similarly shocking reports of Islamophobia in the education sector. Has the Minister, or any of his colleagues, issued full guidance on how schools should respond to such incidents? Does he support calls for secondary schools to teach about contemporary antisemitism?

At a time when antisemitism and Islamophobia divide our communities, cross-community and interfaith activities can bolster community cohesion. What action have the Government taken to promote positive, long-term projects to support community cohesion, and have they sought to identify and share examples of best practice at local authority level? Based purely on incidents that have been proactively reported, the CST recorded 625 incidents of antisemitism online between 7 October and 12 December last year. Does the Minister agree that, as colleagues have said this afternoon, the Online Safety Act 2023 was stripped of its powers to effectively monitor and challenge online safety incidents? What steps are the Government taking to tackle antisemitism online? Finally, can the Minister say when the last meeting of the cross-Government working group on antisemitism was held, and will the Government arrange for an urging meeting of the working groups on antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred?

It is essential that swift and firm action is taken to prevent antisemitic crime. In government, Labour will take firm action to do so.

I will call the Minister next, but I remind him to finish his remarks by about 3.58 pm to allow Nicola Richards to wind up.

I am genuinely grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) for giving us the opportunity to speak about this hugely important subject, and to almost all hon. Members for their contributions. To the hon. Members who have sought to politicise this, I would just say that there are times and there are places, and this was neither the time nor the place.

It is customary to start debates like this by saying that it is a pleasure to serve—and, of course, it is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Vaz—but in truth, it is not a pleasure to be here today. It is not a pleasure to have listened to some of the absolutely outrageous stories that we have heard over the past half hour. It is not a pleasure to be sat in a debate that should not be needed at all. There is no pleasure to be had in this discussion, and I know that all colleagues here and outside this place share in that.

This debate is not a pleasure, but it is most definitely a necessity. It is a necessity, because in this seat of democracy there is an opportunity to call out the appalling acts of a tiny minority in recent months. It is a necessity for us to shine light on unacceptable behaviour, and to speak and articulate what we have sadly seen in recent months from a tiny group of people—that is, pure antisemitism. It might be dressed up as something else: it might be shrouded in a plaintive sense of emotion; it might be a preamble of obfuscation or confusion; it might be an inaccurate reference to fighting for something else; it might be the imposition of a horrifying hierarchy where Jewish deaths, Jewish injuries and Jewish blood appear to be less important than any other; or it might be the extraordinary insertion of context into the deaths of 1,200 people on 7 October. In truth, some are not even that subtle, and are now explicit about it, but whatever it is—whether implicit or explicit—we see it: it is present. If it walks, talks and acts like what it might be, then it probably is. It is antisemitism.

I want to be clear that no one in this room, nor the Government, seek to close down debate. No one here seeks to conflate legitimate criticism of one actor, one country, or one situation with explicit discrimination and prejudice. No one does not acknowledge the horror of war and the inhumanity of conflict—any conflict, anywhere, anytime, in any part of the world. No one is saying that we should not hear hard things; that is the mark of a civilised, educated, compassionate and curious society. But the other mark of a civilised society is calling out when things have gone too far, both implicitly and explicitly.

Part of the answer is law—you cannot incite violence—but another part is personal responsibility. There is a term that I hate; it is massively overused and I never thought I would be saying it. That term is “gaslighting”. But with the “From the river to the sea” chant, there is the most incredible abdication of responsibility for those who have used it casually, willingly, publicly—even, for some, joyfully. It may not be the case that everyone who has said it is antisemitic, but it absolutely is the case that all antisemites would be happy to use it.

There may also be a staggering misapplication of emotion via the trusted, weird logic of post-modernism that has taken root in so many of our universities, which abolishes the agency of the individual, dismantles the principle of the nation state and sees society only through the prism of a power dynamic where everyone either holds no power whatsoever, or holds all the power; and it follows that, as a result, anything that those without power do is virtuous and everyone who may have some semblance of power must be disregarded, ignored and dehumanised.

I will not give way. Postmodernism is an insidious, regressive and depressing call to all our worst selves, relying on false binaries and erroneous arguments. Most of the time, it sits in front of us without incident, in weird ideologies and daft PhDs. Yet occasionally it pops to the surface and the utter baselessness of it is revealed. At its heart, it needs to be ripped out of our society. This is not Britain. It is not supposed to be like this. This debate should not have happened; we are supposed to have moved on from this. It is clear that we have not.

I will not, if I may.

Like so many others in this debate, I have seen examples as a constituency MP. Individual one: an employee at a Russell Group university who raises money for charity in her spare time. She started to email me on Saturday 28 October to ask whether it is donations to my party or the selling of weapons to Israel that influences my stand. She tells me that she does not agree with me about “from the river to the sea” being a call for a race to be wiped out. She tells me that groups such as Hamas will continue while Israel does what it does.

Next, individual two: a nurse practitioner just over the border in Sheffield, who lives in my constituency. She asks me how I sleep at night, tells me there is collective punishment, that there is a war crime and that there is genocide. Then individual three: an ex-civil servant, an economist and a volunteer at a children’s society, who decided to debate with me on Facebook how much terrorism would be acceptable. Or individual four: a retired nurse who posts sunsets on Facebook and talks about a plan to free up land, with some rubbing their hands together for oil deals and expansion. It is just incredible.

If someone had told me on Friday 6 October that within three months we would have seen Jewish schools vandalised, missing persons posters torn down, a massive rise in crime, Jewish friends telling me they sometimes no longer feel safe in this country and words that have real meaning being casually tossed around, I would not have believed them. If they had told me on Friday 6 October that the apparent genesis of that hatred was the execution of 1,200 innocent Jewish people simply for the crime of being Jewish, that would have been doubly shocking.

Recently, I spent a few days on holiday in America. When I was there, for the first time, I visited the site at Dallas. One of my favourite, although lesser known, quotes of John F. Kennedy said that history

“is the memory of a nation.”

Just as a memory enables the individual to learn, choose goals and stick to them, it prevents them making the same mistakes twice. That is exactly what we need to do here and that is what the Government and all decent people in society need to do.

The Prime Minister and a senior set of Ministers have already met Jewish community members and key organisations to listen to their concerns. As has been outlined by colleagues here already, we have adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism and we encourage other bodies to adopt it and consider its practical implementation. The Community Security Trust, which Members on all sides have referenced, has reported that incidents often occur near Jewish community buildings, such as synagogues and schools. The Government are providing protective security, such as guarding, CCTV and alarms at schools, colleges, nurseries, synagogues and community sites through the Jewish community protective security grant, which has provided more than £110 million since 2015.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East, I should say that we continue with efforts to reduce radicalisation through the network of Prevent practitioners, who provide training to school staff on radicalisation and empower teachers to challenge extremism in the classroom. The reporting extremism online form allows concerns to be raised directly with the Department for Education. Since 7 October, the Government have engaged with schools, colleges and universities to offer support and guidance. The Education Secretary wrote to the sector urging them to respond swiftly to hate-related incidents and to actively reassure Jewish students so they can study without fear, harassment or intimidation, as hon. Members rightly said they must.

At the opening of the autumn statement, the Chancellor made clear his deep concerns about the rise of antisemitism, underscoring the Government’s commitment to tackling it. His commitments were backed by a further £7 million in funding over the next three years to help tackle antisemitism in education. I will take away the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) about research. I would be happy to do that, and, if we can, I am sure we will try. The autumn statement will ensure that support is in place for schools, colleges and universities to understand, recognise and deal with antisemitism effectively.

It was absolutely right and reasonable for the hon. Member for Blaydon (Liz Twist) to ask about the online space. Ministers from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology recently convened social media companies and community voices to discuss online antisemitism and to understand the impact of this abhorrent content on communities. As part of the implementation of the Online Safety Act, we will remain in contact with social media platforms, and we have been clear that they need not wait for regulation before taking action.

I want to end with something that a Jewish friend once told me many years ago, long before the recent challenges. We were in conversation about our backgrounds, childhoods and families. In truth, I thought I would educate her, as the working class kid from Derbyshire talking to the posh girl from London. I told her about my background, and I waited for her to contrast it with her Twickenham upbringing, her gilded life at private school and her middle-class comforts, which she did. At the end, she turned to her Jewish heritage. It is something that she has always been hugely proud of, and she spoke about it with verve, passion and a reverence for history.

Casually, right at the end, my friend said one of the most arresting things that I have ever heard. “Of course, Lee,” she said, looking at me right in the eye, “I always keep a bag packed under my bed.” Confused, I did not immediately catch on. I had no knowledge, no background, no experience—I do not think I had met a Jewish person until I was 18. I am not saying that this is indicative of everybody in the community, but she said, “For me and my family, it is something we have done for decades. History taught us that we needed to be ready in case something ever went wrong, as it did for my forefathers and their forefathers before them. I don’t think it will ever be necessary, but it’s there in case it is—in case this country ever stops being my home.”

That must never ever happen. We are proud of our Jewish communities, just as we are proud of every single other community that makes up this rich patchwork of the United Kingdom, and we stand with them today. The United Kingdom is so much more than the isolated ugliness that we have seen. This Government and this Parliament—all parties here—and this country will continue to do whatever we can to build a stronger foundation to support our Jewish community in the months, years and decades ahead.

I thank all Members for taking part today. I want to quickly plug the debate on Thursday, when, thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), the House will be debating the contribution of the Jewish community to the UK. I hope that the Jewish community in the UK and around the world will be reassured by the warmth that the debate will create, in contrast to the very sad statistics and incidents spoken about today.

I thank all hon. Members for being here, particularly the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), who ran here—no Westminster Hall debate would be the same without him. I thank the Minister for his incredibly powerful response. The commitment from this Government to stamp out antisemitism has always been a priority, and I am very proud of that.

The Minister also mentioned that he was asked how he sleeps at night given his support for Israel. As other Members—my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy) and the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson)—will know, having visited Israel last week, I have not slept very well. I watched 47 minutes of innocent Jews—children, women, men—being slaughtered; I saw evidence of rape. I have not slept very well. No person at the moment in Israel, or any Jewish person around the world, is sleeping well.

It is impossible to get one’s head around the evil displayed that day, so it is hard to explain how disgusting it is for people to blame 7 October on Jews or on Israel, or try to use what happened as a springboard for their own antisemitic beliefs. A rise in antisemitism in the UK in 2024, in response to the 7 October attack in particular, serves as a national embarrassment. I am pleased to hear the commitment from colleagues today to do all we can to reverse that.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered the matter of increases in anti-Semitic offences.