Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I never once thought that I would stand here to address this House on this topic. As has often been said, the UK is a wonderful place in which to be Jewish, free of the anxiety besetting Jews on the continent of Europe and causing some of them to emigrate. It gave refuge to my father in 1939, for which he was deeply grateful. He urged me to remember this hospitality and to contribute in return. Hence, many thousands of us are very grateful to the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Anti-Semitism, to the many parliamentarians who led the fight against anti-Semitism—to name but two, John Mann MP and the noble Lord, Lord Boswell—and to the Government’s envoys for post-Holocaust issues, first Sir Andrew Burns and now Sir Eric Pickles, as well as for various government initiatives.
My generation of Jews has flourished here. I have known nothing but equality for most of my life. The problems emerged about 10 years ago, not as recently as some might believe. The rise in reported anti-Semitic hate crimes is no surprise to the Jewish community and has absolutely nothing to do with Brexit and the focus on hate crime since June. The Community Security Trust reports that 2015 saw the third highest annual total of anti-Semitic hate incidents since it started reporting in 1984, and 2016 saw an 11% rise in six months.
This is despite valued Holocaust education, which is part of the national curriculum. Yet a 2016 Commons report showed that that is superficial for too many young people. While the support of the previous Prime Minister was welcome, I doubt the value of yet another Holocaust memorial in Westminster, as recently announced. It will do little to teach the meaning of the Holocaust or address prejudice in our society. Indeed, it might serve simply as a target for graffiti unless protected by a barrier, which is not the reminder one would wish for. Do the Government agree that it is time for an impact assessment, and to check whether pupils learning about the Holocaust make the connection to Jews today and their bond with Israel? Moreover, it is widely reported that some Muslim schools teach Jew hatred to pupils. It is high time there was regulation of out-of-school teaching. Our young people are not getting the right message and that shows up in universities, as I will explain.
There have been three recent inquiries into anti-Semitism: those by the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Chakrabarti, and that by the Home Affairs Select Committee. The weakness of such inquiries is that their remits include racism and Islamophobia, thereby sidelining anti-Semitism and its special characteristics, and failing to deal with the tricky issue of when hatred of Israel becomes anti-Semitism. This is a characteristic of some politicians’ statements on the subject—“We are against all forms of racism”—thereby acquitting themselves of anti-Semitism and failing to look at it from the victims’ perspective. For that reason, the Chief Rabbi said of the Chakrabarti report that its credibility “lies in tatters”. It is not enough to wrap oneself in the banner of the Cable Street clash. The modern equivalent of the Cable Street stand is Jews opposing rabid anti-Zionists, and in this scenario some self-defining anti-racists would be on the wrong side.
The excellent report of the Home Affairs Committee is a blueprint for the way ahead. It examined the mutating forms of anti-Semitism over the centuries and its various ideologies, of which the most novel is the toxic mix of disillusioned left-wingers looking for a cause, western guilt over colonialism, Islamist extremism, fascism and age-old religious anti-Semitism. This report shows that it is important to abide by the definition of anti-Semitism endorsed by the Government and by Sir Eric Pickles. It is especially important that universities do so in order to help them draw the line between attacks on Israeli government policy and hate speech. The definition is valuable because it faces squarely the difficult area of distinguishing legitimate criticism of the Government of Israel from anti-Semitism, and gives examples. Will the Government ensure that in all situations where anti-Semitism is considered, the Pickles definition is applied?
Zionism is the Jewish people’s liberation movement—their end to servitude, their claim to equality among the nations—one of the most inspiring and successful national movements in human history. Over 90% of British Jews support Israel’s existence. To call for Israel to lose that right or to cease to exist is in effect to call for the obliteration of the 6 million Jews gathered there, and is anti-Semitism. Blaming Jews for the Holocaust, applying double standards to Israel and drawing comparisons between Israel and the Nazis all come within the definition, as does accusing Jews of having malign power and of conspiracies, child killing and organ harvesting. Jew-hatred through the ages has been represented by just those libels, and they have now been transposed into Israel-hatred. Supporting a Palestinian agenda must not be allowed to morph into Jew-hating libels and fascist-type caricatures. Why do the EU and the UN ignore the occupation of Kashmir, Western Sahara, Tibet and Northern Cyprus while ceaselessly condemning Israel? Why do grave human rights breaches by Turkey and Saudi Arabia and the killing of civilians by the US, Russia and Syria cause nothing like the reaction to such inadvertent behaviour in self-defence by Israel?
Sadly, our universities have become hotbeds of anti-Jewish incidents. I have spoken previously in the House about the threats to freedom of speech on campus. Curiously, when it comes to hate speech or action against Jewish students, the normally oversensitive campus police are failing in their duty. From a chronicle of too many anti-Semitic incidents I highlight: the award to a student of £1,000 by York University for the abuse he suffered; the violent demonstration, ending in court, at King’s College London against an Israeli peace speaker; swastikas daubed on student doors; Jewish students being told they are not welcome or to leave the country; Islamist extremist speakers on campus using the most derogatory terms and voicing lies about Jews in the name of religious preaching; shouting “Filthy Zionist” at a girl every time she passes; and requiring Jewish students to denounce Israel as the price of entry to a committee, boycotting them if they do not. The NUS, whose own president is one of the worst offenders, has become tainted and does not take the issue seriously, in contrast to its vigorous opposition to the Prevent policy.
Will the Government urge the NUS to ensure that campuses are safe for Jewish students who find they have to stand up to the Israel-hatred thrust in their faces when they arrive, activists or not? UUK should provide a resource for students on how to deal with the Israel-Palestine conflict without resorting to anti-Semitism. The recent UUK report on sexual harassment and hate crime provided no focused answers.
Boycotts only harden resistance among Israelis—who themselves hold a whole range of opinions on peace and the occupation—and deepen defensiveness and mistrust of European countries. The Government have condemned them. Nevertheless, the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement manifests itself in academic boycotts and the physical obstruction of students at checkpoints on campus. It is not only discriminatory against Israeli nationals but contrary to the public sector equality duty imposed on universities, contrary to the principle of the universality of science and, where it involves the expenditure of money, contrary to charity law. Not for a moment would universities tolerate a “Boycott China Week” or a “Muslim Misogyny Week”, to take apposite examples.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, should be thanked for her evidenced report on anti-Semitic incidents at my own university, Oxford. Oxford, officially the best university in the world, has made no public statement in response. Oxford, the home of Isaiah Berlin, Ernst Chain, Zelman Cowen, Hans Krebs, Claus Moser, Goodhart, Ayer, Hart, Beloff and Goodman, needs to condemn what has happened and explain measures taken against the malefactors in order to reassure Jewish students that anti-Semitism will not be allowed and so that justice is seen to be done.
Will the Government recommend to UUK the following? The equality and diversity offices at universities should pay as much attention to anti-Semitism as they do to gender and other race issues. Each university should monitor anti-Semitic incidents, and put out statements emphasising their commitment to combating it and to assisting students to make complaints, when, as I know, they are often too intimidated to do so. Training university authorities, unions and staff in the law surrounding this area should be mandatory.
We have already seen that where anti-Semitism starts and is unchecked, the hate and misinformation behind it spreads to infect other minorities and to poison the community in which it exists. As Edmund Burke said:
“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and I thank her for initiating this debate, and for doing it so well. I, too, want to concentrate on what universities need to do. Universities have duties to their students that they must not neglect. They must provide an atmosphere of free inquiry in which students learn to examine ideas and theories critically and rigorously, and, at the same time, they have a duty of care to students so that their precious time at university is not disrupted or destroyed by those who fail to treat fellow students with respect and decency. Anti-Semitism is as intolerable in the university context as it is in any other, and as unacceptable as all kinds of racism and hatred based on religious difference.
As the noble Baroness indicated, anti-Semitism has some characteristics which make it a particular challenge and call for extra effort, particularly in the liberal context of a university. Anti-Semitism often makes its appearance in the very thin disguise of attacks on the existence of the State of Israel, with the term “Zionist” used in a way that indicates that the attacker has an agenda or motive that goes far beyond criticism of the policies of any Israeli Government and extends to an attack on Jews in general. Those whose background is Pakistani or Bangladeshi are not held responsible for every action of the Governments of those countries or required to disavow the very existence of those countries, which are of a similar age to Israel as a state. They have other problems—Muslims are so often associated quite wrongly with Islamic terrorism—but the problem I have described is one that relates particularly to anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism is a conspiracy theory that suggests that because some people share a particular racial background or religion, they must be engaged with each other in a conspiracy to exercise undue influence, subvert democracy or take over the world. It would be risible if it was not deadly—quite literally deadly, because that was the basis on which 6 million men, women and children were slaughtered in the lifetime of some of us present. Of course, the same conspiracy theory infects those who deny that the Holocaust ever happened or who try to excuse it—an utterly ludicrous position.
There are many things that have to be done about anti-Semitism and its close relations, racism and hate crime, which thrive on it. University authorities must make student unions aware of their legal responsibilities under criminal law and charity law, and must be ready to enforce conditions they can act on when they own property or land that unions occupy. Universities should continue to make sure that the rigorous, critical and well-informed examination of ideas is part of every undergraduate student’s education and development. They should see that vulnerable students are supported and helped and that respect for diversity is actively promoted. The National Union of Students needs to get rid of leaders who pander to anti-Semitism—calling Birmingham University “a Zionist outpost”, for example, as Malia Bouattia did—otherwise that organisation will find more university unions disaffiliating from it, as those in Birmingham and Newcastle have done.
Time does not allow me to go into the detailed proposals of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee on dealing with anti-Semitism in universities and, indeed, more widely, but I commend its report and hope very much that it will be acted upon. I also commend the continued work of the Community Security Trust, which does so much to protect and reassure members of the Jewish community when they find themselves under threat. Finally, I welcome the interfaith dialogue that goes on in and around many universities, promoted by university chaplains of all faiths and by local churches, mosques, synagogues and religious organisations. It is an important part of educating a wide range of students.
One omission I must repair is to say that I have been president of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for securing this debate on such an important subject. While I was, of course, aware of the issue, the detailed evidence of anti-Semitism on campuses in the UK still makes for appalling reading. What is described there is totally unacceptable. I chaired the 1994 Runnymede Trust report on anti-Semitism titled A Very Light Sleeper. Sadly, Conor Cruise O’Brien’s resonant phrase is all too true today.
I will confine myself to one section of the APPG report on anti-Semitism: that dealing with the Israel-Palestine issue and the toxic nature of the debate on campuses. In particular, I commend the recommendation of the Home Affairs Select Committee that Universities UK should work with appropriate bodies to produce a resource on how to deal with the issue sensitively and to ensure that,
“students are well-informed about both sides of the argument”.
I recommend that the bodies it consults on this include the Council of Christians and Jews, which has many decades of experience of handling this issue. This arises from the fact that historically the churches have had very close links with Palestinian and Arab Christians, and are deeply involved in aid work. At the same time they have made strenuous efforts to overcome the long history of anti-Jewish teaching—the teaching of contempt, as it has been well labelled. These twin claims have resulted in valuable experience of how debates on the subject can avoid becoming toxic.
I shall make three points that bear on this. First, the State of Israel is not simply a result of European guilt for the Holocaust. James Parkes, that remarkable Christian priest who in the 1930s pioneered the serious study of anti-Semitism and after whom the library and centre in Southampton University is named, put forward in the 1940s a five-fold case for Israel, which was little known or understood even by most Jews at the time. One element is the fact that there had always been a Jewish population in Palestine, as large as the circumstances at the time allowed. Another was that, throughout history, Jewish communities had never given up hope of returning there, hence the refrain at the end of every Seder: “Next year in Jerusalem”. These facts enable 19th-century Zionism, and any use of the word Zionist, to be seen in its proper historical context.
Secondly, I always find it helpful to bear in mind that the fiercest critics of the particular policies of different Israeli Governments are often Jews in Israel, and they make these criticisms out of loyalty to the State of Israel, whose validity they continue to uphold and whose existence they feel is sometimes threatened by those policies; nor, so far as I am aware, do they support boycotts, disinvestment or sanctions, in contrast to campaigners in South Africa at the time of apartheid.
Thirdly, after World War II all the Christian churches wrestled with the issue of the State of Israel and its legitimacy. Endless church documents were produced. The American scholar Paul van Buren, summing up these documents, put forward the minimum Christian position in these words:
“Because the state of Israel is in part the product of the ancient and living hope of the Jewish people and is of deep concern to almost all Jews, disregard for its safety and welfare is incompatible with concern for the Jewish people”.
A concern for the suffering of the Palestinian people and a desire to see a just peace in which some historic wrongs are righted must never lose sight of those words, so I look forward to seeing some resource material produced by Universities UK which can help this painful debate take place on campuses in a way which is well informed and not toxic.
My Lords, in thanking my noble friend Lady Deech for initiating today’s important short debate, I refer to my interests in higher education. For nearly 20 years, I held a chair in citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University, where I am an honorary fellow, and was director of the Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship. I have also been a visiting fellow at the University of St Andrews.
In September, I was in Jerusalem and Warsaw—two cities which have the toxic story of anti-Semitism written into their DNA. As we have heard, universities have a duty under the Equality Act 2010 to provide a safe and inclusive environment but, as the experience of a Jewish law student at York University illustrates, students have had to use their own resources to seek legal redress and apologies where anti-Semitism has occurred. That should have been done on their behalf by the university authorities. It is the job of an institution’s leaders, and it is a task that they must take very seriously and prioritise without fear or favour. My noble friend is right to remind student leaders of their duties, too, and to insist on monitoring and training.
On our campuses, and in political parties, contemporary anti-Semitism can often be the wolf concealed in sheep’s clothing. Jihadist attacks in Toulouse, Brussels, Paris and Copenhagen, the burning of kosher shops in the Jewish quarter of Sarcelles, and the sight of Jews fleeing their neighbourhoods and synagogues under siege by thugs brandishing placards threatening death to Jews have uncanny and terrifying echoes of Germany in 1934. We know how that began and to what it led.
I have been particularly disturbed by the growth of online bullying and hate, and by the targeting of opposition Jewish politicians. What is being done to engage the industry and online comment editors in tackling online hate? What response have we had from companies such as Twitter about taking stronger action against hate crimes on their platforms? With around 1,000 anti-Semitic hate crimes every year, it is clear that far more needs to be done, so what assessment have we made of the effectiveness of initiatives such as True Vision and the UK No Hate Speech Movement? Through counter-narratives and the smart power of aid programmes, the BBC World Service, the British Council and the Commonwealth, we must use every possible outlet to combat internet postings and, among other things, Wahhabi-sponsored school textbooks, funded by Saudi Arabia and distributed worldwide.
The recent death of Sir Sigmund Sternberg brings me to my final point, which is about interfaith relationships, a point touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Beith. My noble friend Lord Sacks has always led by example. His inspiring books about how we build our home together and learn to appreciate the dignity that comes through difference brilliantly show us what needs to be done. Those ideas need to be understood and implemented, especially at grass-roots level. On this International Religious Freedom Day, when we celebrate Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which had its origins in the horrors of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and the other camps, and which promotes the right to believe, not to believe, or to change your belief, we must insist that our Jewish citizens are an essential part of who we are as a nation, and anything which compromises their safety or devalues their place in British society devalues us all. No one should live in fear because of their beliefs or because of who they are. Difference is to be prized and upheld, and the political imperative which flows from this assertion is that wherever it manifests itself we must counter anti-Semitism.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for initiating this extremely important debate. I found myself, in contemplation of it, recalling my own modest experience of anti-Semitism. As a non-Jew, I am not normally in the firing line. My interest is as someone who cares about the values of a free, multi-ethnic, multicultural, liberal democracy, who has as a parliamentarian taken a particular interest in justice and civil liberties—including combating all forms of prejudice, bigotry and discrimination.
However, I had a personal moment when I experienced an echo of anti-Semitism when I was a Member of the European Parliament, probably almost 15 years ago. I reacted with some frustration to what I saw as a gap in the output of the EU racism monitoring centre, the forerunner of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights. From memory, I said that it was unfortunate in terms of the perception of balance that the EUMC had produced three reports on Islamophobia while doing nothing on anti-Semitism. I was then criticised for condemning the EUMC’s production of three reports on Islamophobia—they chopped off the final part of the sentence.
An important element that we need to bear in mind is that anti-Semitism evolves and mutates, a point picked up in the Home Affairs Select Committee’s excellent report. Old stereotypes do not disappear, and of course they still get a regular outing, particularly those linked to Jewish power, especially financial power, but new ones arrive to sit alongside them. Some are related to the State of Israel, while others seek to diminish the unique nature of the Holocaust—the Shoah—by talking about other holocausts with a small “h”, as if Holocaust Memorial Day did not also commemorate other genocides. I am mindful of the paragraph in the committee’s report that says:
“Antisemitism is a problem of such gravity that no party can afford to be complacent. It is an issue that should transcend party loyalties and inter-party conflict”.
Now I will quote the leader of the Labour Party, only to illustrate an issue. Jeremy Corbyn told the committee:
“Antisemitism is where you use epithets to criticise people for being Jewish; where you attack Jewish people for what they are”.
This is possibly where things can go wrong and it is not unique to any one party. That kind of direct racism, alarming and deplorable as it is, is in a sense easier to recognise and deal with, but it makes the contemporary kind—which tars Jews with all the perceived ills of the existence of Israel as well as the activities of the Israeli Government—easier to ignore and overlook and thus to evade responsibility for. No one thinks that the Government of Israel should be above criticism, but context is all. The blaming of Zionists for the actions of the Government of Israel is what is so pernicious. As the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said, the disproportionate concentration on the so-called wrongs of Israel compared not only with other players in the Middle East but other Governments around the world makes it obvious that Israel is indeed held to a different standard.
I conclude by asking the Government whether they will consider providing additional funding for the Community Security Trust to work with the Union of Jewish Students to assist in an increase in the reporting of anti-Semitic incidents on campus, and what they are going to do to implement the recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee report, especially, as has been mentioned, the necessary resources so that students can be well informed about the Israel-Palestine issue.
My Lords, in 1927 a French intellectual called Julien Benda published a prophetic book called La Trahison des Clercs—the treason of the intellectuals—in which he described the process by which universities that were once known as places for the collaborative pursuit of truth had become homes, in his phrase,
“for the intellectual organization of political hatreds”.
Sadly, that is what some universities in this country have become today. I speak from personal experience.
I was Chief Rabbi for 22 years and during that time I was under constant security protection, but only once in all those years did I feel genuinely afraid. That was when I gave a talk to students at Oxford University. Just before the start of my lecture, a whole group of rather menacing Muslim students came in and occupied the centre of the front row. It was a blatant attempt at intimidation. Luckily, my capacity to be boring at length saved the day and after half an hour they left, but that is increasingly what Jewish students, and indeed Jewish university chaplains, are facing. So threatened do Jewish university students feel that in 2012 they asked me personally to address the annual conference of the National Union of Students. I did. I spoke about academic freedom. I explained that this means that a university is a place where you give a respectful hearing to views with which you disagree. There was a wonderful atmosphere, with people of all ethnicities and faiths. A group of young women Muslim students came up especially to thank me, and I left on a high. That evening, when I had left, the Union of Jewish Students stand was vandalised and threatening messages were left all around.
One of the most frightening books I have read is Ed Husain’s The Islamist. He describes in detail how a mere handful of extremists from Hizb ut-Tahrir were able to dominate and intimidate an entire university. In that case, the primary victims were not Jews but predominantly Muslims, primarily young Muslim women who were not wearing the veil. This is how it begins. The ending of this story is not a happy one—not for Jews, not for Muslims, not for anyone. In this age of extremes, we need to be vigilant in defending academic freedom, which means zero tolerance for intimidation of any group of students. It means insisting that in student debates all sides are given a respectful hearing. It means refusing to allow universities or any other institutions to become homes for the intellectual organisation of political hatreds. If the report in today’s Times is to be believed, that includes Her Majesty’s parliamentary estate. If we do not, this will be the treason of the intellectuals of our time.
My Lords, I can think of no one better suited than the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, to lead this debate on anti-Semitism. She has a long history of fighting racial intolerance. The noble Baroness and I were trustees of the Coexistence Trust. Our mission was to help heal the toxic atmosphere that existed on our university campuses between Jewish and Muslim students. We made a great deal of progress. What shocked me at the time was the sheer ignorance of university administrators and faculty about the religious requirements of Jews and Muslims. Will the Minister tell me what progress has been made to educate the educators?
I have also been shocked by the pronouncements of the president of the NUS, Malia Bouattia. The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee report into anti-Semitism criticised her when she denounced Birmingham University as being,
“something of a Zionist outpost”,
which the committee said “smacks of outright racism”. Will the Minister comment on that assertion? That committee turned its attention to the Labour Party, which it said had created,
“a ‘safe space’ for those with vile attitudes towards Jewish people”,
and that its passivity risked,
“lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally anti-Semitic”.
That hard-hitting document contrasts starkly with the anaemic report, also on anti-Semitism but restricted to the Labour Party, written by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. Her description of the anti-Semitism that even she said existed within Labour was that it was an unhappy incident. It is more than an unhappy incident to me; it goes to the very core of my political being. The press has had a field day with the report and made legitimate points on the sequence of events. The noble Baroness joined the Labour Party one day, she commenced writing the report shortly afterwards, she received no payment for two months’ work, she received a peerage, she became the shadow Attorney-General and she sits in the shadow Cabinet. You can call it whatever you like, but to me it feels like a massive stitch-up. The report recommended that those found guilty of anti-Semitism be suspended. I would have thought that those found guilty of any racism should be kicked out of the party for life.
Ken Livingstone is a case in point. Not for the first time, Livingstone made a comment that he knew would cause maximum distress to Jews. Stating that Hitler was a Zionist was like a punch to the stomach for every Jew. Why has Corbyn not had him banned for life? I am Jewish, and last month I resigned from the Labour Party. Today most Jews have given up on Labour. They feel alienated by Corbyn and his coterie. They feel that Labour is a cold house.
I am often asked whether I think Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite. In truth I do not know, but he certainly surrounds himself with close colleagues who flirt with anti-Semitism. He certainly stood by and smirked when a Jewish MP, Ruth Smeeth, was being verbally abused by a Momentum thug. Israel is a Jewish state, Jews support Israel, therefore Jews must be the enemy. As a Jew and a supporter of the State of Israel, how could I possibly remain in a party whose leadership is so hostile to both?
Today’s Times reports that the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, recently hosted a reception in your Lordships’ House where Jews were blamed for the Holocaust. Even here, in our own House, such things are happening.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for initiating this debate.
Despite there being Jewish societies in over 60 universities, a study in 2011 found that half of all Jewish students in the UK attend only eight universities. Safety in numbers seems to be key, as Nottingham, Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester all boast Jewish societies with over 1,000 members. None the less, we know that Jewish staff and students experience anti-Semitism in a significant number of higher education institutions today. As the recent Universities UK task force report on hate crime makes clear, anti-Semitism is a practice for which there is no place in universities, nor in the Church or society at large.
Anti-Semitism is a virus that latches on to existing beliefs—for example, in the relationship with the Christian story, with Christ’s death in Jerusalem and with the promises of God to all humanity, Jew and Gentile alike. We know that anti-Semitism has also found roots in dangerous forms of nationalism, and today it corrupts political activism as people turn criticism of Israel into an attack on all Jews as “Zionists”. While the rights of Palestinians remain an unresolved matter of social justice, I suggest that to challenge the right of Jewish self-determination and the existence of the State of Israel is, in itself, anti-Semitic.
In each case, anti-Semitism hides behind the respectability or popularity of a common belief, concealing the fact that it is not implied by any of them. Such a shift is often subtle, yet in our universities such a failure of logic should be identified and criticised in open debate. Anti-Semitism must therefore be confronted in the student union bar, the halls of residence, the common room, the public lecture and, if need be, the governing body. So I particularly welcome the proposal that Universities UK should work with appropriate student groups to produce a resource for students and lecturers on how to deal sensitively with the Israel/Palestine conflict, and how to ensure that pro-Palestinian campaigns avoid drawing on anti-Semitic rhetoric.
To combat anti-Semitism we must continue to build relationships between Jewish students, student societies and university chaplaincy teams, and encourage NUS leaders to take the issue seriously, distinguishing between anti-Semitism and racism in general and focusing on the need for collaboration and mutual support in the context of our pluralist society. If we are to maintain universities as communities of wisdom and learning, it is vital to support and protect free and open debate, both by defending individuals’ rights and by confronting practices that seek to curtail them. How will the Government play their part in ensuring that anti-Semitic practices are challenged?
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Deech for initiating this debate. I, too, can claim a parent who came to this country and sought refuge here—a very proud Brit with a very strong German accent.
Back in April, I was somewhat surprised to find myself commenting on anti-Semitism publicly and in the media for the first time in my life. Apart from very occasional anti-Semitic comments from a very few people in politics and outside, it was something I had not really feared or experienced, despite hearing of such things as my noble friend Lord Sacks raised. We knew what was going on on campuses. I felt—and feel—proud to be a subject and citizen of what has historically been such a deeply tolerant and diverse country, and I have felt nothing but acceptance and respect for my traditions and beliefs throughout my life’s work.
However, last year—though we know it did not really start last year and has much deeper roots in a combination of anti-Israel views and a definition of anti-racism that is exclusive and perverse—things began to change. I found myself appearing on “Newsnight” with the noble Lord, Lord Levy, discussing anti-Semitism in the Labour Party—the Labour Party in which I grew up—and on campuses, where the cry, “Zio, Zio”, said to Jewish students, is ringing in our ears. This was all in the wake of Naz Shah’s comments, for which she rightly apologised.
Add to that what we can read and what is repeated and retweeted in the blogosphere and on Twitter, where we see ad personam attacks of a disgraceful and upsetting style, particularly against MPs such as Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth, who are both Jewish, let alone others—the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, talked about that—and we have reason to be worried. This is a style of attack that makes no attempt to tackle the issues but just goes for the person and is anti-Semitic to boot, while hotly denying that anti-Semitism is even possible in a left-wing, anti-racist party. “I am an anti-racist”, goes the cry. “By definition, I therefore cannot be anti-Semitic”. Really? That thinking has become a serious problem for Jewish students around campuses in the UK, for that cry keeps emerging.
Now, we know that the Labour Party has had very serious issues with anti-Semitism, with significant resignations because of it, or indeed exclusion in the case of Michael Foster on the basis of a headline he did not even write. It is not only in Labour, although it feels as if it is becoming institutionalised and part of the party. Of course, there have been instances in other parties and elsewhere in considerable quantities. Social media need to be looked at and sorted out if anything is to be done about all this.
All this should be a wake-up call. The Government need to act in relation to campuses and universities, as do the political parties—notably, but not only, Labour. I end by asking the Minister two questions. First, apart from the Government’s power to legislate, how will they set or indeed change the tone around this anti-Semitism debate and give leadership, particularly in regard to universities? Secondly, in the wake of the Commons Home Affairs Committee’s excellent report, what assurances can the Minister give that action will be taken to force Twitter and other social media sites to take action against the appalling anti-Semitic tweets and posts, and other extreme blogs, that allow this poison to fester?
My Lords, I join this debate in the context of the current wave of anti-Semitic incidents, ranging from abuse to violence, and the deplorable, disgraceful and disheartening activities in some university campuses, such as the appalling events at King’s College London.
We are apparently seeing the convergence of the hard left and the hard right, lapsing into this grotesque world of an ancient hatred, often not only under the cover of criticism of the policies of the Government of Israel but also in opposition to the very existence of the state. I declare my interest as vice-chairman of the New Israel Fund. For all the criticism of Israeli policy, where, for example, are the protesters outside the Syrian Embassy or the embassy of Syria’s supporter Russia?
It is particularly important that the three Abrahamic faiths work together to tackle anti-Semitism, which recent surveys suggest is higher among Muslim communities than is generally the case. Of course, there is good collaboration between the Community Security Trust and Tell MAMA and between local community leaders in many parts of the country, but this needs to be reinforced in our schools, colleges and universities.
My Lords, I will start by reading out a brief comment from my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn. Many of your Lordships know of his interest and commitment in this area. He would have been speaking here today, but unfortunately the trade debate, in which he is taking part, has overrun. I see a number of people have come in to listen to the concluding part of this debate, which is important. What my noble friend wanted to say is that he has a strong personal connection to these issues, not least the fact that his daughter is now at university, and he hopes that there will be an opportunity in the future to set out some of his trenchant views about what has gone on in our party. A number of other noble Lords have made these points already. He and I are particularly anxious that the issue of anti-Semitism is not just properly acknowledged, as it must be, and that it is recognised to come from many different quarters, but that it is seen to be best dealt with by nurturing our values, with, in the case of universities, a much stronger commitment than we have seen in the past to ensure that a culture of openness and diversity exists on campus.
In her excellent speech introducing this debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, asked Her Majesty’s Government what steps they propose to take to combat anti-Semitism both generally and in particular in universities. So there are both general and specific points to which the Minister must respond. We have had two very good reports recently. The best one is the Home Affairs Committee report, which is available here and has been widely discussed. It is as good as any of the best reports from the Lords committee system —that is very high praise indeed—and I recommend it.
To focus a little more closely on universities, the recent Universities UK task force deals—although perhaps not as much as many people would have wished—with anti-Semitism in universities. The report is quite clear when it states that there is no place for anti-Semitism or any other kind of unlawful discrimination in our universities. Although it may be that the number of reported incidents is low, the report accepts that even a single incident is one too many. We all want our universities to be tolerant and inclusive places. As the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, put it so well, we want academic freedom but zero tolerance of those who practise or preach anti-Semitism.
There are questions for the Minister to answer in the time available to him. If he is not able to respond, I hope that he will write to us because this is such an important subject. The new guidelines place a duty on university authorities to engage more closely in incidents which may be a criminal offence. What discussions have the Government had with the universities on this issue? It is a difficult one. Are we confident that the new guidelines will ensure that any cases that might engage criminal proceedings will indeed be pursued with vigour?
Secondly, the Universities UK report recommends that universities develop and maintain partnership working as a fundamental component of preventing and responding to the sorts of issues we have been talking about. Can the Minister assure us that all that can be done is being done to ensure that the partners identified in this report, many of which are attached to central government, not only know that it is their duty to support staff and students in universities but will assist in delivering the necessary training and help to assess the nature and scale of the issues affecting universities? In the past the barriers have been too great, and they must be removed.
Thirdly, will the Minister consider whether there might be an opportunity in forthcoming legislation—for instance, the Digital Economy Bill—to provide a better regulatory framework for issues relating to the internet? This was mentioned by a number of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger. The internet has become a place for trolling and worse, and behaviour of that type is not being curtailed in any way. I am obviously anxious that we do not see a backlash against it, but it is very important that we use the opportunities we have—there are not that many—to make sure that the legislative framework is appropriate for our aims.
Finally, will the Minister use this debate today to make it clear to all and sundry that the Government will be single-minded in their determination to make sure that every Jewish student has a safe and positive university experience?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for securing this debate. I will attempt to address, in brief, the main issues raised. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, this is an important issue, and the passion that came out in many of the speeches today reinforces that point.
Britain is proud to be multi-ethnic and multifaith. As the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, said, it is also a good place to be Jewish. There is no place in our society for anti-Semitism or any form of harassment, discrimination or racism. Therefore, anti-Semitism is abhorrent, and we must take it very seriously.
As the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, mentioned in his speech, many noble Lords will have read in the Times this morning with dismay that a Member of this House, the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, hosted an event at which Jews were blamed for the Holocaust. I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in condemning this shameful display of anti-Semitism.
The UK has one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world to protect people against incidents of violence and hate crimes and other forms of harassment, including racial and religious discrimination. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, was very helpful in raising the issue of how one might attempt to define anti-Semitism. I am pleased to inform the noble Baroness that the Pickles definition she mentioned has been part of the operational guidance for police officers responding to hate crimes since 2014. The Government are currently reviewing whether the definition should be more widely applied. The Government know full well that there is more to be done. Anti-Semitism is a hate crime, and in 2015-16 UK police forces recorded 62,518 hate crimes. The Community Security Trust, which is the main recording medium, recorded 557 anti-Semitic incidents across the UK in the first half of this year. This is up from 500 incidents recorded in the same period last year.
I now turn specifically to universities, the subject of this debate. Twenty-seven anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in the first six months of this year, affecting students, academics, student unions and other student bodies. Eight of these incidents took place on a university campus and 15 involved social media. While this number is relatively low, one incident affecting one individual is one incident too many. We recognise the debilitating effect such incidents can have on students and the atmosphere of hatred they can create.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, among others, raised concerns about the level of anti-Semitism on social media, which is a very good point. The harm caused by anti-Semitism on the internet is a growing concern for the Government, and we have outlined a firm plan to hold social media companies to account in the recently published hate crime action plan. The noble Lord, Lord Sacks, mentioned the chilling effect of the boycotts, divestment and sanctions campaign on university campuses. I assure the noble Lord that this Government wholeheartedly condemn and reject the BDS campaign and strongly believe that it has no place on our campuses.
The question I am sure noble Lords will be asking and have asked is: what are the Government doing about this? The noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, stressed the importance of leadership in tackling anti-Semitism, and that is why the Government have accepted and are acting on all 34 recommendations provided by the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism following its 2015 inquiry, which communicated the reality of anti-Semitism on the UK Jewish community. For example, the Crown Prosecution Service and the police are working on publicising all arrests and prosecutions relating to anti-Semitism, underlining that public bodies take anti-Semitism very seriously indeed. Government’s relationship with the Jewish community has been built on the solid work of the cross-government working group on tackling anti-Semitism. This ensures that we are alive to any issues and concerns of the Jewish community and can respond quickly.
This is a tolerant country, and universities are an extension of that tolerance. Freedom of expression and academic freedom are fundamental principles, but not a licence to propagate hate speech. As the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Beith, said, the Equality Act 2010 places a duty on all public bodies, including universities, to protect individuals from discrimination and harassment with the aim of helping them to feel safe and to live in an inclusive environment which respects their difference. Free, open debate offers the best tool available to challenge those who espouse intolerance or discrimination. It is vital that universities have policies and procedures in place to ensure that ideas can be heard and challenged in a safe and well-managed environment that allows for the free exchange of ideas without harassment or intimidation. The Government have an overarching responsibility to ensure that the laws of the land are upheld. This takes on board that universities are autonomous institutions, but it does not mean that the Government bear no responsibility. Universities clearly have a legal obligation to ensure that students do not face discrimination or harassment. The noble Lord, Lord Sacks, made some powerful comments on this very point.
We look to universities to have robust policies and procedures in place. The Union of Jewish Students and the CST provide guidance to universities on addressing illegal and unacceptable behaviour on campus, and some institutions have successfully addressed it. For example, as was mentioned in one of the speeches today, at the University of Birmingham the campus security staff have been very active in their attempts to protect the welfare of the Jewish student population. However, as a Government and as a society we cannot be complacent. One incident of anti-Semitism is one too many.
I turn to the more serious matter of the NUS, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the noble Lords, Lord Beith and Lord Mitchell. The NUS also has a role in ensuring that safeguarding, anti-discrimination and harassment policies are implemented on the ground. Sadly, as the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, has pointed out, the actions and words of the current NUS president, Malia Bouattia, have undermined the positive engagement that Jewish students have had with the NUS for decades. I agree with the noble Lord that Jewish students’ concerns about some of her comments have aroused disquiet. It is important that the national president acknowledges that her past rhetoric has caused much harm and that she apologises.
The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, referred to the payment from University of York Students’ Union to Zachary Confino for suffering anti-Semitism. It is absolutely right that it should not be up to individual students to fight lengthy battles of this kind. I am aware that following this incident the University of York ran a day of inclusivity training for all staff, which is most welcome.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, made an excellent and rather sobering point about how anti-Semitism, often called the world’s oldest hatred, has the ability to morph from Palestine and Gaza and the role of the state of Israel into a hatred of Zionism and incitement to hate Jews. This ability often to hide in plain sight is what makes anti-Semitism so dangerous. If I have got this right, the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, described anti-Semitism as being a virus. She reminded us all of the importance of not holding Israel to a different standard.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, and the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, spoke about University UK’s harassment task force report. In September 2015, the Government asked UUK to set up a harassment task force on violence against women, harassment and hate crime, including anti-Semitism. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester said that anti-Semitism can hide behind respectability. I could not agree with him more when he says that universities must ensure that anti-Semitism is confronted whenever and wherever it arises on our university campuses.
The task force has brought together vice-chancellors of institutions, students, university experts and external organisations. It published its recommendations in its report last Friday. They set out clear, practical steps that institutions should take to prevent and respond to hate crime in all its forms, including anti-Semitism. We are committed to ensuring that the task force’s recommendations are implemented, and we have asked UUK to scrutinise progress over the next six months. I make it clear that if we are not satisfied with the progress made, we will consider further action.
The work of the UUK task force and partnerships between the universities and organisations such as the Union of Jewish Students are important steps towards changing behaviours. While the Government are acting on many fronts to tackle intolerance and racism, we are never complacent. The effects of anti-Semitism on an individual can be devastating. The Government will diligently pursue our commitment to tackle intolerance and bigotry in whatever form and continue to work in partnership with public bodies and communities to support universities in the pursuit of eliminating anti-Semitism and all forms of harassment, discrimination or racism in universities.
I want to pick up a point made by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, about the importance of faith and interfaith. We are supporting faith communities because, frankly, practical co-operation between faith groups is crucial to the kind of society that we want to build. It is about people from different backgrounds coming together, not just sitting around tables but working together for the common good and tackling shared social problems. The Government have invested over £8 million in the near neighbours project run by the Church Urban Fund to build productive working relationships between people of different faiths at the local level.
I realise I am running out of time but there are two questions that I failed to answer.