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Volume 792: debated on Tuesday 26 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to promote the use of the definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, together with its guidance notes.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw to your Lordships’ attention my non-financial interests in the register.

My Lords, the Prime Minister announced the Government’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism in December 2016. Since then, we have encouraged local authorities to adopt the definition. To date, 135 local authorities across the United Kingdom have done so, as have a number of universities, the National Union of Students and the Union of Jewish Students. In addition, a number of political parties have adopted the definition and the police and CPS already use it as a guide. It is good to see in his place my noble friend Lord Pickles, who has done so much great work in this area.

I thank the Minister and agree that all institutions and political parties should adopt this definition of anti-Semitism, which includes, of course, disproportionate attacks on Israel. Does the Minister share my concern that in this parliamentary Session there have been, according to the House of Lords Library, more than 250 Questions on Israel which, to put it in context, compares with 50 on Iran and five on anti-Semitism?

As a Minister, I know quite a bit about answering the same question time and again, as noble Lords will be aware. Ultimately, this is a matter for individual noble Lords; it is not a matter for the Government. Obviously, noble Lords will need to declare interests, but if they do so, that is a matter for them.

My Lords, the IHRA definition clarifies that, when it comes to anti-Semitism by way of criticism of Israel, cases should be judged taking into account the overall context and may—rather than must—be anti-Semitic; and that,

“criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic”.

Does the Minister believe that this is sufficient to ensure freedom of speech?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that there is obviously an important balance to be struck between freedom of speech and the definition of anti-Semitism. It is important that people bear in mind the definition of anti-Semitism, but ultimately all freedom of speech is constrained in some way. Nobody can go into a theatre and yell “Fire!”—unless there is a fire, of course—so noble Lords would be well advised when exercising the right of free speech to be aware of the parameters within which it is exercised.

Does the Minister realise that one of the problems is that Government of Israel now calls itself “the Jewish State of Israel”? Could he advise us whether we are being anti-Semitic when we criticise the actions of the Government of the Jewish State of Israel?

My Lords, I do not want to be drawn too much into semantics on this. I think noble Lords will in general realise what is legitimate criticism of the policy of a particular state—that is legitimate—but they will be aware of the definition of anti-Semitism which the Government, the Conservative Party and many local authorities have adopted. That is a good thing and is recognised as such internationally.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that anti-Semitism is a truly despicable form of abuse and that it has absolutely no place in Britain? Will he join me in congratulating the Community Security Trust for what it has done in highlighting this abuse and racism? Will he ask his ministerial colleagues in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice to ensure that everything is in place to support the police and the CPS to bring prosecutions against the perpetrators of these evil crimes?

My Lords, the noble Lord’s record is unimpeachable in this regard and I join him in paying tribute to the CST. He will be aware that at the top reaches of his party in the other place, there is still an issue to address, but I certainly exempt noble Lords in this House from that charge. However, there is much work to be done on anti-Semitism in the upper reaches of the Labour Party.

My Lords, does the Minister share my feeling that it is shameful and a stain on our reputation that we even have to discuss this and that we find that anti-Semitism is mainstreaming, especially in our universities? I cannot imagine—and I am sure the Minister cannot imagine—anyone attempting to narrow the definition of, for example, Islamophobia. There is a singling out of Jews and Israel under the guise of anti-Israelism.

My Lords, in her last phrase I think the noble Baroness is referring to university campuses. There are issues there that remain a concern, but in all fairness considerable progress has been made. The present NUS president, Shakira Martin, deserves praise. She has been working with the Union of Jewish Students, for example. There is still work to be done, but considerable work has been done in that regard. I agree with the noble Baroness about tackling Islamophobia. That too is a challenge that we have to meet in all political parties.

Will the Minister explain what Her Majesty’s Government are doing to deal with anti-Semitism in social media?

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that hate crime in general on social media is something we are seeking to address; we have invested money in that fairly recently. My noble friend is correct to say that it is a very important concern, but it also has an international dimension and is very difficult to deal with. For all that, it is important that we do deal with it, and we are seeking to do so.

My Lords, anti-Semitism is absolutely reprehensible and abhorrent. It is a stain on our society, and I welcome any moves to stamp it out, but may I ask the Minister to help me? He mentioned Islamophobia as well. Some of us in this Chamber who come from a particular background are subjected to the most appalling comments by an individual in this Chamber about our faith and about people from the same faith—mainly Muslims—with very little intervention. Can he say whether the same will apply in this Chamber: that we lead by example and we stamp out such questions and comments, which make some of us feel very uncomfortable, and beyond, about coming from a Muslim background?

My Lords, I am unaware of the specifics that the noble Baroness mentions, but based on what she has just said: absolutely. It is abominable that anybody should be singled out on the basis of race or religion. All discrimination is wrong, and I wholeheartedly endorse what she has said.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with me in welcoming the visit made yesterday by Prince William to Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem? Does he further agree that Prince William’s desire to go to the other side and talk to Palestinian people to try to get some understanding can only be a good thing for the future of both states?