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Anti-Semitic Attacks

Volume 812: debated on Tuesday 18 May 2021

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 17 May.

“No one could fail to be appalled by the disgraceful scenes of anti-Semitic abuse directed at members of the Jewish community in the past week. In Chigwell, Rabbi Rafi Goodwin was hospitalised after being attacked outside his synagogue. In London, activists drove through Golders Green and Finchley, both areas with large Jewish populations, apparently shouting anti-Semitic abuse through a megaphone. These are intimidatory, racist and extremely serious crimes. The police have since made four arrests for racially aggravated public order offences and have placed extra patrols in the St John’s Wood and Golders Green areas.

During Shavuot, as always, we stand with our Jewish friends and neighbours, who have sadly been subjected to a deeply disturbing upsurge in anti-Semitism in recent years, particularly on social media. Like all forms of racism, anti-Semitism has no place in our society. A lot of young British Jews are discovering for the first time that their friends do not understand anti-Semitism, cannot recognise it and do not care that they are spreading it. British Jews are not responsible for the actions of a Government thousands of miles away but are made to feel as if they are. They see their friends post social media content that glorifies Hamas—an illegal terrorist organisation, whose charter calls for every Jew in the world to be killed. Today, the world celebrates International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Under Hamas, people are murdered for being gay.

Every time the virus of anti-Semitism re-enters our society, it masks itself as social justice, selling itself as speaking truth to power. This Government are taking robust action to root it out. We are leading the way as the first Government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism and calling on others to do the same. As a result, nearly three-quarters of local councils have adopted it. I have written to councils and universities that are still dragging their feet. They will shortly be named and shamed if they fail to act. All Members of Parliament, bar one, have signed up to it.

We are also doing our utmost to keep the Jewish community safe through the £65 million protective security grant to protect Jewish schools, synagogues and community buildings. We are working closely with the Community Security Trust to ensure that victims can come forward and report attacks to the police.

We recognise that education is one of the most powerful tools we have for tackling anti-Semitism. We are proud to back the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Anne Frank Trust, among others, to ensure that we challenge prejudice from an early age. With the last Holocaust survivors leaving us, we are also ensuring that future generations never forget where hatred can lead through—I hope—a new world-class Holocaust memorial and learning centre next to the Palace of Westminster. It is currently awaiting the outcome of a planning inquiry. Some of the opposition to it has only served to make the case for why it is needed.

Today, the Government and, I hope, the whole House send a clear message of support and reassurance to our Jewish friends and neighbours. We seek a society where the UK’s largest established religions can live safely and freely, and can prosper, as an essential part of a nation that is confident in its diversity but ultimately strong in its unity.”

My Jewish 97 year-old aunt Rose lives in St John’s Wood. I never imagined I would see such scenes on her street. As Simon Wiesenthal said,

“For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.”

And Pastor Niemöller wrote:

“First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.”

Does the Minister agree that each and every one of us must stand up to, and speak out against, what we saw at the weekend?

I completely agree that we must stand in solidarity with British Jews. The events we saw in the past week were abhorrent and I am pleased the police acted swiftly to arrest four individuals for that offence of driving up and down Finchley Road. Equally, there was the violent attack on Rabbi Rafi Goodwin in Chigwell, and I am pleased to say that the latest news is that the police have arrested two individuals concerning that incident.

My Lords, it is poignant that today’s exchange on anti-Semitism coincides with the important Jewish festival of Shavuot, which has kept some of our colleagues away from this debate. One of the examples that accompanies the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism, is

“Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.”

Can the Minister tell the House what steps the Government are taking to ensure that all public and private bodies adopt not only the definition but also the examples? Can the Government stress at every opportunity that the supposedly pro-Palestinian demonstrations of recent days have actually been pro-Hamas, and not in support of the Palestinian people?

My Lords, this Government are very proud of the fact that they were the first adopters of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, and we are working very hard to ensure that that is fully embedded across our universities and local councils and, of course, every single Member of Parliament, bar one, has also signed up to that definition. It is important that we take that forward and we will continue to work very hard to ensure that we tackle anti-Semitism wherever we see it.

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. The Jew haters and the women-despising thugs who threatened murder and sexual violence on our streets brought great shame to our nation. At the first chance, they exposed the thin veneer between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Does my noble friend share my sadness that many of the car convoys of violence came from my native city of Bradford, a city that has a proud record of co-operation between communities, not least through the Near Neighbours programme? Does he agree that we cannot allow the men of violence to define the relationship between communities? Will he commit to measures that combine strict policing and a strong social cohesion? We must, as a priority, remove fear from our streets.

My noble friend, with his experience as a leader of Bradford, is absolutely right. We need to combine that strict policing, where we do more than engage and the police act to ensure that we take the hate off our streets and online wherever it occurs, with an equally strong and robust approach to social cohesion. In fact, Bradford pioneered the Near Neighbours programme, which brings different communities, such as the Muslim and Jewish communities, closer together. We can learn from that.

Is the Minister aware that the Union of Jewish Students has raised serious concerns that Jewish students and societies are now being targeted with really quite disgusting anti-Semitic abuse due to the conflict in the Middle East? Will he reassure Jewish students that the Government will clamp down on all forms of campus anti-Semitism and encourage all universities not just to adopt but to implement the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism?

My Lords, we are aware of this tension. The Community Security Trust has reported a massive spike in anti-Semitic incidents, but equally, Tell MAMA has seen a similar increase in anti-Muslim incidents of 420% in the past week. We are funding the Union of Jewish Students to do precisely that: to tackle these issues. We want to see the full implementation, not just the adoption, of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

The Jewish community will be very grateful to the Minister for what he said today. He knows that anti-Semitism is not confined to appalling attacks on a rabbi in Chigwell and threats to Jewish women in north London. The IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, to which the Minister referred a few moments ago, gives as an example applying double standards by requiring the State of Israel to behave in a way not expected of any other democratic nation. Does the Minister accept that there have been many examples of those double standards in the past week, particularly by broadcasters, and that this more subtle form of anti-Semitism contributes to an atmosphere in which the cruder forms breed?

My Lords, my right honourable friend in the other House talked about how sometimes anti-Zionism is a subtler form of anti-Semitism. We need to root out even those most subtle of forms absolutely and ensure that we take these forms of anti-Semitism away from both the internet and the streets of our big cities.

Just a couple of days ago and less than half a mile from my home, a motor convoy with loudhailers passed by calling for Jews to be killed and our daughters raped. I know that there has been a quick response from political leaders and the police, although I must say to what effect I do not yet know. I abhor Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. No decent safe society can live with either. I have never come across a Jewish group calling for the death or rape of Muslims. If I did, it would find me an outspoken enemy. What discussions have the Government held with the many law-abiding Muslim groups to encourage public expression of their anger and repudiation of the hatred of Jews? What concrete additional help can be given to the Community Security Trust to enhance community protection?

My Lords, we continue to have our cross-government working groups to tackle both anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiments. We continue to work with a number of stakeholders to address those challenges. We also provide substantial support to the Community Security Trust. It is £14 million this year, but it has been £65 million to date. We will continue to support what those groups do, but they also provide important support for other minority and faith communities.

The remarks by the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, about the speedy action by the police were extremely welcome. For the sake of Holocaust survivors, such as my beloved sister, and the whole of the community, can we ensure that once prosecutions are brought, they are brought quickly and not delayed? Will the Government call on the Director of Public Prosecutions to account to the Government for the speedy way in which these cases should be processed?

My Lords, I cannot talk about specific cases, but equally, justice delayed is justice denied. We need to see swift and sure justice in these matters.

My Lords, does the Minister understand that while all decent people in the United Kingdom disapprove of anti-Semitism and find it abhorrent, there is particular resonance for the Jewish community in what was happening on the streets of London just a few days ago? In the 1930s, that is exactly the kind of thing that proved to be a precursor to a Holocaust. Does the Minister agree that it behoves all of us, not just the police and the judiciary, but those of us in this and the other House and journalists, to take the utmost caution in the language we use to describe events in the Middle East just now so that we do not inadvertently inflame the fires of anti-Semitism?

My Lords, I completely agree with those sentiments. We need to react and enforce robustly, but equally to find the right tone to cover these sorts of events.