Politicians opposing antisemitism
12 September 2014
Many Members of Parliament from each of the parties have voiced their opposition to antisemitism in recent weeks, including leading Government figures.
Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis on 10 September to mark the annual pre-High Holy Day Conference of Rabbis. The PM stated:
...as we reflect on events this summer, it is more important than ever that Britain says loudly and clearly that there can never be any excuse for antisemitism.
As a Government we are committed to doing everything we can in the fight against antisemitism...
We are working with our police and universities to stop the spreading of divisive messages on our university campuses and we have excluded more foreign preachers of hate on the basis of our strategy for preventing extremism than ever before...
...a Jewish friend once asked me whether it will always be safe for his children and grandchildren to live in Britain. The answer to that question will always be "yes". I hope that in years to come we will reach a point where that question will not even be asked.
The message was echoed by Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, who addressed the rabbinical conference in person and was warmly received. The minister had stated this opposition on previous occasions, including in the Daily Telegraph on 5th September:
...Whatever ones view about the politics of Israel and Gaza, everyone who believes in British liberty should stand up for the Jewish communitys right to practise their faith and go about their lives without fear. A cursory glance at European history shows the worst atrocities can begin with turning a blind eye to seemingly small acts of discrimination.
Home Secretary Theresa May was equally clear when addressing a Conservative Friends of Israel event on 9th September:
I have been appalled by recent reports from the Community Security Trust indicating a rise in anti-Semitic attacks in the UK. Yesterday I along with Theresa Villiers met Mike Freer MP, David Burrows MP and Lee Scott MP to discuss their concerns and the action the Home Office is taking to combat anti-Semitic hate crime.
Accounts of Jewish people being verbally abused on the street, placards displaying loathsome threats, and bricks being thrown through synagogue windows are like any form of hate crime abhorrent and unacceptable.
A straw poll conducted by the Jewish Chronicle also found that 63 per cent of Jewish people in north London questioned their future in the UK amid the rise of anti-Semitic attacks. This picture is being mirrored in other European countries. France has recently been reported as the leading country for Jewish emigration to Israel for the first time.
I am clear that everyone in this country should be able to live their lives free from racial and religious hatred and harassment. No one should live in fear because of their beliefs or who they are. Thats why we have provided over £2.3 million of funding to organisations and schools to help prevent hate crime, increase reporting and improve the operational response.
...This country has one of the strongest legislative frameworks in the world to protect communities from hostility, violence and bigotry. But I am clear that we must keep both the operational and legislative response under constant review. There is absolutely no place in our country for anti-Semitism whatever form it takes.
The speech repeated the strong message that the Home Secretary gave the Jewish Chronicle on 28th August (read it here). At the CFI event, she also told journalists of her forthcoming meeting with CST, Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council, adding:
We are working closely with a number of organisations including the CST to see what more can be done in terms of ensuring hate crime is dealt with properly by the police but also that there is protection
Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers is another politician who has seriously grappled with antisemitism in recent weeks, as mentioned in Theresa May's CFI speech, along with Mike Freer, David Burrows and Lee Scott. For example, in this clear message on her website, including:
Over recent days I have spoken to a number of my constituents about their fears and concerns about the current situation, including the chair of Barnet Synagogue who told me of a heated meeting held at the shul to discuss this issue. I have also received a detailed update from the police on the action they are taking and their plans for keeping people safe in Barnet during the forthcoming high holy days. I am also grateful to the Community Security Trust for keeping me informed on these very worrying developments
Jim Murphy MP is not a member of Government, but despite the pressure of being one of the leading Scottish Labour advocates against Scottish independence, he has continued his record of standing against antisemitism. For example, writing an analysis of the problem in the Glasgow Herald on 13th August that concluded:
...Many Jewish constituents have been in touch with me in recent days. It shouldn't be left to Jews to speak out against the existence of anti-Semitism in our midst. It is all of our human and democratic responsibility - no matter our faith and regardless of our view on the Middle East - to renew our opposition to the world oldest hatred.
Finally, there was the searing speech against antisemitism and its drivers by the Chief Whip Michael Gove, at the annual dinner of the Holocaust Educational Trust on 9th September (see most of it here). It was extremely well received by those present and included the following:
...We need to stand together against prejudice, against hate, against the resurgent, mutating, lethal virus of antisemitism now more than ever.
The Holocaust Educational Trust was established a quarter-of-a-century ago by men and women who knew that, unless future generations were taught about the Holocaust and inoculated against the virus of antisemitism then prejudice could recur...
...In the aftermath of the Second World War, everyone was agreed. Antisemitism could have no place in a civilised society. The articulation of prejudice towards the Jewish people was the gateway which led to Auschwitz by way of Nuremberg exclusion and then extermination...
...Or so it seemed back then. Today, across Europe, there has been a revival of antisemitism that the enormity of the Holocaust should have rendered forever unthinkable...
And we must not think that Britain gentle, tolerant, civilised Britain is immune. The Community Security Trust (CST) monitors instances of antisemitism throughout the UK. It is careful to distinguish between explicitly antisemitic incidents and more general protests about Israeli policy...
When banners at pro-Palestinian rallies carry slogans such as Stop Doing What Hitler Did To You or Gaza is a Concentration Camp then a line has been crossed. In July this year, CST recorded 302 antisemitic incidents, a fivefold increase from July 2013. In 101 of those cases, there were explicit references to the Holocaust, including attempts to equate Israels actions in self-defence with Nazi crimes. On our streets, our citizens have marched with swastikas superimposed on the Israeli flag.
We need to be clear about what is going on here. There is a deliberate attempt to devalue the unique significance of the Holocaust, and so remove the stigma from antisemitism...
...And even as this relativisation, trivialisation and perversion of the Holocaust goes on, so prejudice towards the Jewish people grows...
We need to speak out against this prejudice. We need to remind people that what began with a campaign against Jewish goods in the past ended with a campaign against Jewish lives. We need to spell out that this sort of prejudice starts with the Jews but never ends with the Jews. We need to stand united against hate. Now more than ever.
I believe that, in the face of this prejudice, there has, so far, been insufficient indignation: an insufficient willingness to recognise that civic freedom is indivisible: that an attack on one is an attack on all.
The British rightly pride themselves in their long and relatively peaceful political evolution based on a widespread acceptance of British values. But this can have an unfortunate consequence: complacency in the face of threats from those who care nothing for peace, democracy or British values.
...I believe that, in the face of this prejudice, there has, so far, been insufficient indignation: an insufficient willingness to recognise that civic freedom is indivisible: that an attack on one is an attack on all.
The British rightly pride themselves in their long and relatively peaceful political evolution based on a widespread acceptance of British values. But this can have an unfortunate consequence: complacency in the face of threats from those who care nothing for peace, democracy or British values..