Antisemitism in Modern Society

Part of Exiting the European Union (Agriculture) – in the House of Commons at 4:22 pm on 20th February 2019.

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Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade 4:22 pm, 20th February 2019

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I am sure that we all have similar stories to tell about the CST’s work in our constituencies. In my own constituency of Brent North, we have a Jewish community of just under 2,000 people, and we are the home of the Jewish Free School, which is one of the oldest Jewish institutions in the UK and the largest and most academically successful Jewish school in all Europe. I worked with Arnold Wagner and David Lerner to help the school to move from its old home in Camden to the purpose-built facilities in my community. I particularly want to thank the CST for all that it does to keep the pupils and staff there, and in all the other primary schools, safe. I just wish, as we all do, that its work was not necessary.

The CST does more than work on safety. Its work to record and analyse antisemitic hate crime is integral to our understanding of the scale of the problem that faces us. Last year, it recorded 23 antisemitic incidents in my borough of Brent alone, and 1,652 across the country. That makes for sober reading. Antisemitism is at a record high, with a 16% rise in incidents nationwide year on year and 100 incidents every month. This is the lived reality of our Jewish fellow citizens living under the strain of antisemitism. It is appalling—the arson attacks on synagogues, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, the neo-Nazi graffiti on posters for Holocaust Memorial Day, the vandalising of centres of Jewish life, the physical attacks on Jewish children at their schools or on public transport, swastikas daubed on Jewish homes and antisemitic hate mail sent to Jewish workplaces and schools. These hideous crimes are a warning to us all. We must do better, and we must be better.

That brings me to the issues facing my own party, the Labour party. It was the Labour party that introduced the Race Relations Act and the Equality Act, and it has put fighting inequality, racism and prejudice at the core of who we are and what we believe in. How can it be that we are struggling so badly to eradicate antisemitism from our own membership? I joined the Labour party because I believed it was quite simply the best vehicle for progressive social change in this country. I still do, but no party has a monopoly on virtue, and in the Labour party we are learning a bitter lesson. For all the strength and passion that we have derived from the mass influx of new members that has seen our party grow to more than 500,000 strong, we have not had adequate procedures in place to react swiftly and decisively to that small minority of members who have expressed sometimes ignorant but often vicious, dangerous and vile antisemitic views.

On behalf of my party, I want to publicly apologise to the Jewish community that we have let them down. We know it and we are trying to do better. We are trying to become the party that we have always aspired to be. We will not stop working until we once again become a safe and welcoming political home for people from the Jewish community, as from every other. The Secretary of State said that we stand here today to say of antisemitism that we reject it. We do. We must.