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Antisemitism in Modern Society

Part of Exiting the European Union (Agriculture) – in the House of Commons at 4:05 pm on 20th February 2019.

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Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government 4:05 pm, 20th February 2019

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. At its heart, this is racism. That is why it is so intolerable and unacceptable. As the powerful analogy I just used suggests, repelling this insidious threat takes a strong immune system, in the form of leadership at all levels, in all parties and in all areas of public life, and nowhere is this more important than here at the heart of our democracy. It is why we have chosen next door to Parliament as the site for our new national holocaust memorial and learning centre, which commands cross-party support. I believe there can be no more fitting place, no more powerful symbol of our commitment to remembering the men, women and children murdered in the holocaust and all other victims of Nazi persecution, including Roma, gay and disabled people, than placing the memorial in Victoria Tower gardens, literally in the shadow of our Parliament.

In that context, I welcome the cross-party support, which was evidenced today by a joint letter signed by more than 170 Members of Parliament and Members of the House of Lords endorsing the memorial and the positive and enduring impact it will have. It will draw on the history of the holocaust and subsequent genocides with an education and learning centre at its core as a national resource. It will stand as a national memorial at the heart of our democracy, but equally it will stand as a warning of where hatred can lead; the role that government can play, both good and bad; and what happens if people are bystanders as it develops—what happens if they walk by on the other side. It is not just for future generations, but for us all in Parliament.

It pains me hugely to hear the powerful testimony of colleagues in the House of the abuse they have suffered either for being Jewish or for standing up to antisemitism. Some have even asserted that part of our politics is poisoned by antisemitism in an institutional way. That does not reflect the country we are or the politics for which we stand. Our debate today gives us the chance to say that we reject and oppose antisemitism and to stand together against anyone seeking to advance a narrative of bigotry, hatred and division.

For our part, the Government are taking comprehensive action to fight antisemitism and all forms of hatred. We are proud to have been the first Government to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism in 2016. Although not legally binding, it is an important tool for criminal justice agencies and other public bodies to understand what antisemitism looks like in the 21st century. It covers examples of the kind of behaviours that, depending on the circumstances, could constitute anti- semitism. Those examples include making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective through the myth of a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions, or accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.

Those narratives have increasingly poisoned public discourse and we should speak out against them wherever they arise, but aside from pinning down what we mean by antisemitism, the Government’s first priority must be to keep people safe, as underlined by the horrendous events last October in Pittsburgh. That people should be attacked in that way while gathering in prayer is profoundly shocking. To strengthen our determination to ensure that the Jewish community here are safe and feel safe, we continue to support the Community Safety Trust to provide security for Jewish places of worship and institutions. In recognition of the vulnerability felt by all faith communities, the places of worship security grant scheme allows places of worship facing threats to apply for funding to improve their security. To that end, the Government have provided more than £2.4 million to increase security provision for churches, gurdwaras, mosques and temples across the country. We committed further resource for that in the hate crime action plan refresh.

I am hugely conscious of the problems online, which we need to confront further and which I am sure will be a focus of a number of contributions to the debate. We will continue to work to strengthen our approach and confront all types of hate crime to ensure that it is appropriately dealt with. We will soon publish a White Paper on online harms that will consider legislative and non-legislative approaches to combat online hate crime and hate incidents alongside other forms of harmful behaviour.

Our engagement with communities on the ground and education are vital, particularly when it comes to tackling stereotypes and prejudices at an early stage before they harden and become more harmful. That is why we are supporting programmes that work with young people to challenge over-simplified narratives and encourage open conversation.

I want to pay tribute to the outstanding work of our partners. I have already mentioned the CST, whose work to facilitate reporting, to support victims of antisemitism and to provide security for Jewish institutions is vital and greatly appreciated. I want to thank the all-party group against antisemitism, so passionately chaired by John Mann and supported by the Antisemitism Policy Trust. The work of the group ensures there is continued momentum to tackle antisemitism as part of the working group and helps to hold the Government to account. I also want to pay tribute to the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council, whose input to the cross-Government working group is invaluable in ensuring the community is properly represented, and to our Haredi stakeholders, including representatives of Shomrim and others, who make sure the specific needs of orthodox communities are not forgotten.

Together, we can and will overcome the challenges we face. Antisemitism has no place in our society—however it evolves, it is still hatred and bigotry—and we should not be afraid to call it out and to champion our Jewish community, which continues to make a towering contribution to our society without reservation. Indeed, Britain would not be what it is without our Jewish friends, neighbours and cousins. That is why in standing up for them we are standing up for all communities who are facing hatred and for the values of tolerance, freedom and fairness that define us and define our country.

This is a mission bigger than politics—bigger than any party—and it is in that spirit that I urge all hon. Members to be standard-bearers for these values: values that are our best hope of ensuring that when we say, “Never again,” we mean it.