Antisemitism in Modern Society

Part of Exiting the European Union (Agriculture) – in the House of Commons at 5:03 pm on 20th February 2019.

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Photo of Stewart McDonald Stewart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence) 5:03 pm, 20th February 2019

I completely agree with the hon. Lady. As Steve McCabe mentioned when he intervened on the Secretary of State at the start of the debate, there is perhaps a misunderstanding about how bad it actually is to be called an antisemite. I think the hon. Gentleman is right that the term perhaps feels a little too gentle sometimes. The Secretary of State himself said that people should be confronted with the fact that it is Jew hate. Let us put it to people in those stark terms, and then I think they can understand exactly what they are being accused of.

I want to draw the House’s attention to a school, Calderwood Lodge, which is actually just outside my constituency and in that of Paul Masterton. This is a brilliant example of bringing together children of different faiths to better understand people from those faiths. Calderwood Lodge is the first joint Catholic and Jewish school anywhere in the world, and I encourage all hon. Members, if they get the chance, to visit it.

In thinking, as Wera Hobhouse just said, about how we get young people and others to better understand the problems and understand that this is a problem for us all, I reflect on what my own mother chose to do. My own mother, when I was in my early teens, gave me a copy of the book “The Five Chimneys”, written by Olga Lengyel, a survivor of Auschwitz, and that book has stayed with me forever. I have read it a great many times, and I will probably give the book to my own nephew when he is of an age to take in the horrors of the holocaust.

That brings me to something that had never actually crossed my mind before. About this time last year, I was very kindly invited to dinner at my vet’s house. My vet, who looks after my cat very well, is himself Jewish, and he invited me and my partner, Gordon, to come and have dinner with his family, which we duly did. This had not even occurred to me, but when we were there and we got talking around the table about antisemitism, he had to explain to me that he had not yet told his young daughters what the holocaust was and did not quite know how to approach it or at what time. It was not until I was in the car afterwards that I said to my partner, “How do you even begin to explain to your children that they belong to a faith that has been hunted in the way that Jewish people have over time?”

I want to draw my remarks to a close because I am conscious of time, and many hon. Members want to speak, so I will end with this. I was heartened, and at the same time quite depressed, to see the scenes last night from Paris, where a great number of people took to the Place de la République, rising up against antisemitism in France. The Chief Rabbi of France, Haïm Korsia, put it perfectly, in outlining the challenge for us all not just here but around the world, when he asked in Paris last night

“who must lower their eyes? The anti-Semites or the Jews?”

Let us flip that question around: who is it who gets to raise their eyes? I preferred the days when antisemites and racists felt ashamed and they kept their eyes to the ground. But when the Jew raises her eyes, what will she be confronted with? Will she be confronted with love or hate, friendship or hate, solidarity or hate, understanding or the ignorance that drives the hate we are trying to drive out of our society today? The Jew is looking up at this debate today, and although I suspect we will all speak with one voice, as we should, against antisemitism, what will happen when the Mace is lifted up? Will we all go back to our constituencies with a hand genuinely held out and renewed in our desire for friendship and in our desire to drive out antisemitism from society, or will we have a lot of warm words and not very much by the way of action? I sincerely hope not.