Antisemitism in Modern Society

Part of Exiting the European Union (Agriculture) – in the House of Commons at 5:38 pm on 20th February 2019.

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Photo of Luciana Berger Luciana Berger Independent, Liverpool, Wavertree 5:38 pm, 20th February 2019

Why are we joined here for this debate? It was almost a year ago that I shared with the House my family’s history and experience of antisemitism through the centuries. My mother’s family were expelled from Spain in the 15th century. I spoke about the more than 100 members of my family aged from four to 83 who were murdered by the Nazis in the gas chambers of Treblinka, Sobibór, Mauthausen, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz.

What has happened since that last debate? It pains me to say this and share with the House that we have gone backwards, as we have heard from hon. Members’ contributions. We have not seen the progress we should have seen over the course of the past 11 months. On a personal level, I have in the past year alone seen a further two people convicted: one from the far-right, imprisoned after he threatened to kill me, convicted under counter-terrorism legislation, and another just before Christmas, a former member of the Labour party convicted of harassment. That takes my tally to six or seven individuals, depending on how you interpret it, convicted of antisemitic-inspired hate crimes and threats.

And there is a significant amount of antisemitism that might not reach the criminal threshold but that has surfaced. I have been subjected to thousands of messages of antisemitic abuse and hate, and I want to reflect on what I have seen in just the past week and share with the House the range of terms I have seen; they range from the ridiculous to the truly disturbing. There might be a small minority who think I am a “Zionist lizard” or that I am responsible for Eurovision taking place in Israel. It is sadly all too common to be addressed as “an evil little witch” or a “murderous Zionist.”

Abuse is only part of the problem. Arguably more concerning, as we have heard already, is the rise of insidious antisemitic conspiracy theories: that I am an agent of Mossad, that I am a traitor to my country, that I am paid directly by Benjamin Netanyahu, based purely on my Jewish background. The comments underneath my posts on social media are filled with individuals calling me the MP for Tel Aviv or asking whether a Member of Likud can stand for election in our country. And just yesterday an individual who says they are a member of the Labour party and with the hashtag “JCforPM” in their bio—they have been on Twitter for an extended period and have hundreds of followers, so this is not a bot that has been created—said:

“shame on Luciana Berger, A Zionist Bitch, I hate her, I hate her baby, her Israel.”

Elsewhere an official Labour-affiliated group, Young Labour, announced that the departure of my right hon. Friend Joan Ryan would mean that “Palestine Lived” and then proceeded in bullying the Jewish chair of Young Labour, while influential Twitter users have wished “good riddance” to “Israel’s fifth columnists.” They have called myself and hon. and right hon. Friends “the Israel stooges party”, “the Israeli apartheid democratic front” and so on. Others have alleged that the Rothschilds and George Soros will declare their backing for the new Independent Group. I share all this because this is what is happening in our country, from people across the country, during the past week and today in particular.

In the Labour party, my political home for nearly 20 years until I resigned from it on Monday, I have seen obfuscation, smears, inaction and denial every step of the way. We had a debate in this House following the unprecedented event of a minority community in our country, the British Jewish community, taking to Parliament Square outside this place to say enough is enough when it comes to antisemitism. It was not a demonstration against National Action or Tommy Robinson; it was against the Labour party, a political movement that is supposed to pride itself on the values of equality for all and anti-racism against all.

Yet what has happened in the wake of that unprecedented event in our country and in the wake of the debate in this House that took place just a few weeks later? Mr Speaker, you could not make up the catalogue of events that has shamed the Labour party since that happened: the countless individual cases, as my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge has alluded to already, that have been dropped or have not been responded to. In the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day this year, we learned of members of the Labour party in high-profile positions, a number of them councillors and one a Welsh Assembly Member, who had made antisemitic comments and had as their sanction a “reminder of the rules”. That was somehow a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism. We have heard the audio recording of a member of the Labour party’s highest governing body, the national executive committee, accuse 70 British rabbis of being Trump fanatics rather than addressing their very serious concerns about antisemitism. We had to fight for months to see the international definition of antisemitism with all its examples accepted and adopted by the Labour party, and even with a last-minute attempt to dilute it.

We had the summer of antisemitism, when not a day went by without another story in the British press about antisemitism in the Labour party and about its leader’s connections to the issue. One in particular, which caused gross offence, was the claim that British Jews do not get irony. We were told that the Leader of the Opposition was present, but not involved, at the laying of a wreath for the individuals who orchestrated the Munich attacks and the murder of the Israeli athletes. The commitment to meet a deadline to deal with high-profile cases has been deliberately missed, and the party is withholding details of physical threats to MPs, including myself. Just last week, the leadership of the parliamentary Labour party held members in contempt despite their reasonable request to answer 11 straightforward questions and to respond to serious concerns about antisemitism, which was ignored.

This is a shameful record, let alone from a leadership and a political party that seek the highest office in our land. That is why I have arrived at the sickening conclusion that the Labour party is institutionally antisemitic in its processes, its attitudes and its behaviour. We ignore this at our peril. Colleagues have referred to the figures. We have seen a 16% rise in the number of incidents since 2017, and behind every one of those incidents is a person who has been affected.