Antisemitism in Modern Society

Part of Exiting the European Union (Agriculture) – in the House of Commons at 5:47 pm on 20th February 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon 5:47 pm, 20th February 2019

I do not believe that that intervention was aimed directly at me, but I will say that I have for some time been asked in hustings and during elections, “Is the Labour party antisemitic?” and I have never really engaged in that debate. The simple reason why I could not do that is because Joan Ryan is certainly not antisemitic and was very much part of the Labour party. I have therefore always resisted saying that the Labour party is antisemitic, and I have resisted saying that the Leader of the Opposition is antisemitic. I will let others make their minds up about that.

In a very good book by Anthony Julius called “Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England” that I found in the Library, the author suggests that there have been four periods in history when Jews have been prominent and have received antisemitic abuse, and I think that we are now in a fifth. The antisemitism of recent years has taken the form of criticism of Zionism and of the actions and policies of the Government of Israel, which has often manifested itself in direct action, such as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. However, the new line of attack is different from traditional antisemitism, meaning the hatred of Jews, claims that Jews are inferior to others or a belief in a worldwide Jewish conspiracy or the Jewish control of capitalism. The new antisemitism differs in the political voices from which it comes. Previously antisemitism was perceived as coming from the political right, but the new antisemites are primarily on the left and, indeed, the far left.

I have a concern about how such views are communicated to the public through social media. The Antisemitism Policy Trust and the CST found that when Google removed “Are Jews evil?” from its autocomplete function in December 2016, 10% fewer people searched for “Are Jews evil?” than in the previous year. Search companies should stop directing people to antisemitic content on the internet, and we must better equip users and remove content when it is uploaded.

John Mann and I went to Dublin with the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism to visit Facebook and Twitter. I am sure that he will remember that when we spoke to Facebook, its reaction to any kind of racist, sexist, homophobic, misogynistic comment was, “We must remove it as soon as possible.” However, when we spoke to Twitter, it likened any such posts to comments made in the street to someone as they pass by. We felt that was certainly not an appropriate response. I would like to see the Government and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport consider legislation to prevent such comments from being allowed to remain online.

I am particularly disappointed by two comments that many of us will have seen online yesterday. The first was in response to the right hon. Member for Enfield North when she moved to her current position as an independent Member. Young Labour tweeted:

Joan Ryan Gone—Palestine Lives”.

As though she had any effect on either Palestine, the west bank, Gaza or Israel.

The second comment, and I do not think it necessary to name the Member, was about the financial backers of the new Independent Group:

“Support from the State of Israel, which supports both Conservative and Labour ‘Friends of Israel’, of which Luciana was chair, is possible and I would not condemn those who suggest it”.

Well, I certainly would. I cannot speak for Labour Friends of Israel, but I am sure it is the same as Conservative Friends of Israel, which does not receive any money from the Israeli Government—it receives its finances from within this country, as per the law.

I ask Labour Front Benchers to do more, and not only about the members I have mentioned today and the comments they have made online; they also need to actively seek out those who are causing a terrible and emotional time for so many of my residents.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree has shown us today what antisemitism feels like, but many of my constituents show me on an almost daily basis how it affects them. One comment, on which I will end, came from a gentleman today and, like me, he is very concerned about the removal of a passport from a British person, “If Mr Corbyn was to be elected, he would know that I have the right of return to Israel, and no doubt I would have my passport taken away.” I do not believe that, and I certainly hope this country never ends up behaving in such a way, but we cannot go on like this. We cannot allow people to behave in the way they have, and we must stop it before people leave this country.