Antisemitism in Modern Society

Part of Exiting the European Union (Agriculture) – in the House of Commons at 6:40 pm on 20th February 2019.

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Photo of Stephen Lloyd Stephen Lloyd Independent, Eastbourne 6:40 pm, 20th February 2019

It is a privilege to follow Joan Ryan.

In my limited time, I would like to concentrate on just a couple of points. I am not Jewish, but I was talking to a constituent of mine a few months ago, a perfectly ordinary, normal middle-aged lady who is a Brit. I did not even know that she was Jewish, but during the conversation, it became clear that she was. She told me something quite shocking. She said that, with the change in antisemitism over the past couple of years, she and her friends no longer feel safe in the United Kingdom. This was so astonishing and extraordinary that I chanced it a bit and said, “How can you really feel that, considering all the challenges around the rest of the world?” but she was absolutely clear on that. In the ensuing months, I spent time talking to a number of other Jewish British people in Eastbourne with a similar background—they are not into politics or campaigning—and again and again I found that genuine fear.

That brings me to two outstanding speeches, one of which was from my friend, John Mann who I have known for a long time. He made a very strong point about enablers, which is crucial. The other speech—I am sorry to see that she has left the Chamber—was from Dame Margaret Hodge. Again, I have known her for over 30 years from before I got into politics. She made a crucial point about how promoting pro-Palestine and pro-Palestinian rights has over the years gone over the line, so that it is no longer a case of, “I disagree with the Israeli Government,” but “I disagree with Jews.”

How did that happen? Unfortunately, I am old enough to remember the hard left from 30 years ago. I hate to say it, but many of us in the Chamber will know that that was always there in the hard left 30 or 35 years ago; it was just that the hard left then did not have any control. Bluntly, it was ignored. Should something have been done? Perhaps, I do not know, but it was ignored. What has changed—I am afraid this is true, although I do not mean this about every member of the Labour Front Bench—is that a cabal of people I would define, many would define and I suspect colleagues behind me would define as the hard left now controls the Labour party. That very same nonsense—and it is nonsense—openly talked about 30 years ago, but by those who had no power, influence or traction, is now everywhere. It has got into normal, ordinary day-to-day conversation. That is why my constituent—this lovely lady who is a friend of mine in Eastbourne who is British, middle-aged and just happens to be Jewish—feels frightened.

That strand now walks the land, and I do not really know what the Labour party is going to do about it—I really don’t. It is different from the hard-right antisemitism that is hundreds of years old. That is thuggish and thick and has been around forever. We could almost take that on. It was easier in a way. But the antisemitism we now have is mainstream with a lot of the supporters of the current Labour party, sadly, and some of its members. That is a real problem. What I do know is that that type of antisemitism is the canary in the mine. The canary is choking and we really have to deal with it. We have to deal with it now or we will all live to regret it.