Antisemitism in Modern Society

Part of Exiting the European Union (Agriculture) – in the House of Commons at 6:53 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 6:53 pm, 20th February 2019

With the leave of the House, I would like to conclude this extraordinary debate. It is a difficult debate to summarise, however, because we have had such wide-ranging, heartfelt and painful contributions that have underlined the chilling aspect of antisemitism and how, while this place is a bastion of free speech, actually that free speech is at risk from bullying and intimidation. That was hard to listen to. It gives us a warning that antisemitism is serious. I quoted the statistics in opening the debate, but it does not give us the colour or sense of reality that we were given by so many of the appalling examples that hon. Members underlined in their contributions.

Given the wide-ranging nature of the debate and the passion and honesty with which hon. Members have spoken, it feels slightly invidious to draw attention to specific contributions, but I was struck by the contribution of Ruth Smeeth. Standing here at the Dispatch Box, I can see the Jo Cox coat of arms just above the hon. Lady and am struck by that sense of there being more in common than divides us, and yet this afternoon we have highlighted a lot of division.

Luciana Berger highlighted the theme of family history, which was mentioned by a number of colleagues. That history matters to us all. She rightly said that she will not be intimidated—I am going back to the issue of freedom of speech. She made the point, as did the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North, that she is not going anywhere, and nor should she. They or any hon. Member should be able to make the points they wish to make in the House as they have done.

The comments of Dame Margaret Hodge were equally notable. She talked about anger and anguish, which came through in a number of contributions, probably most notably in the contribution of John Mann. I pay tribute to him for his courage and bravery and for the leadership he has shown through his work and the all-party parliamentary group.

That sense of leadership was a theme in the debate. We need to show leadership as the Government, but equally all leaders of political parties need to show it. I deliberately opened by saying that we should not make this a partisan debate, but people outside the Chamber might wish to reflect on the powerful contributions that have been made by so many this afternoon.

Education and learning the lessons of the holocaust was a strong theme. Our holocaust national memorial and learning centre has been widely supported. It matters that it will be here, next to this seat of democracy, because of the warning it provides to us all. We may take comfort in having a democratic society, but we cannot take it for granted. A number of hon. Members gave that warning this afternoon.

The challenges of the online world were mentioned by a number of colleagues. My hon. Friend Fiona Bruce also mentioned the education theme. My right hon. Friend Theresa Villiers spoke of the regret she felt at having to make the speech she made this afternoon. It is a regret that we are here today to debate this again. We have heard the message: we have had so much talking, but it is now about action more than words. We all need to instil that sense of action within us.

I conclude with the words of the Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis. At a recent sitting of the Home Affairs Committee, he drew a black dot on piece of paper to represent the stain of antisemitism and said:

“The white area represents the situation of Jews in the UK today. It is great to be Jewish in Britain and we are proud to be British. This is a truly wonderful country. But, in that context, we’ve got a problem. It used to be smaller, but it has now got bigger, and it could get bigger and bigger unless we deal with it effectively.”

As long as I am in this role or involved in public life, that is what I will continue to do. It is our responsibility to shrink that black dot. I hope that, by virtue of what we have done today, we will help to turn it into a full-stop.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered antisemitism in modern society.