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Anti-Semitism - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:37 pm on 13th September 2018.

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Photo of Lord Mendelsohn Lord Mendelsohn Labour 1:37 pm, 13th September 2018

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Popat, for introducing this debate, for his outstanding speech and for his solidarity. As a Jewish Member of this House, I am proud to describe him as my noble friend.

How did things get so far that recent polls have shown that nearly 40% of Jews in Britain feel so uncomfortable that they are thinking of leaving the country? Close to 90% are convinced that the leader of a main political party is an anti-Semite, as does a staggering 39% of the general public. How is it that a part of the UK no longer feels that a party which has always stood up for justice, liberty and progress is the one to which they can entrust their lives and those of their children? They feel this so intensely that many are considering emigration?

Since the Second World War, the Jewish community has been alert to all manifestations of anti-Semitism and, more latterly, to the particular threat of terrorism. I have always felt that the acts of solidarity and the breadth of the coalition against such manifestations of anti-Semitism have demonstrated the very best of Britain. In the 1980s, I felt what others had felt before, not just the conditionality of the far left—not of the Labour party but the far left—but its movement to embrace aspects of anti-Semitism. I felt it on campus, with the banning of Jewish societies and even with the actions, in 1994, of some student activists who bombed a Jewish community centre in north London—an act which singlehandedly transformed the view of the security of this community.

In 1984, an anti-Zionist Jew, Steve Cohen, wrote a book calling out the far left for its anti-Semitism, called That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Anti-Semitic. I commend it to everyone. It is as relevant today as it was then. Far too few of the non-Labour Party left were prepared to accept it then. But it illustrates a direct line, the politics of which have entered the Labour Party en masse and are now causing this current crisis. That crisis has never been gripped since the start of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and it has, over the summer, placed his position—his record, his views and his conduct—at the heart of it. It astounds me that it is a revelation no longer worthy of questioning that I too believe that the leader of my party, Jeremy Corbyn, has been a perpetrator of anti-Semitism.

How to solve this? It is hard to be positive. The leader of my party needs to reflect carefully on this. The deniers, those who seek to try and throw Israel and the Palestinians up as a smokescreen, who whip up unrelenting hostility and target those who show the noblest instincts of fighting for their legitimate rights or for acts of solidarity—may they be shamed by their indifference and understand that they are no more than perpetrators themselves.

This is not an organisational problem but a political one, and the approach of the party since the shameful Chakrabarti report and up to today will not be enough. Do not blame the victim. It hampers our party because it is a problem of our party.

The time up to the Labour Party conference is time for reflection and I hope to hear something meaningful and transformational, not just about anti-Semitism but about the place of everyone in society. Without that there will be an increasing view that the way that the Jewish community—my community—is treated is the canary in the coalmine for others.