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Anti-Semitism - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:01 pm on 13th September 2018.

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Photo of Lord Harries of Pentregarth Lord Harries of Pentregarth Crossbench 2:01 pm, 13th September 2018

I was privileged to chair the 1994 Runnymede Commission on Antisemitism. The title of our report was a phrase from Conor Cruise O’Brien—A Very Light Sleeper—and that, I am afraid, is all too apparent at the moment. The light sleeper has started to stir and wake up, as we have heard very powerfully in this debate, for which I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Popat.

For nine years, I chaired the Council of Christians and Jews, which encourages Jews and Christians to work together against anti-Semitism. We found of course that the subject that we had to discuss with sensitivity and care was always the state of Israel. I have always found some words of an American scholar helpful. He studied all the statements of Christian churches since World War II and summarised the minimum consensus as follows:

“Because the state of Israel is in part the product of the ancient and living hope of the Jewish people and is of deep concern to almost all Jews, disregard for its safety and welfare is incompatible with concern for the Jewish people”.

I repeat: disregard for the safety and welfare of Israel is incompatible with concern for the Jewish people. But of course that concern for its safety may very well go with a critique of the policies of a particular Israeli Government, as we have seen quite dramatically recently in the statement of Dame Margaret Hodge.

There are some other words that I have always found extremely salutary, and it may be that other of your Lordships will also find them helpful:

“Pray not for Arab or Jew, for Palestinian or Israeli, but pray rather for ourselves, that we might not divide them in our prayers but keep them both together in our hearts”.