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Anti-Semitism - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:06 pm on 13th September 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Hayman Baroness Hayman Crossbench 2:06 pm, 13th September 2018

My Lords, nearly 50 years ago, I was sitting as the most junior member around the board table of a children’s charity. Discussing a problem that had arisen, a more senior member remarked that we should have known better than to employ “a scheming little Jewess”. Pretty shocked, I said that as a Jewish woman I found that remark unacceptable. There was an embarrassed silence and eventually the meeting continued. However, the point of this story is what happened next. At the end of the meeting, the chairman came up to me not to express support but to ask me to apologise to the woman who had spoken. She was an important donor to the charity. He said that I had offended her and that my remarks could harm the organisation. It was my comment, not hers, that was seen as the problem.

I fear that there are parallels half a century later. Those who call out anti-Semitism are themselves accused at best of hypersensitivity, at worst of disloyalty. A dismal absence of principled leadership has unleashed a second wave of abuse against those who challenge anti-Semitism, and Labour MPs who tell it as it is are being punished in their constituencies. As others have said, it is time for the leadership not only to speak out but to act.

However, standing up to racism of whatever variety requires more than action from the top, necessary though that is; it requires individual action and responsibility from each of us, whether the insult is directed against us personally or not. Returning to my story, I would argue that the blame lay not simply with the chairman, pusillanimous though he was, but with every other member of the committee, who said or did nothing. That is why I want to salute the noble Lord, Lord Popat, and every other non-Jewish member of this House who has stood out against anti-Semitism today.