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Anti-Semitism - Question for Short Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:11 pm on 13th September 2018.

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Photo of Lord Parekh Lord Parekh Labour 2:11 pm, 13th September 2018

My Lords, during the past few weeks members of the Jewish community, including MPs and Peers, have been subjected on social media to the most abhorrent and abominable abuse. I condemn this abuse and express my sympathy with the Jewish community. That community’s contribution to all areas of British life has been greater than that of any other and its members have been at the forefront of the struggle against racism. I cannot think of any piece of race legislation passed during the past 40 years that has not been the creation of a member of the Jewish community. Like the noble Baroness who spoke a little earlier, I find it very puzzling that the Holocaust should have happened at all, in Europe, in a country which was highly civilised, only 80 years ago. As somebody who grew up in India, I find it very bewildering and puzzling, but there it is.

I would like to provide some balance, given that the Labour Party Benches are a little under-populated—partly as if there is a sense of guilt. But there is none and I suggest that the Labour leadership’s handling of the whole controversy could have been much more expeditious, much more public and much fairer. There is no reason why the leader could not have written an article or given a major speech, in which he could have explained why he found the definition unacceptable. What prevented him from saying that? In the absence of that, there were a few remarks here and there, and then a complete vacuum. I wish, therefore, that Labour had been more active, not just in making soundbites but in explaining more fully what the definition would not allow him to say. Nobody is going to say that that definition, or any definition, is perfect—no definition is. In this particular case, in fact, the Home Affairs Committee report on anti-Semitism says that the definition needs to be changed and has made two amendments to it. The Labour leader was right to suggest that the definition should be changed, although not necessarily the amendment that he was proposing. However, not to have explained why was certainly unacceptable.

What worries me most, as a Labour Party supporter, is simply this: in the course of this controversy there has been an unfortunate polarisation between the Jewish community on the one hand and the Labour Party, or the left, on the other. That is most unfortunate. It is unfortunate, first, for the Jewish community, because one day Labour will come to power, as I am sure it will; and, secondly, for those in the Labour Party who have close friends in the Jewish community and would not dream of anything happening to that community. I therefore suggest that the time has come for both sides to stop polarising the issue and to develop friendship and trust in a spirit of mutual understanding and forgiveness. In the heat of the moment, both sides may have said things that they regret, and therefore the time has come for reconciliation.