Religious Intolerance and Prejudice - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:06 pm on 17th October 2018.

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Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench 7:06 pm, 17th October 2018

My Lords, in March I joined the first protest I have been on since CND in the 1960s. People gathered in Parliament Square to protest against Labour anti-Semitism. It was a polite demo, the most aggressive factor being the slogans “For the many, not the Jew” and “Enough is enough”—they sum it up. The Jewish Chronicle, the Jewish News and the Jewish Telegraph—rival papers—combined to run the same front page in July, headed “United We Stand”, to claim that a Corbyn-led Government would pose an existential threat to Jewish life in the UK.

I cannot explain intolerance of other religions so I will concentrate on what I know, and I will look to the future and how we can remedy the appalling situation we find ourselves in. Despite everything, the British Jewish community knows very well that the UK is one of the best countries ever in which to be Jewish. At the same time, we know that anti-Semitism is not confined in its effects to this community; if unchecked, it signals a threat to democratic values and opens the door to general extremism. That is why we have not yet stopped talking about it, much as we would like to. What sort of society is this when substantial numbers of Jews—one of the longest-established ethnic minorities—have discussed leaving the country if Jeremy Corbyn were to become Prime Minister? Not only here, but across Europe—especially in Hungary, Poland, Germany, France, Belgium and Sweden—anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise again. Thousands of Jews are emigrating—a massive failure for the European project.

On the far right in Europe, anti-Semitism reflects the past, deeming Jews to be inferior and enemies of the state. On the far left, Jews are associated with power, capitalism and colonialism and are, therefore, enemies of the people. Islamists have religious objections to Jews. This is all historical and religious perversion. I was glad to see the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury speaking today and note that the Church of England has adopted the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism.

For the last few decades, since the communist dream was shattered, the left has been looking for a global cause on which to fixate and found it in Israel. There has been a struggle in the Labour Party ranks for the freedom to depart from the international definition of anti-Semitism in just one respect: the right to call Israel a racist endeavour. If that is the case, and if double standards are outlawed in the IHRA definition, as they should be in political discourse, why are there no marches, no exclusions and no intimidation of students in relation to, say, Pakistan, whose creation as a Muslim state involved the displacement of around 10 million people and the deaths of 1 million? Israeli Apartheid Week, which is in breach of the public sector equality duty placed on universities, continues. Would those universities tolerate, say, a “Pakistan honour killing week”? Of course they would not, because of the effect on students of Pakistani origin. What mass disapproval and protests are there in relation to, Syria, where at least 4,000 Palestinians have died, the occupation of Northern Cyprus, creating a Muslim enclave, again with accompanying deprivation and refugees, or the suppression of the Kurds? Singling out Israel as a racist endeavour in this context is a pretext for undermining the entire state, putting another 6 million people in danger of their lives and attacking the Zionist success and safe haven that is dear to the overwhelming majority of Jews here and worldwide; in other words, it is anti-Semitism.

One has to conclude that there is a party-wide culture that is anti-Semitic, albeit dressed up as anti-Zionist even when the mask slips and Jews are attacked when they go to meetings simply for being who they are. The more this goes on, the more unlikely it is that a peace settlement will be reached in the Middle East, for the attitude of the extreme left and the extreme right to Jews reinforces the view that only Israel can guard them against persecution and offer security.

I turn now to intolerance. I am most concerned about these attitudes in young people, for they are our future leaders. Many students encounter campaigning and debates about Israel and Palestine for the first time at university. The tensions—indeed, violence—surrounding pro-Israel activities on campus has given students a binary and ill-informed view of the Jews and history. Campaigning about Israel’s politics is perfectly legitimate, but free speech does not include hate speech. Universities have a statutory duty to promote harmony between different groups on campus and an academic duty to secure civilised and well-informed debate about all issues. They do not have a licence under law to allow discrimination and harassment. I have spoken about this to your Lordships previously and will not rehearse it again, save to note very recent campus incidents which have occurred despite nationwide publicity about their illegality. Swastikas, racist slogans, conspiracy theories, Holocaust denial and slanders, and the violent breaking up of meetings have appeared in universities including KCL, Exeter, Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester, Birmingham, Kent, LSE, Sheffield Hallam, SOAS and York. An NUS survey has found that two-thirds of Jewish students questioned believed that they were targeted as a result of their faith. Last year’s chair of Labour Students blamed her own party’s leadership for the rising amount of anti-Semitism on campus. The president of the Union of Jewish Students recently resigned from the Labour Party.

Universities across the UK are pitting Jewish and Muslim students on campus against each other by discriminating against Israeli speakers. Sometimes it is the university administration itself that imposes excessive restrictions and bureaucracy on Israeli speakers while waving anti-Israel speakers through the process with no obstacles. In other cases it is the student union that is culpable of wrongfully promoting Palestinian society events or campaigns, contrary to its charitable status, and neglecting Israeli society’s equal right to student union resources. The inability of a university to ensure even-handedness in this area creates an unfortunate animosity between two groups of young people who need to live together.

What is to be done? I do not think a Holocaust memorial could do it. The rise of anti-Semitism has gone hand in hand with an increase in the number of Holocaust memorials and learning centres. They do not seem to have the desired effect, especially when placed somewhere where the neighbours, with some justification, are opposed to it. I also bear in mind the Macpherson report on the feelings of victims as a guide to hate. I am sorry to say that the report for the Labour Party by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, has been criticised by the Commons Home Affairs Committee inquiry into anti-Semitism. Her report did not deal with the wealth of evidence submitted, nor did it go into the reasons for anti-Semitism in the Labour Party or suggest effective ways of dealing with it. The report by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, into incidents at Oxford University was not published in full and does not seem to have led to the necessary sanctions by the university.

Combating anti-Semitism must start with an acknowledgement that it exists. Educators need to learn and teach about anti-Semitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories. Holocaust education must culminate in the realisation that the virus that led to it has not been killed off, even today. Young people need to know that social media promotes hate and fake news in this area. The Government should be commended for funding Jewish communal security and Holocaust education, and it would be even better if this could be secured long-term. They have announced funding for a project that will extend the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Auschwitz visit programme to universities for the first time. Under the plan, 200 students will visit the death camp and return to lead seminars in an effort to target anti-Semitism on campus.

All universities need to adopt the international definition of anti-Semitism, not because it is a legally binding document but as a guide to what is acceptable and what is not when they have to recognise anti-Semitism as distinct from normal political criticism. The National Union of Students has adopted it but the University and College Union refuses to do so. University authorities need training in the topic of anti-Semitism. It is insufficient to deal with diversity issues and non-harassment but to omit this. Following the 2016 Universities UK Taskforce report on hate crime, there still seems to be no such training for universities and no guidance on how to deal with conflicts over the Palestine issue. The police are not prosecuting the violent disruptors of such events and the universities are refusing to disclose their disciplinary actions. The resources of student unions should not be used for political campaigns against Israel, and Israel alone, that do not promote their legal remit of education and welfare. The Charity Commission should continue to watch over this. I am very concerned that the guidance on freedom of speech in universities now being prepared by the Department for Education will not deal with this. The Union of Jewish Students does not seem to have been consulted on this most pressing of issues. Without its input and without consideration of the troubles I have referred to, the guidance will achieve next to nothing.

Schoolteachers need more training to deliver a proper Holocaust education in schools, as well as in how to tackle discussions with pupils about the Middle East conflict and prejudice. Indeed, guidance would help other professionals who may find themselves involved—the clergy, social workers, journalists and those charged with rehabilitating prisoners who have been found guilty of hate crimes. We need to see more and more successful prosecutions for hate crime and hate on social media. Just try searching for the word “Zionism” on Twitter. Last but not least, noble Lords in the Labour Party should stand up for tolerance and freedom from persecution. They have the freedom to express their views and to follow the example of Frank Field MP, who has been widely commended.