Anti-Semitism - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:38 am on 20th June 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Berridge Baroness Berridge Conservative 11:38 am, 20th June 2019

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who are speaking in today’s debate, which is the second on anti-Semitism within a year in your Lordships’ House—perhaps evidence that this is a light sleeper, to borrow a phrase. Of course, I am not Jewish, but I co-chair the APPG for International Freedom of Religion or Belief, and anti-Semitism is a denial of such freedom. I am also a professing Christian who attends Protestant churches but has Catholic lineage.

When first preparing for this debate, I was struck by the origins of the word “anti-Semitism”. To use “ism” makes it sound to ordinary people like an ideology or a religion such as Hinduism, pluralism or capitalism. Of course, “Semitism” relates to the Semite people, who, according to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, include,

“Arabs, Akkadians, Canaanites, Hebrews, some Ethiopians and Aramaean tribes”.

Modern usage does not include all those people, but it does definitely tell us that what we are talking about is hating people, not a religion or an ideology. That is a vital distinction that enables us to maintain freedom of speech. But the use of “ism” was deliberate, as the term was first used in 1879 by the German agitator Wilhelm Marr to make the anti-Jewish campaign seem more reasonable, rational and perhaps more like the European Enlightenment. It is a great shame that the term has stuck as it is anything but rational. I fear that using “anti-Semitism” today could make it seem like a concern of the liberal elite.

My initial instinct is supported by the recent survey by the Jewish Chronicle that fewer than half the people in Britain know what anti-Semitism means, so using the substance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition—“hatred of Jews”—makes things simple and clearer, and I commend it.

Globally, we are seeing in Europe, America and even Argentina a resurgence of hatred, threats of violence, harassment, vandalism and even murder and kidnap of Jews because of who they are. The hatred that led to the Holocaust and 6 million dead Jews in Europe is a lesson from history that is not being taught in enough history lessons. From Berlin to Buenos Aires, incidents of Jew hatred have increased drastically in recent years. According to the Kantor Center of Tel Aviv University, in the last year alone, Italy saw a 60% increase in recorded incidents, South Africa a 25% increase, France 74% and Australia 59%. The number involving violence or the threat of violence also rose globally by 13%. The US had the largest number of violent cases—more than 100—including of course the tragic shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue in October that claimed 11 lives.

In the city of Rosario in Argentina as recently as last week, a local rabbi was attacked by three men who shouted anti-Semitic words at him before removing his rabbi’s hat, trampling it on the ground and assaulting him. That attack is the third physical attack and anti-Semitic assault in Argentina in less than two months. Similarly, the UK last year recorded a record high of anti-Semitic incidents for the third year in a row.

One key feature of this trend is the increasing prevalence of materials online. According to Tel Aviv University, in Argentina last year complaints of anti-Semitic incidents doubled compared with 2017, and 80% were online. All of Belgium’s 101 documented cases were online in what mostly involved the spread of conspiracy theories and Nazi rhetoric. In a CNN/ComRes poll, 15% of all people surveyed in Poland and 19% in Hungary said that they had unfavourable views of Jews and about 10% of all respondents in seven European countries said the same. That is quite an admission even in a confidential poll.

The nature of Jew hatred includes imposing false stereotypes and conspiracy theories. In Poland and Hungary, about four out of 10 people said that Jews had,

“too much influence in business and finance”,

around the world, and 20% of British respondents thought that the global Jewish population was 20%. Those figures are deeply concerning and it is not a surprise that when 16,500 Jews from 12 European countries were interviewed by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights last year, 85% said that the community’s main concern was anti-Semitism. Less reported was that 72% of those Jews surveyed also expressed concern about the increasing intolerance towards Muslims. Hatred of the other does not usually stay with one category of “the other”. The main threat in Europe is neo-Nazi far-right views which extol hatred of Jews, not predominantly extreme Islamist views on Jews.

In her recent book, Antisemitism: What It Is. What It Isn’t. Why It Matters, the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, references research by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research that put the rates of emigration from France, Belgium and Italy to Israel beyond that which would normally be found due to economic factors. Jews leaving Europe because they do not feel safe—who ever thought we would be saying that in the 21st century? Jews are not asking for special treatment. The atrocities of the Second World War led not to a UN declaration on just Jewish religious freedom but on freedom of religion or belief for all. Jews are not saying we cannot criticise the Israeli state and its policies. As the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, says in her book:

“It is one thing to deny Israel a right to exist at all. But arguing about Israel’s borders, or criticising its treatment of its Arab population, or of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, is another thing entirely. The argument is about policies, not about a right to exist. And though many Israelis, and the Israeli government, would not agree with me in saying this, those are legitimate issues to raise”.

She also says that,

“it must be legitimate to criticise Zionism as a political philosophy”.

I hope this deals with the myth that Jews do not believe in freedom of speech and that you will be told you are anti-Semitic if you criticise Israel per se. When I visited Israel it seemed to me that free speech between Israelis and criticism of their Government were alive and well on talk radio.

There are hundreds of images and posts on the internet, let alone on the dark web, by white supremacists, neo-Nazis and the far right claiming Christian inspiration for their views. If only we could say that this is a new phenomenon. This is why I outlined my own faith at the start. In 2017 there was a muted celebration of 500 years since the Reformation. With the state of Europe’s attitude towards to Jews, celebrating a man for his undoubted doctrinal brilliance but whose views on Jews moved from warmth to hatred and wrath was difficult. Martin Luther’s 1542 treatise On the Jews and their Lies is staggering. He refers to “whoring and murderous people” and “a rabble of snakes”, saying:

“Even if they were punished in the most gruesome manner that the streets ran with their blood, that their dead would be counted, not in the hundreds of thousands but in the millions”.

Did this pave the way for Hitler and the views posted today? In a talk given at St Aldate’s Church, Oxford, the Reverend Simon Ponsonby persuasively outlined that Hitler, some of the German Church, the Nazis, the populists, the Jews and the English Church all made the link. After all, Kristallnacht was on Luther’s public birthday. William Temple, then Archbishop of York, said:

“It is easy to see how Luther prepared the way for Hitler”.

Time does not permit similar analysis of the struggle within Catholic thought, but the comment of Cardinal Maridiaga, who was a papal runner-up, is quoted in the book written by the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger. He blames the “Jewish-controlled media”—namely, the Boston Globe—for the sex scandal of the Catholic Church. That is the kind of comment that Vatican II at the very latest thought to make a thing of the past. It is at such moments that I have put down many of my reading materials this week and said “What? These are intelligent people”.

I am not responsible for the collective views of the Church of the past, but due to the rise of Christian imagery once again I want Jews to know that I am convinced—and distressed—that without these awful teachings at the time of the advent of the printing press it is hard to think that Jew hatred would have taken root in Europe in the way it did. Aggressive nationalism and assertions of Christian Europe, particularly in eastern Europe, are feeding on this history and putting at risk anyone considered other—Jew, Muslim and, potentially, Roma, alike.

Today we have the advent of the internet. We have a virtual oil slick, like the pollution streaming out into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. It is not merely a conduit, as European law would like us to believe. It connects people to spread their hate-filled views. Thankfully, in the past few weeks there seems to be a new wave of contrition from ISP executives, with Instagram’s Adam Mosseri saying,

“We can’t solve bullying on our own”,

and Apple’s CEO Tim Cook saying only last Sunday at Stanford University to graduating students that the tech industry,

“is becoming known for a less noble innovation: the belief that you can claim credit without accepting responsibility … If you build a chaos factory, you can’t dodge responsibility for the chaos”.

While the internet is undoubtedly bringing immense good, parts of it are a verbal cesspit which we all must clear up. The next generation want us to clean up the ocean, but they have good cause to ask us why, when ISPs have all that money—with more cash reserves than most nation states—we did not make them use it to clear up the internet and spread the message, for instance, that there is no “other”—we are all human; that the individual’s mistakes or crimes are not the fault of the collective group; and that you can hate my views, my behaviour and my politics, but verbal or physical violence or threats are unacceptable and often unlawful.

National Governments must pool their authority. The world is watching us here in the UK as to how we deal with online harms. Our leadership is important as a nation that respects free speech within the law. Generally, our law makes an important distinction between the hatred of ideas, philosophy or opinions, and words or actions expressing hatred of people. Our law applies to everyone and should be so enforced. I have a quote:

“I have some Jewish friends, very good friends. They are not like the other Jews, that’s why they are my friends”— these are the words of the Prime Minister of Malaysia at the Cambridge Union a few days ago, and the audience laughed. Is this what we expect of a visiting Commonwealth Head of Government—that he should think this is appropriate, and lawful? I will use an analogy to force home the point: “I have some black friends, very good friends. They are not like the other blacks, that’s why they are my friends”. This is unacceptable. UK law and its enforcement have to get this right, stamping out safe spaces for hatred. Obviously, we have the Metropolitan Police talking to Jo Brand. We have to get the enforcement right; we have to do this together. So I ask my noble friend the Minister: what mechanism will be used supranationally to bring ISPs to book? Is it on the agenda of the G20? I am not hopeful that the United Nations really has the clout to deal with this.

It is always an honour to speak in your Lordships’ House, but preparing this speech was not a pleasure. It was not a healthy diet for my mind, so goodness knows what it is like living any of the experiences that I have outlined. I hope noble Lords will forgive me, but I am looking forward to returning to the different echo chamber in which I live.