My Lords, I congratulate strongly the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, not only on securing this debate but on an excellent speech. Like her, I am not Jewish, but I am very sensitive to anti-Semitism not only as the oldest hate, but also as a bellwether for other types of hate. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel and a supporter of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Jews.
The fact that this debate is more necessary than ever in my lifetime shows how anti-Semitism is becoming pervasive, as was brought out in the report last year by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, which was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge. The report found that negative stereotypes are being reproduced and ingrained and that this pervasive anti-Semitism is undermining Jews’ feelings of safety and security throughout Europe, such that they and their family and friends cannot live lives free of worry. I am deeply ashamed that this is happening to my fellow citizens. I do not want to live in a society in which they are afraid and subject to prejudice, discrimination and hate.
The same survey found that anti-Semitism is not only pervasive but has also become normalised. The report states,
“people face so much antisemitic abuse that some of the incidents they experience appear trivial to them”.
That is totally shocking. One clue to this sense of normalisation is that the range of perpetrators is wide, spanning the entire social and political spectrum. Like the noble Baroness, I was truly outraged not only that the Malaysian Prime Minister made the remarks he made at the meeting in Cambridge, but that they were apparently followed by a round of laughter. I find that incredible.
I talked earlier of stereotypes. A poll by the news organisation CNN last September showed that three in 10 adults said that Jewish people have too much influence in finance and business; one in five said they have too much influence on the media; and three in 10 said that Jewish people use the Holocaust to advance their own position.
Some of your Lordships, like me, will have heard Allan Little’s recent series for BBC Radio 4 called “A History of Hate”, covering events in Rwanda, Bosnia, apartheid South Africa and other places. His first programme was about pogroms in Russia a century ago. Anti-Semitism originated as traditional religious prejudice, but it transformed into what a historian called “modern anti-Semitism”: visions of Jews conspiring to take over all the main institutions of the state, encapsulated in the fake news Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Interestingly, Professor Deborah Lipstadt saw the origins of that Jewish lobby stereotype in ancient times, in perceptions of a small group of Jewish money changers persuading the mighty Roman Empire to kill Christ because he threatened their lucrative business in the temple. These prejudices are very ancient.
This is, of course, a debate on anti-Semitism, but people who hate on the basis of faith often hate on the basis of other features—other faiths, race and gender. I know that we are all conscious of that fact. I do not have time to talk about Islamophobia, but I think it noteworthy that the candidates for the Conservative leadership have pledged to look at Islamophobia in their own party. As the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, said, we need a step change in education. That is the top priority.