My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests as a member of organisations involved in post-Holocaust issues and countering anti-Semitism. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Berridge on securing this debate. It comes at a very apposite time, in that it coincides with the first joint meeting on Monday of special envoys on anti-Semitism, organised in Bucharest by the Romanian President of the Council of the EU and the World Jewish Congress. I represented the UK at the event and spoke during one of its plenaries on how the UK had implemented the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, spoke of the need for international effort to counter anti-Semitism, and these are the first tentative steps.
The meeting concluded with a four-point action plan. The first is on the security of Jewish communities, and states that public authorities—central and local—have a responsibility to ensure the security of the members of the Jewish community and the institutions, and to support and protect the victims of anti-Semitic and hate crimes. The German ombudsman on Jewish issues, Felix Klein, has been rather misquoted in some of the briefing, with his worries about Jewish people wearing outward signs of their religion on the street. This is a misrepresentation; he was expressing a worry.
I have seen this with my own eyes at the Conservative conference in Manchester a couple of years ago, when a young man wearing a kippah was abused by a very well-dressed, middle-class, left-wing crowd. The Y-word, the C-word and the F-word were used. There were references to the smoking chimneys of Auschwitz. He was spat upon and, to their eternal shame, the police stood by and did nothing. A true test of a civilised society is that outward signs of someone’s religion should be able to be displayed openly and without fear.
The second action point was the endorsement of the non-legally binding working definition of anti-Semitism adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. It is a matter of some pleasure that the UK was the first to adopt that definition.
The third action point was financing Holocaust research, education and remembrance in an efficient way to combat existing threats to the remembrance of the Holocaust, such as Holocaust denial and distortion, together with encouraging academic research and protecting academic freedom from undue influence. The Holocaust Educational Trust, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the memorial planned for outside this building are a good example. I met with a prominent objector to the memorial yesterday. At first we talked about views, trees and open spaces. He said that it was a good idea but in the wrong place, going on to say, “I don’t see why we should have a monument outside Parliament to the so-called Holocaust”. I queried the qualification “so-called”. He said, “Holocaust means ‘burnt offering’, and most of them were gassed”. Leaving aside the victims of the Nazis who were starved, worked to death, hanged or shot, pedantic semantics is no real defence of casual anti-Semitism.
Fourthly, the recording and collecting of hate crime data should be improved, including that on combating anti-Semitism. Compared to other countries our figures are high and, I suspect, underreported. Some countries feel smug by comparison, because they do not record those figures, but ignorance is not bliss. If you do not record, you do not know.
“Antisemitism is not just about Jews. Every society that has drunk anti-Semitism has rotted from the inside”.