Anti-Semitism - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:09 pm on 20th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Leigh of Hurley Lord Leigh of Hurley Conservative 12:09 pm, 20th June 2019

My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lady Berridge on securing this debate. As your Lordships will see in the register of interests, I am somewhat involved in the Jewish community and am constantly deeply moved by, and in awe of, those people from outside that community who clearly care about and are prepared to fight anti- Semitism, as opposed to others who just walk away.

What is anti-Semitism? When I was 15, Sir Bernard Waley-Cohen, a former Lord Mayor of London, told me that it was disliking Jews more than was strictly necessary—but that was a while ago. I pay public tribute to my noble friend Lord Pickles for his incredible work in securing the internationally recognised definition in the UK, which has eventually been adopted even by those who fought against it, including the recently elected Labour MP for Peterborough.

The Anti-Defamation League’s survey in 2014 really is an extraordinary piece of work; I speak as president of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Berridge. The ADL interviewed 53,000 people in 96 languages in 100 countries. Sadly, it found anti-Semitic attitudes in around a quarter to a third of all global citizens, even though 27% of people had never met a Jewish person. Somewhat reassuringly, it found that 99% of people in the UK had heard about the Holocaust, although this dropped to under 10% in certain other countries. Perhaps not surprisingly, 70% of people in the Middle East had heard about the Holocaust but chose to dismiss it as a myth, or as having been greatly exaggerated. It is, of course, not surprising that we see such anti-Semitism in the Middle East. Most Arab countries expelled their Jewish populations without notice or compensation some 60 years ago. It is estimated that some 800,000 people were simply expelled from the countries in which they had lived—not for decades but for millennia—simply because they were Jewish.

We need to challenge those who do not enjoy our enlightened approach to anti-Semitism much more rigorously, particularly when it invades our shores. My noble friend Lady Berridge quoted the Prime Minister of Malaysia, who spoke at Cambridge last weekend. Malaysia is the country that would not allow disabled athletes to swim in the Paralympic Games to be held in Malaysia, simply because they were Israeli. What action do the Government propose to take in speaking to the Prime Minister of Malaysia?

Considering our own country, I am sure we have all asked ourselves how it is possible that a political party with strong Jewish roots, which prides itself on compassion for the underdog, social justice and an abhorrence of racism, has become so mired in anti-Semitism that it faces an investigation by the EHRC. This question was posed most eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. All the surveys consistently show that the UK is one of the world leaders in its abhorrence of anti-Semitism because citizens in the UK are tolerant, open, and welcoming, so how has this been completely reversed by some political leaders? Has left-wing anti-Semitism risen because antagonism to Israel has made it a rallying cause? I am aware that I speak in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, but do not forget that my ancestors left the slavery of Egypt—seeking to live in peace in Israel—well before they became Jews. Tragically, the slur that Zionism is racism has taken hold.

I have not the time to examine the depressing path down which otherwise good people were led by lies and misinformation about Israel and who, like Mr Abdullah Patel recently, may have allowed this misplaced hatred of Israel to morph into anti-Semitism. But no one can deny that it exists, and it is left to the bravery of speakers such as those in today’s debate to try to change this flow. Even more parochially to this House, I am sorry to say that many members of the Jewish community were hugely disappointed in the Chakrabarti report, which missed a golden opportunity when it could so easily have changed the attitudes and direction of the Labour Party. The worldwide fight against anti-Semitism is a very noble one, but for us it must start in this country. Let us hope that it is reinforced by this debate today.