Anti-Semitism - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:19 pm on 20th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 12:19 pm, 20th June 2019

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, deserves the thanks of the whole House for securing this important debate and for the eloquent way in which she introduced it. No one, as a consequence of their beliefs or who they are, should have to live their life in abject fear of racial or religious hatred, yet, as we have been reminded, recent research and reported instances of attacks show that far too many people do.

The rise in anti-Semitism, sometimes incubated within the walls of this Palace, is completely unacceptable. I have watched with incredulity and dismay as Luciana Berger, who inherited some of my former Liverpool constituency, has been hounded and vilified. It is truly shocking to read reports of Jewish homes being daubed with offensive graffiti and of the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, along with the promotion of hatred on university campuses and through social media. In 2018, the Community Security Trust logged 1,652 anti-Semitic incidents, a 16% increase.

I attended the recent launch of the ComRes polling data on anti-Semitism commissioned for CNN and referred to earlier. It was abundantly clear that we have become far too complacent about this cancer. Forty per cent of those surveyed said that anti-Semitism is a growing problem in this country today; 41% said that Jewish people are at risk of hate speech, while 49% thought that the Government should do more to combat anti-Semitism.

To the question why people were hostile to Jews, the answers ranged from the usual canards about Jews having too much influence, to antagonism towards Israel. It was striking that half of the adults surveyed were unaware of ever having socialised with a Jewish person. Absurdly, one in five thought that more than 20% of the world’s population is Jewish. Disturbingly, less than half thought that Israel had a right to exist as a Jewish state.

Earlier this year, some of us heard Helen Aronson, a survivor of the Lodz ghetto in Poland, tell parliamentarians:

“It is vital that we do everything in our power to ensure that these things never happen again, anywhere in the world”.

To do that, we need much better teaching resources and, as the last survivors die, interactive learning hubs where their stories go on being told to future generations. We can also do far more to promote religious freedom, using initiatives such as the newly created United Nations International Day Commemorating the Victims of Acts of Violence Based on Religion or Belief—there will be an event here in the House on 23 July to mark its creation.

In 1933, the Jewish writer, Franz Werfel published The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a novel about the loss of 1.5 million lives in the Armenian genocide. Those mass murders led to Raphael Lemkin, a Jewish lawyer, 43 of whose family were murdered in the Holocaust, coining the word “genocide” and framing the genocide convention. Werfel’s books and those of Stefan Zweig were burnt by the Nazis. Zweig’s The World of Yesterday: Memoirs of a European charts the rise of visceral hatred and how scapegoating and xenophobia, cultivated by populist leaders, can morph into the hecatombs of the concentration camps. Zweig described how university professors were forced to scrub streets with their bare hands, how devout Jews were humiliated in their synagogues and how apartments were broken into and jewels torn out of the ears of trembling women. And the world remained largely silent.

The haunting question remains: can we do better and act more decisively in our own generation?