Anti-Semitism - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:35 pm on 20th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Campbell-Savours Lord Campbell-Savours Labour 12:35 pm, 20th June 2019

My Lords, my concern is the dilution of the term “anti-Semitism” and the resultant public response. The line between legitimate criticism of Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza as against real anti-Jewish prejudice has become blurred. The danger in blurring is that the public will set a high bar for the treatment of accusations of anti-Semitism. I find that deeply disturbing, and the international definition is not resolving the problem.

Equally strongly, I reject accusations that my party is institutionally racist. I accept that there is a problem in my party—as, indeed, in all parties—but what is happening is that many in my party are deeply concerned and confused by Netanyahu’s attitude to the settlements and calls for annexation. There is a particular problem in Labour-supporting ethnic minority communities, who join with Palestinians in feeling targeted as fellow Muslims, and a small minority of whom are clearly anti-Semitic. The treatment of the Palestinians is being used by racists across Europe to foster prejudice against Jews. It is all very frightening, and Israel needs to reflect.

This brings me to Corbyn. I do not believe that Corbyn is prejudiced; caught in the headlamp of public outrage, he is agonising over how to respond. He needs to fight back by repeatedly clarifying where he draws the lines and by leading the attack in ridding my party of any anti-Semitic elements which have infiltrated it. I suspect that he is not responding adequately because he is wary of being trapped in a dialogue, defending questionable and sometimes ill-conceived past actions which have on occasion been interpreted, quite reasonably, as anti-Semitic.

However, I firmly believe that, had Corbyn been in Parliament in the 1930s, given his current record on human rights—his lifetime cause has been human rights, often taking positions with which I have profoundly disagreed—he would have been the British politician championing calls for Jewish immigration into the United Kingdom while others across the parties were battening down the hatches and blocking the pre-Holocaust movement of Jews in flight from Nazism. People simply do not understand what Corbyn is all about. He is obsessed with human rights and sometimes he gets the nuances completely wrong.

Finally, I will comment on anti-Semitism on the internet. As the Janner case unravels, we and IICSA will have to face up to the truth: we will find a strong link between anti-Semitism and the accusations. Equally, we will find that the lead accuser, repeatedly named in the media in November 1991 as Paul Winston, who has not been linked in any way to anti-Semitism but who has a substantial criminal record arising from problems in his childhood, is now being used by anti-Semites to foster hatred of the Jews.

I am troubled by the blurring and dilution of the debate, and by online racism. We need to act now.