Anti-Semitism - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:05 pm on 20th June 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative 1:05 pm, 20th June 2019

My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege to speak in this debate and to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sacks. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Berridge for introducing this debate so passionately. What can one say about the rise in global anti-Semitism within living memory of the Holocaust? That far-right extremism is increasing, and its traditional nationalist hatred of the other is worrying. But even more disturbing is that the far left has taken over mainstream political leadership with its own version of anti-Jewish rhetoric about the arch-capitalists, bankers and enemies of the working class. Those anti-Semitic sentiments are not about the situation in Israel: they predate the Jewish state, as so brilliantly explained by my noble friend Lord Finkelstein.

Across the globe, there are signs of increasing intolerance and normalisation of verbal acts of hate. Politicians perhaps believe that tapping into fear or hatred wins elections. Some support hatemongers perhaps hoping for support for another cause that they believe in or for a quiet life, or sometimes their own self-interest. As human beings, there are reasons to tremble at the current political landscape.

Exploiting hatred as political currency has its price, and I briefly build on the example already cited by the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, of Karl Lueger, who founded the Austrian Christian Social Party in the 1890s. His political support was drawn largely from petit-bourgeois tradespeople. Lueger discovered that anti-Semitic rhetoric was a vote winner. Historian Léon Poliakov, in his book The History of Anti-Semitism, noted,

“in Vienna any political group that wanted to appeal to the artisans had no chance of success without an anti-Semitic platform”.

Lueger is often cited as one of the first politicians who made use of populism as a political tool. Although his Jewish friends at the time considered that it was just a pose to get votes, exploiting the popular sentiment for his own purposes, it had dire consequences. His style of politics inspired right-wing Austrian leaders in 1918 to 1933, which began to undermine the cohesion of the Austrian state and, more importantly, inspired Adolf Hitler, who paid enthusiastic tributes to Lueger in Mein Kampf.

As parliamentarians, we must stand up against the fires of hate. The flames cannot be deployed strategically and remain contained. Conspiracy theories that shrug off facts, promulgation of propaganda or anti-Semitic tropes can unleash uncontrollable forces. What is the appropriate response? Do we follow our instincts for a quiet life and hope that it will all go away, even as it creeps further into the mainstream? Do we stand by and read one more book on the Holocaust believing that it is a way of standing up against the evils of hatred? No, we must speak out. We must consistently reject denial, dissembling and diversion and claims that anti-Semitic sentiments were apparently endorsed accidentally, unwittingly and unknowingly. We must keep speaking up against anti-Jewish hyperbole spread by left-wing racist ideology whether masquerading as anti-Zionism or anti-capitalism. Those views are lapping at the shores of Governments across the globe, not just in the Middle East but here in Europe and beyond.

Therefore, I am enormously grateful to parliamentary colleagues who have stood up against the rising anti-Semitic tide—for the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism and other APPGs that support tolerance and respect, to the leadership of the Conservative Party and to Conservative Friends of Israel, to Labour Friends of Israel and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, and to my noble friend Lord Pickles and Ed Balls, who have pushed for the Holocaust memorial to be established in the heart of Westminster, as well as many others whom I do not have time to enumerate.

Will the Minister detail which European programmes to combat anti-Semitism the Government will withdraw from or continue to support after Brexit? Has he had discussions with others in government about the effectiveness of the German approach to outlawing Holocaust denial and whether there are any plans to discuss such measures in the UK? Doing nothing must not be an option. Jews must not be sheep again. We promised we would never let it happen, and we must live up to that commitment.