Anti-Semitism - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:19 pm on 20th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Gold Lord Gold Conservative 1:19 pm, 20th June 2019

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Berridge for initiating this important debate and congratulate her on such a powerful opening speech. Most disturbingly, the existence of anti-Semitism remains, as we have heard, a major worldwide problem in 2019, when in so many ways we are a more liberal and tolerant society than ever before. We have heard horrific statistics of increased anti-Semitic incidents, which are not just verbal but violent. More Jews were killed in anti-Semitic violence around the world in 2018 than during any other year in decades. The number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in the UK alone in 2018 was the highest ever. As we have heard, anti-Semitism is no longer confined to the activities of the far left or the far right but has become mainstream; it is seen in public forums, debates and discussions and manifested in all media channels, including most notably the social networks.

The Jewish population today feels increasingly insecure. In Europe, a survey conducted by the Fundamental Rights Agency reported that more than 40% of Jews surveyed feared that they might be physically attacked, and almost 47% feared becoming victim to anti-Semitic verbal insult or harassment. Often, anti-Semitism is hidden—loosely, I might add—behind criticism of the State of Israel. That was an excuse recently used by students at Essex University to vote against the creation of a Jewish society there—a decision happily now reversed after media outcry.

We can speculate as to why anti-Semitism has been increasing but, as other noble Lords have said, there can be no doubt that social media is making it easy for hate groups to find each other and join up to spread their hatred. Just earlier this week, two young men were convicted at the Old Bailey of encouraging acts of terrorism after describing Prince Harry as a “race traitor”. These two blatant anti-Semites had used a social media platform to link up with like-minded individuals in the USA through a frightening neo-Nazi group which I will not give publicity to by naming.

How can we stop this rise in worldwide anti-Semitism? I shall make four suggestions, as there is clearly no one answer. First, as other noble Lords have said, there is a need to control social media. Here in the UK, the Government have promised measures to regulate companies over harmful content, including through fines and blocking services. If these companies cannot self-regulate, however, action must now be taken without delay. Will the Minister let us know what plans the Government will be unveiling in this respect?

Secondly, the justice system must come down hard on those who perpetrate anti-Semitic hate material; they must know that there will be serious consequences. But it is also clear that we need far better education to make people realise that everyone should be treated equally and nobody, including Jews, should be demonised. That education must spread to our universities, too. The Government should support those universities that stand up to fight anti-Semitism, ensuring that teaching staff do not spread hatred and that anti-Semitic guest speakers such as the Prime Minister of Malaysia, whom we have heard about, are not welcome in our universities or on these shores.

Next, we must call out all incidents of anti-Semitism. We must not be afraid to speak up when we witness anti-Semitic acts or hear anti-Semitic statements. I have tremendous admiration for those brave people in the Labour Party who have stood up against the anti-Semitism they have seen perpetrated in their party. I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, with such admiration, and I thank him. Action has been promised by the Labour leadership but it remains elusive. I am not equipped to say whether Jeremy Corbyn is anti-Semitic, but if he is not, let him demonstrate that fact by his actions.

Finally, as my fourth idea, I want to mention role models—especially for young people—who should stand up and denounce anti-Semitism. Recently, the Building Bridges campaign at Chelsea Football Club, which has been working with children and young people in schools, demonstrated what can be done. The club has teamed up with the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Jewish Museum London and others to raise awareness of anti-Semitism, as well as its impact on the Jewish community and society as a whole. It is action of this kind that we must encourage; we must never give in or give up.