Anti-Semitism - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:25 pm on 20th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 1:25 pm, 20th June 2019

My Lords, I first thank the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, for introducing this debate in such detail. I declare my interest as president of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel; having heard the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, I must also declare my shopping habits in Golders Green.

The Motion asks the House to take note of anti-Semitism worldwide. A strange feature of anti-Semitism is that it occurs even in areas where there are no Jews. Anti-Semitism is possibly the original source of fake news. This can cover many areas. The most popular appears to be blaming Jewish bankers, the favourite being the house of Rothschild due to the difficulty in finding other so-called Jewish banks. The lie is to portray these bankers as aiming for world domination. They also falsely accuse George Soros. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Ludford and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving all the statistics so that I do not have to repeat them.

Then there is the preposterous fake news blaming the Jews, the Zionists and the Israelis for the disaster of 9/11 and the Twin Towers. This is despite documented proof that these were a series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks by the Islamic terror group al-Qaeda. None of this fake news on anti-Semitism is new. Still quoted in some countries is the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was briefly mentioned earlier. This is a fabricated anti-Semitic text purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination. This hoax—yes, it was a hoax—was first published in Russia in 1903 and translated into many languages. It is still widely available and presented as a genuine document. In the 1920s, Henry Ford funded the printing of 500,000 copies to distribute throughout the USA, and it was, of course, widely read in Nazi Germany. A translation appeared in Cairo in 1929 and again in 1951.

The third-largest Jewish community in the world is in France. That country has suffered from anti-Semitic murders, including in Toulouse and Paris. Last year, more than 3,000 Jews emigrated from France to Israel; the numbers for earlier years are similar. In 2015, 6,628 Jews emigrated from France to Israel—of course, this does not count all those in France who emigrated elsewhere. The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, identified many countries; let me add a couple. A survey identified Hungary as the most anti-Semitic country in eastern Europe; incidents included phone threats, vandalising Jewish tombstones and vandalising a Holocaust memorial. Let us look further afield: in Venezuela—loved by dear Mr Corbyn—under Chavez and Maduro, the Jewish community has declined from 20,000 to less than 7,000. In the Middle East, outside Israel, Jews are not welcomed. Jews have difficulty entering Saudi Arabia and it is forbidden for religious minorities openly to practise their religion there. In the United States, the most shocking incidents were when 11 were killed at a synagogue in Pittsburgh and four killed in Poway, California. This is against a background of anti-Semitic cartoons in the New York Times and a supremacist march in Charlottesville with chants of “Jews will not replace us”.

Mention has been made of the Prime Minister of Malaysia; I will not repeat that. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, for mentioning Poland because it gives me an opportunity to say—I had not thought to say it—that my late maternal grandmother never left Poland. She was never heard of after the end of the Second World War. This affects many of us in this country personally; we are still alive remembering our close relatives such as my maternal grandmother.

Having set the worldwide scene, let me be more parochial. I am pleased to say that, as an Orthodox Jew born and living in the UK, I had not until recently seen a growth of anti-Semitism. I will, however, relate how I experience anti-Semitism, which some may not recognise as such. My noble friend Lady Ludford said that many of these things are often thought of as trivial, but they are not.

In 1997 I was a candidate in the general election, having fought four previous general elections. The Labour Party canvassers had a doorstep patter along the lines that they were calling on behalf of the Christian gentleman. The clear implication was that I qualified as neither a Christian nor a gentleman. At all public meetings one of the first questions from the audience was whether the candidates, including me, subscribed to Christian values. My reply was that I agreed with Judaeo-Christian values, which sort of got me out of the hole. It was the election in which I was stopped and told—believe it—“Jew, go home”. Has the modern, Corbyn-led Labour Party changed other than to get worse? I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, for his very brave comments about the Labour Party and I am proud that he said them. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, or the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, that we do not understand what Jeremy Corbyn is about. I understand what he is about and I do not approve of it. It is as near to anti-Semitic as one can get.

We have not heard a lot of campus stories. What happens to students on campus is sometimes quite horrific. At a prominent UK university, a Jewish student went out for the evening without locking the door to his room. When he returned, he found that a swastika had been etched into the pinboard on his wall. That is a genuine story. A lecturer at a Midlands university recently hosted and spoke at an event titled “Palestinian Rights, Prevent and the Misuse of Antisemitism”. Three Jewish students attended the event and afterwards went up to talk to the lecturer who had hosted the meeting to disagree with some of the points made. The net result was that the lecturer made an official complaint against these Jewish students, accusing them of intimidation for approaching her at the end of the meeting and of having recorded the meeting, which they had not. Some of those who attended may have done so but these students did not. The Jewish students spent three months worrying about this until they were eventually told that it had been dealt with.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for her speech because it gave me great comfort. If we have a debate in this Chamber on Islamophobia, which is also a problem, many of us will rise to speak in that debate as well.

The modern manifestation of anti-Semitism is the way in which Zionism is portrayed. Wikipedia, always a good source, states that Zionism is the notion of creating a sovereign, self-ruling homeland for the Jewish people in the land of Israel. Zionism is a nationality as well as a religion, and these people deserve their own state in their ancestral homeland, Israel. I welcome the right reverend Prelate’s comment that it would be tilting at the moon for Israel to disappear—I think I have got that right. I take that as a blessing, and maybe it will help Israel in the future. I fail to see how a desire for a homeland for Jews can be seen as apartheid or racist, but it is so portrayed. Why is this anti-Semitic?

I stress that in Israel all religions are accepted; apostates, those who change their religion, are not harmed. LGBT people are accepted, and the country has one of the largest Gay Pride marches in the world. I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, for what he said about religions in Israel. Who knows what is happening in Israel with its politics at the moment—it could be anything, including another general election in September. The interesting thing is that in the most recent general election in Israel, the third-largest group in the Knesset was made up of the Arab parties. In the previous Knesset, when they stood as one group, they formed the second-largest group. This hardly sounds like an apartheid state. Compare this with Israel’s neighbours and near neighbours. Such accusations are anti-Semitic because no such accusations are made—nor should they be—of countries in which the official religion, often the only religion accepted, is Islam, Hinduism, Christianity in all its forms or Buddhism, or even of atheist countries. I stress that criticising certain actions of the Israeli Government is not on its own anti-Semitic. In fact, criticism of that Government is a very popular sport among Israelis. However, when someone attacks Israel, homeland of the Jewish people, and attacks no other country, that is anti-Semitic.