Anti-Semitism - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:34 pm on 20th June 2019.

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Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (International Development) 1:34 pm, 20th June 2019

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, not only for securing this debate but for her excellent and powerful introduction. Like her, I found it difficult to prepare for the debate. I thank the APPG for its briefings because they told us how horrific the situation is. It is a wake-up call.

My parents—not my school, sadly—taught me never to forget the evil crimes of the Nazis, as passionately described by the noble Lord, Lord Sacks. Yet as we have heard in the debate, more than 70 years after the Shoah we see the repeated use—in the US by senior politicians and elsewhere—of anti-Semitic tropes reminiscent of the words of Goebbels. This is a demonstration that the evil of anti-Semitism is still present and remains a real threat to the lives and welfare of Jewish communities throughout the world. In the US, as we have heard, we saw the massacre at the Pittsburgh synagogue. We have heard about the increasing levels of violence across Europe, including in this country.

The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and other noble Lords have referred to the CNN polling by ComRes. Like them, I was particularly shocked by its findings. We have been too complacent about this rise of anti-Semitism. The key findings of the survey are that 28% say that Jewish people have too much influence in finance and business across the world compared with other people; 20% say that Jewish people have too much influence in the media across the world compared with other people; and, what is worse, 31% think that Jewish people use the Holocaust to advance their position and to achieve certain goals. That is horrific. Also, 44% of adults in the European countries surveyed see anti-Semitism as a growing problem in their countries. However, their answers to other questions suggest that they may think this is happening somewhere else: someone else is doing the bad thing, somewhere else.

In his speech at the end of last year, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, argued that the rising tide of anti-Semitism and,

“the issues of rising religious hate crime against minority communities”,

posed a real challenge in the UK and abroad. He said that “divisive voices and actions” could be defeated,

“only through collective and collaborative action”.

That is what today’s debate is about—what we, not others, do together. At the General Assembly of the United Nations, the noble Lord stressed the commitment to stamping out anti-Semitism and called on the international community to combat it in all its forms.

Here I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Pickles, the UK’s envoy for post-Holocaust issues. He has done a tremendous job in promoting internationally the call for other countries to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. That has been critical. Of course, the Minister has been working at the General Assembly and with UNESCO at a high-level meeting, focusing on the importance of education. That is certainly a vital ingredient in challenging this evil.

The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and the noble Lord, Lord Gold, highlighted the feeling among the Jewish community, particularly in Europe. They feel at risk. We have certainly heard about the surveys that have been conducted: 90% of those surveyed by the FRA, for example, felt anti-Semitism was growing in their country. We have heard reference to the 2014 ADL survey, which stated the Hungary was the most anti-Semitic country in Eastern Europe, with 41% of the population holding such views. That was highlighted in its elections, with Jobbik, a far-right party, receiving 17% of the vote. Its vice-president and vice-chairman proudly refer to themselves as Nazis and anti-Semites. That is in an EU country, a member of our family. We should be concerned about that and how we address it.

The Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s choice of language about the investor and philanthropist George Soros reflects the age-old conspiracy theories about Jewish wealth and power. I quote him—this is a leader of an EU country:

“We are fighting an enemy that is different from us. Not open, but hiding; not straightforward but crafty; not honest but base; not national but international; does not believe in working but speculates with money; does not have its own homeland but feels it owns the whole world”.

Today’s debate is about what we are doing to challenge such attitudes and how we are meeting our commitments. I hope the Minister will be able to address the commitments he has made and what progress we have been making.

One plea I would make is about what we do not just as a Parliament and a Government, but in civil society, our churches, our trade unions and, of course, just as importantly, our political parties when we hear anti-Semitism.

I will conclude by addressing the remarks of my noble friend Lord Harris. In April last year my honourable friend and trade union sister Ruth Smeeth said in a Commons debate:

“There have always been racists and anti-Semites in our country, lurking on the fringes of our society—both left and right—and I dare say there always will be. What is so heartbreaking is the concerted effort in some quarters to downplay the problem”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/4/18; col. 273.]

I heard the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, and I certainly agree with his analysis. Sadly, like him, I have read many of Andrew Murray’s books. One thing I disagree with him on is that Leninism is not progressive trend. It is anti-democratic and its tradition has no place in a party that believes in parliamentary democracy. We on this side firmly believe that.

In my party, the process of dealing with complaints of anti-Semitic behaviour by individuals, as my noble friend Lord Harris said, has been too slow and far too often individuals are suspended only when their cases receive publicity. As Tom Watson, the party’s deputy leader, made clear, the reforms made by the party to address this have not been adequate. But this is not an administrative failure; it is, as my noble friend said, a political one. Addressing it requires leadership, which Jeremy Corbyn, working together with Tom Watson, must provide.