Jewish Community: Contribution to the UK — [Sir David Amess in the Chair]

– in Westminster Hall at 2:58 pm on 13th June 2019.

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[Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 3:00 pm, 13th June 2019

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the contribution of the Jewish Community to the UK.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Sir David. I originally sought this debate following a conversation with my friend Marc Levy of the Jewish Leadership Council, and let me say at the outset what an excellent ambassador he is for the Jewish community. When we first discussed the idea, I was not keen on it; I did not see its relevance because when I look at people, it would not necessarily occur to me whether they were Jewish or not.

Let me give some examples, using my colleagues. I see that my hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth is in her place. I know that she is Jewish, but when I think of her, I think of a woman who has been a friend of mine for 20 years, of somebody who is a trade unionist and primarily of somebody who has made a real contribution to and developed a real expertise in defence policy.

I knew that my hon. Friend Dame Louise Ellman was Jewish, but I think of her first as somebody who gave real leadership in local government for many years before she came here and gave leadership in the Select Committee on Transport. Whether she was Jewish or not was not a factor for me.

Let me mention some other colleagues. I was not even aware that my hon. Friend Alex Sobel and my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge were Jewish until they started to receive antisemitic abuse. I was not aware, nor would it even have crossed my radar; I would not even have considered it. However, I would have considered my hon. Friend’s work on environmentalism and my right hon. Friend’s service not only as a Minister for many years, but as Chair of the Public Accounts Committee.

As Marc explained to me, there is a feeling among Jewish groups that too many headlines recently have been negative. Jewish groups understandably feel under threat, be it from a rising right-wing, nationalist and racist populism in eastern Europe, from President Putin talking about Jews controlling the world banking system, from President Trump’s failure to denounce protestors in the USA chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” or—let us be clear—from a sense and fears that my own party has elements that have expressed antisemitic remarks or statements and that complaints about those have not been dealt with sufficiently quickly or robustly.

However, instead of all the negative stories about Jewish people—negativity, I hasten to add, that they themselves are not responsible for—it was time to have a celebration of the contribution of the Jewish people and Jewish groups to our society; to reset the dial to the positive; to shine the spotlight on the positive news stories about things that go on every day but get squeezed out by the more unpleasant stuff; and to remind ourselves again not just of the quality or even the quantity of the Jewish contribution to the UK, but of the length of that contribution.

Obviously, I am not Jewish myself—I doubt there are many Jews whose first name is Christian. In fact, growing up in a Cheshire village, I had never knowingly met any Jewish people until I went to secondary school in Manchester, which has one of the largest Jewish populations outside London. I recall that at that school we had the Sieff theatre, named after Israel Sieff, a former chairman of Marks & Spencer, and paid for by his family. That was the first example of Jewish philanthropy that I had come across.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the speech that he is making. He has mentioned the Jewish community in Manchester, so would he like to take the opportunity, with me, to celebrate the interfaith work of the Muslim Jewish Forum of Greater Manchester?

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If she will permit me, I will return to that issue shortly.

The UK has a long established Jewish community: the first record of Jewish settlement dates from 1070. There was a continual Jewish presence in the country until King Edward’s Edict of Expulsion, dated 1290. Sadly, therefore, we can also date UK antisemitism from around that period. Following the expulsion, there was no Jewish community apart from those who practised secretly.

Towards the middle of the 17th century, a considerable number of Marrano merchants settled in London and formed a secret congregation. That was until the time of Oliver Cromwell, who never officially re-admitted the Jewish community. However, a small colony was identified in 1656 and allowed to remain. In 1701, Bevis Marks Synagogue opened in London. It is the oldest continually used synagogue in London. The Board of Deputies of British Jews, the main Jewish representative body, was established in 1760.

In 1837, Queen Victoria knighted Moses Haim Montefiore. Four years later, Isaac Lyon Goldsmid was made a baronet; he was the first Jew to receive a hereditary title. The first Jewish Lord Mayor of London, Sir David Salomons, was elected in 1855. That was followed by the 1858 emancipation of the Jews. On 26 July 1858, Lionel de Rothschild was finally allowed to sit in the British House of Commons when the law restricting the oath of office to Christians was changed.

Owing to the lack of anti-Jewish violence in Britain in the 19th century, it acquired a reputation for religious tolerance and attracted significant immigration from eastern Europe. Of the eastern European Jewish emigrants, 1.9 million headed to the United States and about 140,000 to Britain. Some growing antisemitism during the 1930s was counterbalanced by strong support for British Jews in their local communities, leading to events such as the battle of Cable Street, where antisemitism was strongly resisted by Jews and their neighbours. They fought it out as a united community on the street against fascist elements.

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

As my hon. Friend is touching on the battle of Cable Street, I feel that I should put on the record my pride that my grandmother spent the 48 hours in the run-up to the battle of Cable Street—she lived in the east end of London—putting razor blades into tomatoes to throw at Nazis. I take a great deal of pleasure in being able to contribute to such an important debate, because the Jewish contribution to British life has had many different forms.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

That contribution has had many different and, dare I say it, honourable forms when it comes to dealing with Nazis. I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention.

As we recall the 75th anniversary of D-day and the battle of Normandy, let us remember the more than 60,000 Jews who served in the British armed forces during the second world war; they included 14,000 in the Royal Air Force and 15,000 in the Royal Navy. Some 30,000 Jews from Palestine also served in the British military. Five Jewish soldiers have won the Victoria Cross. Some 4,000 took part in the D-day landings.

Today, there are about 290,000 Jewish people in the UK across all walks of life. According to the 2011 census, British Jewry is overwhelmingly English, with only about 5,900 Jews in Scotland, 2,100 in Wales and fewer than 200 in Northern Ireland. There are just 90 or so in my constituency. I am always pleased to tell the House that that equates roughly to the size of my majority when I was first elected, in 2015, leading some of my Jewish constituents to claim, misquoting The Sun, “It was the Jews wot won it.”

The majority of Jews in England and the UK live in and around London, with almost 160,000 in London alone and a further 21,000 in Hertfordshire. As hon. Members have heard, the next most significant population is in Greater Manchester; it is a community of slightly more than 25,000.

I am particularly proud of the role that Jews played in the growth of the trade union movement and the founding of the Labour party. The Jewish community was instrumental in setting up trade unions. The “Jewish Encyclopedia” of 1906 lists 39 Jewish unions set up between 1882 and 1902. The London Jewish Bakers’ Union was created in 1905 as the International Bakers’ Union—members came from Germany, Poland, Russia and elsewhere—and continued until 1970; it was the longest lived Jewish union. Poale Zion was the forerunner of today’s Jewish Labour Movement and was one of the early affiliates to my party in its nascent years.

The Jewish community is also loyal, despite what racists may claim. Every week at the synagogue, on the Sabbath, a prayer is said for the Queen. It begins:

“Our Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth, Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Charles, Prince of Wales, and all the Royal Family. May the supreme King of kings in His mercy preserve the Queen in life, guard her and deliver her from all trouble and sorrow. May He bless and protect Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.”

As much as I used to enjoy going to the all-night Jewish bagel bakery in Brick Lane in London when I was a student years ago, it is worth recording that our national dish—fish and chips—is probably a Jewish import. It is thought that fried fish was first introduced into Britain by Jewish refugees from Portugal and Spain in the 16th century. The first fish and chip shop was opened by a Jewish immigrant, Joseph Malin, in Cleveland Street in London.

I wish to focus on two areas of Jewish life today: first, the contribution to and delivery of social policy. Reform Judaism has led policy development work on loneliness and isolation. It launched the programme with a conference in March 2018. Reform Judaism holds quarterly networking meetings with volunteers and staff to share ideas and best practice and to hear about innovative projects and practices in other communities and beyond. Inclusion and wellbeing are considered on all events, and Reform Judaism’s forthcoming conference will focus on mental health and wellbeing.

Reform communities deliver their own programmes and activities, which include many opportunities to combat loneliness and isolation. Most communities offer befriending schemes, welcoming new members and visitors to synagogue and buddying for people who might need support to join activities or services. Communities phone members at significant points of the year—Jewish holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, or at times of bereavement—and uses that as a chance to foster links and bring people who might be lonely into the community.

Some communities are also able to offer transport, which can be a significant factor in social isolation. Lunch clubs, dementia cafés, afternoon teas, bereavement support groups and Jewish festivals are opportunities to bring people together and foster social links. Communities have intergenerational projects such as singing with toddlers and the elderly or teams teaching older people how to use technology. Such projects are across the UK at many Reform synagogues.

The Jewish Leadership Council has promoted social care activities undertaken by ex-members who work with the most vulnerable in society and create an environment in which the elderly in the Jewish community can live independently where appropriate.

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

Many different forms of support are given to the elderly within the Jewish community, primarily provided by Jewish Care, among others. Does my hon. Friend agree with me that the day centre in Hendon, which focuses on holocaust survivors in their final days, is a wonderful addition that would not be provided by the state? That shows the value of organisations such as Jewish Care.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I am most grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention. There is a strong culture of supporting the family and others within the Jewish community, but anything that helps to support holocaust survivors and also reminds us of what they and their families went through, so that we can remind future generations, is very important.

Over the past twelve months, the JLC has undertaken an elderly care review to look into all its social care organisations so that they can work with the elderly and see how strategically as a community they can create a cohesive and effective link between organisations and best enable them to be effective in their aims and missions.

Mitzvah Day is a body that promotes an inclusive day of social action. Its aim is to bring people together through Jewish-led social action, and its work contributes in various ways. Volunteering itself is a powerful way for people who are isolated or disconnected from others to come together. Taking part in Mitzvah day is an easy and accessible way to join a group of volunteers to support local community projects and needs. It not only allows for volunteers to feel connected and useful, but for the beneficiaries to connect to local community volunteers and to establish friendships. Mitzvah Day has demonstrated a substantial repeat effect, with volunteers returning year on year to run Mitzvah day projects, and with volunteers continuing to volunteer throughout the year.

The second area that I wish to look at—my hon. Friend Kate Green touched on this—is community cohesion. I wish to refer specifically to the work of the Community Security Trust, which was set up to protect Jewish communities and Jewish groups from violence, attacks, intimidation and worse. The CST has spread out to use its expertise, developed over two decades, to support other community groups, including Muslim community groups who also face hatred, violence and threats.

CST co-runs several initiatives that encourage and improve community integration, including Stand Up! Education Against Discrimination, which aims to empower young people in mainstream schools to learn about and act against discrimination, racism, antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred, while developing their social responsibility in the community. The project is led by Streetwise, a partnership between CST and Maccabi GB, another membership organisation, and is supported by Tell MAMA, Kick It Out and Galop. Given a 29% rise in the number of hate crimes in 2017 in the UK, including anti-Muslim hate and antisemitism, the interactive free-of-charge workshops aim to educate young people about tolerance and social responsibility, giving them skills to counter discrimination while ensuring their personal safety.

Framed within a broad conversation about the Equality Act 2010 and British values, Stand Up! currently employs two facilitators from Jewish and Muslim backgrounds, modelling a partnership of interfaith collaboration and demonstrating how groups that are often perceived as oppositional can work together successfully. The workshop combines Streetwise’s and Maccabi GB’s experience in delivering informal personal development sessions to tens of thousands of young people in schools nationwide with expertise in monitoring and recording antisemitic, anti-Muslim, racist, and LGBT+ hate incidents of the other partner organisations: the CST, Tell MAMA, Kick It Out and Galop. The Stand Up! project launched in January 2017 and has since gone from strength to strength, delivering sessions to more than 8,000 young people, and booking sessions in 48 schools and settings to date.

The Jewish community has a great story to tell.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I sense he is moving on towards the end of his speech, but, before he does, I want to ask him to commend another interfaith initiative, Nisa-Nashim, which brings together Jewish and Muslim women across the country in social action, mutual learning and sharing of enjoyable leisure activities. I am sure he will agree that that repeats the message of the strength of the partnerships that the Jewish community forms with those of other faiths, and of no faith.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We could be here all afternoon simply listing the different organisations and schemes that Jewish community groups run either on their own or with other community groups. Many of them slip under the radar, but none of them fails to have an impact.

Photo of Chi Onwurah Chi Onwurah Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Industrial Strategy)

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and also for his excellent opening speech. If it had one fault, it was that it did not mention Newcastle, which I shall now do. I grew up in Newcastle, and, like him, I did so not understanding enough about the contribution of the Jewish community to a great city.

I was surprised and encouraged when I learned about of the contribution of Herbert Loebl, who, like me, was an electrical engineer. He came to Newcastle at the age of 16 in 1940 and built some of our great high-tech businesses, which still make a contribution to our economy today. Newcastle might have a small Jewish community, but it makes a brilliant and strong economic contribution to our city now, just as it did in the past.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us that the contributions of members of the Jewish community can be found everywhere and in every walk of life.

The Jewish community has a great story to tell. Far from being insular, it is integrated, as we have just heard, and is integral to our society. Its members are generous with time, spirit and philanthropic giving, but once again the Jewish community feels under threat. It seems that as soon as there is the first sign of society’s cohesion breaking down, antisemitism returns and is one of the first signs of that breakdown. We must deal with that racism head on, but we must also deal with it by remembering and welcoming the Jewish community’s massive, positive contribution, individually and through collective groups. I, for one, am grateful for their contribution to our nation.

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North 3:19 pm, 13th June 2019

It is a pleasure to participate in the debate under your chairmanship, Sir David. I thank my hon. Friend Christian Matheson—my friend and colleague—for calling the debate, and for his incredible speech, which outlined the contribution of my family and community.

It has been an interesting experience being a Jewish parliamentarian over the past three years, but I am reminded on a daily basis of the contribution that my family have made. I rarely get to say nice things about being Jewish in the United Kingdom, and typically have to say more horrible things, so perhaps the House will indulge me slightly as I tell my family story, and how we ended up here. Much of it was referenced by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester.

I am the great-granddaughter of Jewish immigrants who arrived here from Russia and Poland, fleeing pogroms. They had fled persecution, but arrived as economic migrants in the east end of London—among the more than 140,000 that my hon. Friend mentioned. My great-grandfather started a Yiddish-speaking Jewish trade union branch, which is now part of Unite the union. They had a wonderful daughter, who became my grandmother. She desperately wanted my mother and me never to know anything she got up to as a young woman and political activist, because she did not want to give us ideas.

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

It did not work out well for her or anybody.

I learned much of this history only recently, because of events that have happened. Not only was my grandmother at the battle of Cable Street, including helping with preparations for it, but she taught me my first political song. When she was eight she participated in her first political campaign, going around the streets of the east end of London campaigning for Harry Gosling: “Vote, vote, vote for Harry Gosling.” At that point the Jewish community could not afford leaflets. No community could afford them. It was all done by children singing to get the vote out on polling day. It sounds much more appealing than my get-out-the-vote operation at a general election.

My grandmother was definitely a visionary, and ahead of her time. In 1936, as well as participating in Cable Street, she took food and socks and went to meet the Jarrow marchers when they arrived in London at the end of their march. That is not something necessarily to be expected of an immigrant Jewish woman living in poverty in central London. She was definitely our matriarch and instilled in our family everything that has led me here today. When my mother was a single mum, working full time, my grandmother was my carer. On a Wednesday afternoon all the little old ladies on her council estate in the east end of London would arrive at her flat, and she would feed everyone tea. She could read and write so well that they all arrived with their letters and she did what I would now call casework for them. She was extraordinary, and because of her my mother became the boss of my hon. Friends Rachael Maskell; she became a trade union deputy general secretary. I feel that between the two of them I am very much in a family.

Our story, beyond the fact that, like many in this place I am a third-generation immigrant, could be told by many different people across my community, but it gave me my values. The extraordinary women in my family participated in the history that my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester talked about. They definitely cooked a great deal, but they got me here. Many in my family also served. My great uncle Bozzy died on D-day. My grandfather fought at Monte Cassino. We are British to our core, and have never been anything other than British until recent days when being Jewish became a secondary factor. I am grateful, as are my family, that we ended up here and not in America by accident. I am grateful for everything that this country has done, and every opportunity that has been afforded to my family and all the others who arrived.

There is someone else I want to mention. I am not the first Jewish Member of Parliament for my great city. Barnett Stross was the first Jewish Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent. My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester touched on the subject of Jewish philanthropy, and it was because of Barnett Stross that we helped to rebuild Lidice after the war. My city of miners helped to rebuild another city of miners. The Jewish community has made contributions to our country at every level, whether political or community, as has every other faith and immigrant community here. We are not special. We are just part of a wonderful society that I am grateful to represent in this place.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Chair, Committee on Standards, Chair, Committee on Privileges 3:25 pm, 13th June 2019

There appears to be a little time, Sir David, and I am grateful to be able to make a short contribution. I particularly want to speak about the work of World Jewish Relief, because I spend quite a lot of time in Parliament looking at policy on, and support for, refugees and refugee projects. I commend the work of World Jewish Relief for refugees arriving in this country.

Many of us have learned a great deal about the importance of refugee welcome by listening to the stories of refugees from appalling attacks and persecution and, ultimately, the holocaust—still remembered by my parents’ generation. We have learned particularly poignantly from colleagues such as my noble Friend Lord Dubs, who has talked about his experience as a child refugee. That has enormously enriched the debates that we have today about the plight of modern refugees fleeing to our country. My interest in refugee policy is at the practical end; about what can be done to support people arriving here. World Jewish Relief offers an exemplary programme, to which I should like to draw the House’s attention.

The programme recognises that refugees are desperate to integrate and make their homes in the country that welcomes them: to become part of their community—their friends and neighbours. We all know that one of the most important places where we can integrate and become part of a community, and feel that we are playing our part as community members, is the workplace. That is why I want to draw the House’s attention in particular to World Jewish Relief projects to support refugees into employment. It is not easy for a refugee to move into employment. Although many arrive here highly skilled and qualified, the persecution and trauma that they have experienced may make their re-entry to employment difficult. They might have to learn a new language and requalify in a new system of professional qualifications or skills recognition. Of course, they also have to overcome and deal with the trauma that brought them to this country.

World Jewish Relief helps with all that. It helps people to learn English, if they need to, and to reskill. It helps them to obtain the necessary recognition of their qualifications and it helps to reintroduce them to the workplace. It recognises that different individuals will be at a different place on the journey and that, for some, a return to work in any foreseeable future is probably unimaginable; but it does not drop them. It continues to offer them support, care and encouragement. To date 250 refugees have been helped into employment. Sixty-six are receiving other forms of support through the specialist training and employment programme. The programme is supported and funded by a range of Jewish institutions and private donors and by a refugee taskforce that has been formed by a number of local, community and religious denominations that have wanted to support the work that World Jewish Relief does for refugees. That is supported by the Jewish Council for Racial Equality and it gives a much wider group of people the opportunity to participate in and support that worthwhile endeavour.

It is because I take a broad policy interest in refugee work that I have come to know about the work of World Jewish Relief, but in fact it is close on our doorsteps in the north of England. I particularly commend it for working with a group of people who present particular challenges as a result of the trauma and difficulties that they have experienced. I know that the friendships and relationships formed between the refugees and those supporting them will have enriched the lives of everyone involved. Once again, as we have heard from my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent North (Ruth Smeeth) and for City of Chester (Christian Matheson), we hear of a Jewish community that is not inward-looking but outward-looking. It looks to the country that it is a part of: it looks to be a part of it, and to form and strengthen relations with all its friends and neighbours. We are all immensely lucky that it wants to behave in that way, and that it does so.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Labour, Wolverhampton South East 3:29 pm, 13th June 2019

I begin by thanking and congratulating my hon. Friend Christian Matheson on securing this debate. As he set out very eloquently, the Jewish community has been part of the United Kingdom for hundreds of years and is today represented in all walks of life.

There is no Jewish community of any size in my Wolverhampton South East constituency, although we do have a Jewish cemetery that was donated to the community by the Duke of Sutherland when there was nowhere proper for Jewish people who died in the city to be buried. The cemetery exists to this day. I have been working with the Board of Deputies to try to make sure that it is properly cared for and restored, because, of course, when cemeteries are no longer actively used, they can fall into disrepair.

We are here to emphasise the positives today and I concur with that, but I want to make a few remarks about the growth that we have seen in antisemitism and how I believe we need to respond to it. It affects people on the hard right of politics, and has done for a long time—it comes from people on the hard right of politics—but it is also now coming from people on the hard left. We have seen much of that in recent years, including some appalling and awful abuse directed at my hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth and other Jewish MPs, both online and offline. It is simply unacceptable, it is deeply disturbing and we have to respond to it in the right way.

As someone who has been a member of the Labour party for 35 years, it is particularly disturbing for me to see antisemitism in the Labour party. We have always prided ourselves on being a party for people of all faiths and none—that is in the best of the Labour tradition—so it is very sad to see antisemitism in our party; there is no denying that it is there and has been there in recent years.

Some of it is wrapped up in a debate about the middle east and about Israel and Palestine and so on, but there is no need for it to be so. To state some obvious truths, the Israeli Prime Minister and the Israeli Government are not the same thing as Israeli society. There is an open and active debate in that country about policy, about settlements, about peace and about direction. Millions of Israeli citizens who take very contrasting views on those issues participate in that debate on a daily basis.

Photo of Ruth Smeeth Ruth Smeeth Labour, Stoke-on-Trent North

One of the most fascinating things about the debate in our party at the moment is that when we look at politics in the middle east, and specifically in Israel, my family who live in Israel campaign against Netanyahu day in, day out, and yet I am held responsible for his actions over here.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Labour, Wolverhampton South East

That is a very good illustration of my point. It is just the same as the fact that in this country we have a Government and a Prime Minister—perhaps a new one soon—and millions of our own citizens will disagree with the Government or the policies they pursue.

It is also the case that there are many people who care passionately about the Palestinian cause, who want to see a Palestinian state and who want to see a better deal for the Palestinian people. They can argue that case with passion and conviction, without being antisemitic. Many people do that on a daily basis. Caring about those issues does not mean that there is a need to engage in antisemitism.

We then have to ask ourselves a more difficult question. Where does this come from? What is really driving it? I believe that there is a further, wider problem, which is about an overall anti-western sentiment, which combines hostility to Israel with being anti-American, and which creates a fertile ground for the sentiments. I do not believe that that anti-western sentiment is part of the Labour tradition. It has never been part of the policy or the outlook of any Labour Government. I believe that if we really want to deal with the issue in our party and on the left, we have to reject that anti-western sentiment as well. These sentiments do not come from nowhere. We can do what we can about processes and complaints procedures and committees, but unless we are clear that our world view must not give rise to it, we will not really be able to deal with this issue.

I am disturbed by the antisemitism on the left. It is important that we stand strongly against it, that we do not accept any world view that gives rise to it, and that we state clearly that we are a party of all faiths and none. Britain’s great strength as a country is that it is a country for all faiths and none. That is why we have been a refuge for the oppressed from around the world for so many years. That is why we are recognised as such around the world.

So, there should be no hierarchy of victimhood. There should be no sense that only some people are victims of racism and other people cannot be victims of racism. We have to reject these things and appreciate that we are admired around the world precisely because we have been, for the most part, a refuge for people fleeing from persecution. We have given people a platform to build new lives. It is not a perfect story—it never is, and of course there have been times and episodes when that has not been the case—but it is largely true. Over the long arc of history, it is the story of how our society has developed up to today.

We should give thanks to the Jewish community for the contribution that has been made over hundreds of years, in all walks of life, to the United Kingdom, and resolve anew that we believe in equality and in a politics and a country that can be a good home for people of all faiths and none.

Photo of David Linden David Linden SNP Whip 3:37 pm, 13th June 2019

As always, it is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair and to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. As hon. Members have done, I pay tribute to Christian Matheson for securing and opening the debate. I have the pleasure of winding up on behalf of the Scottish National party. Although it has been a very short debate, and not a lot of hon. Members are present, we have made up in quality for what we do not have in quantity.

I have come to know the hon. Member for City of Chester through a standing engagement. It used to be a weekly engagement, but it has now moved to monthly—one of the longest-running Public Bill Committees in this Parliament. Over the last year or so, I have come to know the hon. Gentleman, and I would have expected nothing less than for him to pay a typically warm tribute to the Jewish community in the UK. He gave an absolutely outstanding history and chronology of the UK’s Jewish community. He was right to mention that there are around 5,900 Jewish people in Scotland. They are largely based in the constituency of Paul Masterton, who I know would want to be here today but cannot be. I pay tribute to the close relationship he has with the Jewish community there.

As always, Ruth Smeeth spoke very powerfully. She spoke about her family’s history as immigrants from Poland and Russia. It certainly sounds like her grandmother would be a fantastic person to spend time with, and the hon. Lady did her proud.

Kate Green is always a strong voice in this place for refugees, and she spoke about the work that World Jewish Relief does, particularly on moving people into employment.

Mr McFadden made reference to the cemetery in his constituency. I, too, have a Jewish cemetery in my constituency. There is not much of a Jewish population in Glasgow East, but there is still a Jewish cemetery on Hallhill Road. Thankfully, it is kept very well. When driving down one of the more significant streets in my constituency, all those headstones with a Star of David on them are a reminder that Jews are such a massive part of the community. The right hon. Gentleman also spoke candidly about some of the challenges in the Labour party. I know that may not be an easy thing to do in the current climate. He was brave to raise how some of this antisemitism has come from the left.

I also want to put on record my enormous thanks to the Jewish community, particularly in Scotland, for its immense contribution to our country. We should be very proud of the diversity of modern Scotland, while never taking it for granted. The Scottish National party could not be clearer that Scotland’s Jewish community needs to be assured and feel safe, against a worrying backdrop of growing antisemitism across Europe and further afield.

Like anyone who calls Scotland home, Scotland’s Jewish communities have the right to feel comfortable as they go about daily life free from intolerance, and religious or antisemitic hatred. Following last year’s shocking attack in Pennsylvania, that is more important than ever. We utterly condemn without equivocation anyone who threatens the existence of Israel. Israel has a right to exist peacefully. The Israel-Palestine situation should not be used as some kind of justification for attacks on Jewish people or abuse towards Jewish people, as it seems to be now more than ever. Therefore, we condemn any attempt to do so and any expression of antisemitism.

Given the rise in reports of hate crimes and hate speech in the UK last June, and homophobic attacks, such as that in Orlando, as well as the antisemitic voices on the so-called alt-right, it is more important than ever to learn the lessons of the past. That is why we support work to tackle religious hatred and intolerance, including Scotland’s national commemoration of the holocaust and subsequent genocides, so that lessons are learned about what can happen if hatred and discrimination remain unchecked, and seep through into our society. The Scottish Government accept in full, without equivocation, the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism. It is disappointing that it has taken quite a long time for people to get on board with that.

I want to come back to the wider issue of freedom of religion and belief, which is essential for any democratic, functioning society. Whether we are Christians, Jews or Muslims, bringing faith communities around the table is key to building a cohesive, respectful society. We still have a lot more to do on that, even in 2019. Scottish Interfaith Week is an excellent example of how Scottish communities are working together to improve dialogue with one another on matters of religious, national and civic importance.

I want to finish my remarks, as I normally do, by bringing the topic back home to Glasgow East, and referring to one of my predecessors in this House. A few years ago, I had the real pleasure of visiting Glasgow’s Garnethill Synagogue, to look at some of the Jewish archives. Shamefully, it was only then that I began to learn more about Myer Galpern, who was the MP for my constituency, then Glasgow Shettleston, from 1959 to 1979. He was Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons during his last term in office. Myer Galpern was not only the first Jewish Lord Provost of Glasgow but the first Jewish Provost in Scotland. Sadly, that is a little known fact, which we should do more to recognise and celebrate in Glasgow. I will pursue that with Glasgow City Council.

In conclusion, the Jewish community made an enormous contribution to Scotland long before Myer Galpern, and I look forward to its continuing to make an enormous contribution to the rich, tartan tapestry of Scotland for many more years to come.

Photo of Rachael Maskell Rachael Maskell Shadow Minister (Transport) 3:43 pm, 13th June 2019

It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I send my best wishes for a speedy recovery to my hon. Friend Naz Shah, who was due to respond to the debate. I thank my hon. Friend Christian Matheson for securing the debate. We have known each other for a significant amount of time—a couple of decades—and I can testify to how committed he is not only to celebrating diversity, but to furthering the rights and opportunities of all in society. He has done so today eloquently for our Jewish friends across the United Kingdom.

I was particularly moved by the family story of my hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth, much of which I had not heard before. I have very fond memories of working with her mother, who was a tour de force in the trade union movement. My hon. Friend has proved to be that, too. Given the lineage from her grandmother, I can very much see where that comes from.

Today’s debate celebrates the incredible investment that the UK’s Jewish communities have made to our nation. If I may, for one moment I will highlight my own Jewish community in York. York’s Jewish community may be small, but it is fast-growing, and it is certainly growing in its impact on our city. Determined not to look back to the tragic massacre of Clifford’s Tower in 1190, the community is building a new story to be told in our city, marked by community action and an impressive contribution to York’s faith forum.

We heard earlier from David Linden about the faith communities in Manchester and Glasgow, and the contribution that they can make to our communities. The work of the faith forum in York stands out across the country. This is not just about the Jewish community; the Muslim community is known for how they came out to greet the English Defence League with tea and biscuits when it marched in our city. They broke the anger and changed that situation, the like of which has not been seen in our city since.

Since I was elected, it has been a real honour to work with York’s Jewish community. In particular, Ben Rich has led significant dialogue in our city, not least when I approached him to provide training for our Labour party on antisemitism, and I was delighted that he accepted that. We have had positive feedback from the significant number of people who attended. I believe that again sets out best practice.

I thank my right hon. Friend Mr McFadden for highlighting, in his usual eloquent style, the real discourse about the political debate on identity, culture and faith. He is absolutely right that even one incident of antisemitism must be a cause of great concern. We have to know our history to know how crucial it is to be on top of the issue and to address it as a matter of urgency.

While I am still giving thanks, I pass on my thanks to the Jewish Leadership Council, which does outstanding work, especially on advancing good practice and taking forward so many initiatives across our country, particularly with its work on care for the elderly. We are reminded of the importance of that work today. It is so important that we have a real understanding of the diversity, identity, culture and innovations that come from all communities across the UK, and that we celebrate them in their own right, whether through our culture, our economy, our society or personally.

Many third-sector organisations, such as Jewish Care and Norwood, have made outstanding contributions to our country. I knew those organisations particularly well when I worked with them as a trade union official. Now, as a Member of Parliament, I work closely with the Holocaust Educational Trust as it leads the dialogue on remembering the past, addressing prejudice in society today and bringing the issue so close to home. It was a delight to hear from my hon. Friend Kate Green about the incredible work that World Jewish Relief is doing with refugees. Again, that brings home the importance of the work across our communities, to welcome strangers and embrace all that they have to bring.

As a trade unionist—I refer hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests—I have witnessed incredible contributions, not least from my hon. Friends, to advancing workers’ rights on behalf of the Jewish community. We are reminded of the important work contributed, across our trade union movement, towards anti-fascism. Like my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester, I highlight the amazing work that the Community Security Trust does in an interfaith context to ensure the safety and security of residents, particularly in the Jewish community.

On Mitzvah Day, people across the country make a phenomenal contribution: some 40,000 people from the Jewish community come out to serve their community. In York, that has expressed itself in recent years through tree planting to alleviate flooding issues, but that is just one of 1,000 projects to meet local needs in communities. I thank people for opening up their hearts and their doors to our communities and reaching out. While I am speaking about opening doors, I should also say that I have very much enjoyed visiting my local Jewish community on a number of occasions to share Shabbat and share fellowship with my friends in it.

It is not just a question of charity. Our economy thrives because of all that the Jewish community has contributed over time. The hard work and innovation of many people within the Jewish community has broadened our economic footprint in the UK and beyond. I enjoyed hearing my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester explain how fish and chips came to our country—I am sure that will feature in a future pub quiz. We also celebrate the Jewish community’s contribution to science, medicine, sport, literature and the arts in the UK. Whether they are Nobel prize winners or have simply made a contribution in their own right, we celebrate all who have participated in advancing our country.

As we mark the 75th anniversary of D-day, it is worth noting not only the 50,000 people from the Jewish community who served in our armed forces in the first world war, but the more than 60,000 who served in the second. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

I am thankful that many people from the Jewish community have served in this place. Our Labour party has been an important home to many from across the Jewish community over the years, with radical thinking about change and about how we want to shape and transform our society. We have supported the struggles that discrimination has brought and have stood in solidarity with those who face challenges. We are determined to rebuild that trust. It cannot be given; it must be demonstrated and earned.

At a time when we are seeing the rise of fascism across our nation, with people being othered because of their identity, culture or creed, it is vital that we unite and drive forward radical change across our communities to ensure that all feel safe and welcome in our nation. Together, we must celebrate the contributions that come clearly from the values that lie at the heart of the Jewish community in both culture and faith.

Photo of Rishi Sunak Rishi Sunak Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:52 pm, 13th June 2019

As always, Sir David, it is a privilege and a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I thank Christian Matheson for securing this important debate and granting us the opportunity to reflect on the significant social, political, cultural and economic contributions that the Jewish community makes to our great United Kingdom. We must also pay thanks to the Jewish Leadership Council and Lord Levy for planting the seed of this debate.

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his first-rate opening speech. In a reasonably short time, he gave us an excellent overview of the full breadth and history of the Jewish community’s contribution to our country, and he should be commended for doing so with an incredibly positive and warm tone. I thank all other hon. Members who have participated in the debate; I will address the specific remarks made by Kate Green later in my speech.

I thank Ruth Smeeth for sharing her family story. I am glad that she did not take her grandmother’s advice, but has brought her ideas to this place. No one who has heard the hon. Lady speak on these issues, in this House or elsewhere, could fail to be struck by her force and passion. Our public discourse and debate in this place is the richer for her participation—and I am not sure that I will be able to look at tomatoes in the same way when I am at the supermarket this weekend.

I pay tribute to Mr McFadden for his intelligent, thoughtful and powerful speech. He spoke not only with incredible bravery but with clarity and force—and without any notes, as far as I could tell. I look forward to re-reading his excellent speech.

Late in his life, the great writer and polemicist Christopher Hitchens discovered that his mother was Jewish and that, by extension, so was he. When he told his oldest friend, Martin Amis, Amis replied, “You know, I find I’m jealous.” How else could he feel, when the Jewish people have the one of the most enviable records of achievement of any demographic group in the United Kingdom’s history? Despite only ever forming a small percentage of the population, British Jews have shone in almost every field. They have inspired and entertained, created and innovated. They have become our doctors, our philosophers, our inventors, our musicians, our writers, our leaders, our role models, our parliamentarians and, indeed, one of our Prime Ministers.

It is only right that we celebrate the great achievements of the Jewish community, whose contributions have truly shaped our nation’s journey and identity. Before we do so, however, I must take note of the fact that a couple of hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East, referred to ongoing incidents of prejudice, abuse and discrimination. It is deeply disappointing that that issue still arises in our society; it should be tackled unflinchingly where it occurs. Those who face such displays of bigotry should know that the British Government and everybody in this Chamber stand with them and support them.

I am always struck by the phenomenally strong community spirit that is shown by the Jewish community here in Britain. He will not thank me for saying it, and he did not insert it into my speech, but my private secretary, who is sitting a couple of rows behind me, is a shining example of that, as I discover whenever I glean what he has been up to in his weekend activity.

The community has social action at its heart. The very word for charity in Hebrew is derived from the word for justice. The biggest Jewish charity, Jewish Care, is one of the 100 largest charities in the UK. It provides care to more than 10,000 people a week and has 15 care homes, 13 community centres and four independent living communities. It is an inspiration to the rest of us, showing how much can be done within a community to support those in need.

Similarly, Norwood, which began in the 1700s as a hospital in the east end of London, has flourished and grown over the centuries to support people of all ages. It highlights just how generous the community is with its time and resources, with 500 volunteers and £12 million raised every year to maintain its amazing and precious programmes.

The community strives to look after the vulnerable—not only within it but in the wider world. Rachael Maskell gave the example of Mitzvah Day, when Jewish community groups and individuals up and down the country join forces with those of all faiths and none, volunteering their time to support those in need in their local community. That positive, collaborative social action is underpinned and inspired by the Jewish values of kindness, justice and shared responsibility. Last year, Mitzvah Day joined with Muslim Aid to launch a huge event to feed London’s homeless and vulnerable with that most famous of Jewish dishes—chicken soup.

The hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston spoke about the amazing work of World Jewish Relief, a charity founded by a small Jewish group in London in the 1930s. It now co-ordinates important relief efforts all over the world and helps people of all denominations; it has recently helped refugees in the Rohingya humanitarian crisis in Myanmar and cyclone victims in Mozambique. Of course, it would be remiss of me not to join other hon. Members in mentioning the invaluable role of the Community Security Trust, which seeks to ensure the safety and security of Jewish communities and other communities across the United Kingdom.

Finally, no summary of the Jewish contribution to British public life would be complete without mention of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the national representative body of the UK’s Jewish community. As the longest-established religious minority in the UK, the Jewish people have led the way in demonstrating how to integrate fully and participate in our national life while retaining a distinct and proud identity, and that process has been led by the Board of Deputies. It has shown the way since 1760 in how to interact with the Government and fight for the rights of a group, while fostering good relations with those of other faiths and remaining perfectly integrated in wider society.

I will turn briefly from the community at large to the role of some individuals. It is no exaggeration at all to say that if I were merely to list every Jewish person who has achieved a record of note in UK society, we would be here for some weeks. However, I will give only a small sample, just a handful of those who have helped to shape our United Kingdom and what it is today. In the arts, I could mention Mike Leigh and Nicholas Hytner, Amy Winehouse and Yehudi Menuhin, Maureen Lipman and Sacha Baron Cohen; in academia, Simon Schama and Robert Winston; in the media, John Diamond and Jonathan Freedland; in art and design, Lucian Freud and Malcolm McLaren; Lord Neuberger, a President of the Supreme Court; Peter George Davis, the founder of the Special Boat Service; Jack Cohen, the founder of Tesco; and Ludwig Guttmann, the founder of the Paralympics.

I could mention many thousands of others who have founded the British businesses that we use every day and that provide employment for many, who have designed the technology that we use at work and at home, who have shaped the ideas that we follow, and who provide the entertainment we enjoy to rest and relax. I could speak for many hours, but in the interests of time we should press on.

I will end, therefore, by again thanking the hon. Member for City of Chester. He has done all of us a very valuable service. He has brought us together here today, to recognise, to celebrate and to be grateful for the invaluable contribution made by the Jewish community to the United Kingdom.

I stand here as someone who is the son of immigrants, and as someone who is proudly British, proudly Asian and proudly Hindu. I passionately believe that our society is richer for its diversity, and the Jewish community is a proud and shining testament to that.

Photo of Chris Matheson Chris Matheson Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office) 4:02 pm, 13th June 2019

That was an excellent speech by the Minister, and I thank him for it. As he said, this debate has been characterised by speeches that have been at once passionate, extremely thoughtful and thought-provoking.

My hon. Friend Ruth Smeeth reminded us of her mum, who was indeed my boss and the boss of my hon. Friend Rachael Maskell. What the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North did not tell us, of course, was that her mum started off in a fairly lowly position, as a secretary, and simply through hard work and strength of character she rose to become deputy general-secretary of our trade union. Hard work and strength of character are often qualities that we associate very much with the Jewish community.

I am most grateful to all hon. Members who have taken part in this debate and helped to celebrate the contribution of the Jewish community. I have to say that perhaps Thursday afternoon is not the best time to get the maximum attendance for a debate, but any time is the best time to celebrate and give thanks for that contribution and, once again, I am most grateful to all hon. Members who have assisted in that today.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the contribution of the Jewish Community to the UK.

Sitting adjourned.