Like many others we were particularly concerned about the rise in antisemitism this summer both in the United Kingdom and across Europe as a result of the most recent escalation of violence in the Middle East conflict. Party members will have their differing views on the conflict of course but none of us should ever accept attacks on Jewish people or institutions regardless of the actions of the Israelis. The all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism has begun work on a parliamentary report to determine what lessons might be learned from the most recent 400 per cent increase in antisemitic incidents and how we can best fight this anti-Jewish prejudice. As part of the evidence-gathering for the report, I led a cross-party delegation of MPs to visit Berlin and Paris. Worryingly, in both cities, Jews have been subject to a sharp increase in hostility.
Germany is a country perhaps unsurprisingly hypersensitive to the issues of antisemitism. Members of parliament of all parties have made progress in establishing systems for analysis and action against anti-Jewish prejudice. However, the evidence we obtained demonstrated that antisemitism was recurring and manifest on the far-right, far-left and within the immigrant Turkish Muslim populations. We were also repeatedly informed that a parliamentary report, modelled on our UK antisemitism inquiry, had found that as much as a quarter of German society possesses a form of latent antisemitism. That latent antisemitism was being expressed more openly and with greater intensity over the summer. Chants which might at one time have been ‘death to Israel’ were now calling for ‘death to the Jews’. Hatemail once simple and anonymous was now complex and signed. As for the Jewish community, it has become increasingly normal for them to hide their identity in public to avoid abuse.
The situation in France was exponentially worse. Jews only constitute some one per cent of French society. However, 40 per cent of racially motivated crimes last year were perpetrated against them. The mayor of Sarcelles compared the outbreak of antisemitism on the streets in the summer to a civil war, with the police warning the Jewish community that if rioters passed their defence lines, Jews would have to fend for themselves.
While the political elite were making efforts to respond to the outbreak through their discourse, it was clear that a coordinated government response and political leadership were lacking. There are training programmes for public servants and action has been taken against antisemitic comedian Dieudonné but there is little resource and the complex nature of this prejudice – stemming variously from: economic turbulence, Middle East tension, poor integration plans, historic guilt or jealousy – has politicians and officials somewhat baffled. Long-term plans are absent and focus was rather on increasing security in the immediate term.
In the UK, our situation is somewhat better but we must be vigilant. The Community Security Trust reported that there were over 350 antisemitic incidents in July and a significant number in August. Public protests against Israeli action played host to antisemitic placards and chants. Abuse on social media was widespread and there were physical attacks on Jewish Brits. The work we have done on an all-party basis has ensured that the UK has the right frameworks in place to tackle some of this prejudice but we are hopeful that our report will keep government officials and others on their toes, ensuring we are fine-tuning our approach. We cannot allow the UK to descend into a quagmire of antisemitism however bad things may be abroad.
For the Labour party this means a careful look in the mirror. We must be engendering a culture of responsibility, ensuring impassioned but reasonable debate, the likes of which MPs George Galloway and David Ward cannot achieve. We must continue to work together as a party and a society to reinforce the message that racism, in any form, is unacceptable and that includes racism against Jews.
John Mann is member of parliament for Bassetlaw and chair of the all-party group against antisemitism. Danny Stone is the secretary of the all-party group against antisemitism
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