As those that follow parliamentary proceedings will know, this week I led a debate on antisemitism in the House of Commons. While antisemitism is always bad news, there is perhaps some relief in the constructive measures that we have achieved and are seeking to uncover and implement. I initiated this debate to both sound the alarm about the increase in antisemitism over the summer in particular and to mark some of our achievements, which perhaps prevented matters from escalating further.
Many readers will have followed the trouble and violence that escalated so sharply in the summer months. Unfortunately, as elsewhere in Europe, Britain imported some of the tensions from that conflict. There was, according to the Community Security Trust a 400 per cent increase in antisemitic attacks during July and a sharp rise in August, too, constituting two of the highest ever monthly totals recorded. Incident reports included vandalism of synagogues and abuse of visibly Jewish Brits.
As was highlighted numerous times in our debate, and has been proven by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, the reality of British Jewish identity is very complex. Most Jews are Zionists with varying levels of emotional and familial attachment to Israel. Jews have the right to be Zionists and indeed to support Israel should they choose to. However, to single out Jews for attack because of anger about Israeli policies is blatantly racist. That is a message which I reiterated this week. This message is one that clearly has not yet resonated with some and so requires frequent repeating in all areas of public life.
Another important precedent to set is to avoid antisemitic discourse. Whilst open antisemitism is rare in mainstream politics and media, expressions and ideas of hate that would not be publicly directed against Jews are now publicly directed against Zionists. They are depicted in the same way as Jews are by anti-Semites: malevolent, all powerful, all controlling, covert and inauthentic. Hate speech against Zionists leads to demonization and hatred of all suspected Zionists. This may not be intentionally antisemitic from the perpetrator’s perspective, but it impacts extremely negatively for British Jewry.
In order to face down antisemitism be it in words or action, I have recently commissioned an all-party inquiry into the anti-Jewish hatred that emanated from the summer’s conflict. This follows the work we have done to implement the recommendations of our 2006 parliamentary antisemitism report. I noted a number of our successes in the debate but these include the establishment of a cross-government working group on antisemitism, an agreement reached for all police forces to record antisemitic hate crimes and the first official antisemitic hate crimes statistics being published by the police and a funding agreement for security needs of Jewish faith schools in the state system.
The Labour government set an important precedent by publishing two command papers on antisemitism which constituted replies to our report. The coalition government published its own report and their second response is keenly awaited. There are a number of things we can and must push for within the Labour party to ensure we are leading in this field.
1. We should commit now to continuing the system of cross-government working groups and reports that has served the fight against antisemitism so well
2. We should be calling on social media companies and in particular Twitter to do more. Some of the worst incidents of antisemitism in recent times have been through social media and Twitter have been slow and unco-operative in response
3. We must as a party now accept the recommendation of the all party parliamentary inquiry into electoral conduct and sign up to improved and practical protocols for addressing reports of antisemitism, other racism and hate speech during elections which we have offered them. A failure by Labour to do so would be a dereliction of duty and counter to the whole ethos of our party and its history.
4. Across our party we need to be doing more. Our parliamentary party must continue to take an active role in the all party group. Our leadership should be vocal when it matters and at grass roots, Progress members and others should be reaching out to and showing solidarity with their local Jewish communities.
Antisemitism is a societal sickness. It can only be healed through our collective action.
John Mann is member of parliament for Bassetlaw and chair of the all-party group against antisemitism. He tweets @JohnMannMP
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