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The Committee was balanced in its conclusion on the nature of anti-Semitism. I would be the last to minimise the danger of the traditional far right, because it is still there, and it is extremely unacceptable. It is as difficult for a Conservative party as it is for a centre left party, and we have no time for it. There has been a change on the political left, and I shall draw a distinction between that and another element. I sense from outsideother hon. Members may want to comment on thisa move away from political support for Israel as the imaginative and innovative democratic state of the early years of its inception towards a closer identification with the Palestinian cause or otherwise, or a distaste for the current Israeli Government, but I leave that as a matter of speculation. I do not think I can remember during my political career quite such organised distaste on the left that, however hard it is covered upsometimes it may be genuinely motivated for political rather than racist reasonscomes out as anti-Semitism all too often. There has been press comment to that effect recently.
The third elementI do not know whether it is the middle way, but it is certainly not acceptableis that of Islamic radicalism, which reflects the boiling hatreds in the middle east. We saw that when we tracked overt incidents of anti-Semitism with reference to the state of the political climate, the inception of intifada and so on, which has undoubtedly contributed to the problem. On the other hand, I would not want to signal to anyone that it has anything to do with the political argument in the middle east, because I do not believe that it has. Many Jewish people and I, as a non-Jewish person, have reservations about the conduct of some aspects of the Israeli Government, and clearly I share that with much of the population in that democratic country. We are not debating the middle east this afternoon, but we must acknowledge that it plays into a situation with underlying tensions, all of which are unacceptable, and must be faced and put down.
A point that we did not bring out in the report, but which underlies some of the concerns, is that the Jewish community was traditionally the most significant and distinct religious and ethnic minority in the United Kingdom, but with large-scale immigration from the new Commonwealth since the second world war that has changed, and the Islamic population is perhaps six times that of the Jewish population. That situation is likely to give rise to tensions in certain localities, but more typically to tensions in a detached environment such as a universityparticularly a university that recruits locally from the underlying population and has a high concentration of Islamic students. That situation adds to the threat.
If you were to ask me is Britain an antisemitic society, the answer is manifestly and obviously no. It is one of the least antisemitic societies in the world.
There is probably a greater feeling of discomfort, greater concerns, greater fears now about antisemitism than there have been for many decades.
The issue is not about people being immediately subjected to violence or persecution, but about the feeling of discomforta very good wordthat is not acceptable in a free democracy. None of our citizens should be put in that invidious position, and if nothing else, we must take action on that issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw implied that it is difficult to legislate against a negative. It is difficult, because people do not normally go around with a banner saying, I am anti-Semitic and I am going to murder you. Sometimes they do, but they do not normally advertise it like that; there is usuallynot alwayseither a kind of hole-in-the-corner, smutty scurrilousness, or it is not advertised. However, just because it is not in our face every minute does not mean that we should not do anything about it.
We must consider the components of the issue. Incidents do take place: I have mentioned that incidents have arisen because of the intifada, and the Community Security Trust does invaluable work by logging such incidents and providing advice. There is a serious passage in the report about the need for better awareness and a reporting structure and protocol from the Association of Chief Police Officers. The Government must be pressed to get on with that work so that we can implement any measure at any time.
The report is fair and balanced, because it says that we must also take account of diffuse anti-Semitism. We should not only record incidents such as a gravestone being overturned or some other horrible act; we should take account of what goes on behind peoples hands, and what contributes to the feeling of discomfort that I have mentioned. That is why the most important parts of the report are forward-looking and about good practice in our society, which we must foster. The Government have rightly been set a limited number of challenges, but we understand that this is a job not just for them. It would be wrong to interpret our report as saying, Over to you, get on with it. It is a wake-up call to the nation and to all the different parts of our diverse society, so that we might deal with a diverse problem. We do not ask for a one-off Government response, but for everyone to consider what they can do to meet those responsibilities.
I shall emphasise two or three points. I would say this, as a former Education Minister, but much of the issue starts at school. The Government have welcomed the reports suggestion about twinning schools. One might consider the Northern Ireland sectarian context. It is important to ensure that while schools may have strong faith backgrounds, they do not turn their backs on each other, but actively seek to know and speak about each other. By sheer coincidence, I was having lunch with a high commissioner from Malaysia today, and we were talking about the ethnic and religious complexities of his country and the interesting way in which they wish to restructure their schools. They wish to retain faith schools, as we would call them, but to place them into clusters so that there is social and educational interaction. We must all consider how we can make the situation more effective.
Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op):
I support what the hon. Gentleman says. In relation to education about such matters in school, does he agree that anti-Semitism should be dealt with separately from
overall anti-racism? Does he acknowledge the phenomenon whereby anti-racists can themselves be anti-Semitic, as was evidenced by the conference in Durban?
Mr. Boswell: That is a useful and valuable comment. There is a big danger that in personal and social development, we lump a whole series of issues together. Even in education, whatever the motive, such development can either come out as a mish-mash or, if it is used selectively, exclude some elements of unacceptable conduct, such as anti-Semitism. To simply say, We have done this, we have provided three hours a week, is not a sufficient answer to the problem.
I was a Minister with responsibility for the university sector, and thank God Ministers do not tell universities what to do. I hope they never will, but they can set an example and enter into dialogue. From the groups early exchanges, we can usefully do so, too. We have perhaps been fencing around the issue, so we must get together and talk.
I shall emphasise two elements. The first, easy element is the question of the academic boycott, for which there is no place in a university sector. It is unacceptable, and if there is any doubt, academics individually and the universities collectively must be told that it is unacceptable. The second, more difficult element is the attitude towards Jewish students, the way in which they are treated on campus, whether they are subjected to difficulties and whether their complaints are taken seriously. Action has been taken by individual universities and collectively by Universities UK, but I rest my case with Trevor Phillipss comment in oral evidence to the group, when he said that the picture was patchy. We must ensure that it is universal, and send out the signal that such conduct is not acceptable. There must also be good reporting in universities, and if there is a problem, vice-chancellors must take the lead. However, society, Universities UK, the Government and ourselves must follow.
There is also the wider civil society question, which is an extension of what has been said about school twinning. While Jewish societies have their own charitable remits, it is important that they do not turn their back on the wider community. On the whole, they do not seek to do so. Equally, however, people must meet them half way, and there will be practical opportunities. We heard of one when we visited France on one of our studies. A bus had been damaged, and the Islamic school agreed to share with the Jewish school, which was commendable. We must look for active opportunities to collaborate, and perhaps consider things that we can do together in developing countries or in local community development, so that it becomes more common, accepted and the norm for the different building blocks of our society to fit together more comfortably. It happens below the radar much more than we concede. If there is diffuse anti-Semitism, there is also diffuse good practice, but we must bring it out, celebrate it and extend it.
The wider world is relevant, if only because I noticed yesterday a news source, of which I was not aware, from Jerusalem, which was quoted in our press. It expressed concern about a systemic growth in anti-Semitism throughout Europe. I felt very sympathetic to those comments. At the time of the report, we were conscious
of the danger that if we set out to expose our own dirty linen, Europe would be pilloried for being exceptionally dreadful.
Having gone to the European Parliament with my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw, I can report that I had an interesting conversation with a lady parliamentarian from one of the Baltic states. She appeared perfectly sane and normal, but when I asked her about the extent of anti-Semitism in her area, she said, We dont have a problem. I would say, with respect, that she was either being naive or disingenuous, and I do not know which I find less acceptable. I have also had one or two brisk dialogues with Polish parliamentarians, in which I have said that their party leader is an anti-Semite, and I have been assured that that is not the case. It is, however, still worth at least raising the issue, and I will continue to do so. Indeed, many of us on the all-party group are at the disposal, as it were, of any European Parliament that wants to take another look at this issue, and we want to share some of our experience.
As I said, we have had an opportunity to say something about the report in the European Parliament. However, I also happen to be a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, as does my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham, and we participatedwith me perhaps as the junior partnerin a fairly brisk double act when we responded to a report to the Council on combating anti-Semitism in Europe. I mention that partly because the rapporteur in this case is currently the chairman of the European democratic groupin which the British Conservative party is a participantand interestingly, although I leave this only for speculation, also a member of United Russia, so he is a Putin supporter. What is also interesting, however, given that countrys history of anti-Semitism, which is not a happy subject, and the fact that its human rights record is not always above criticism or reproach, is that this persons report should say explicitly that there were concerns about France, the Russian Federation and indeed the United Kingdom, which takes us back to my slight concern about our exposing our own problems.
However, there was an element of self-criticism in the report, which I find encouraging. Indeed, the report was quite trenchant, and I hope that it was a wake-up call to some of the countries that say they have no problem. We shall persist in tackling the issue and we shall not let it go. We need to make it clearindeed, the Foreign Office needs to make it clear in private soundingsthat the behaviour that I have described is wrong and that we would be concerned as a country if domestic politics were conducted according to such an agenda.
We were pleased with our report, but we were also very pleased with the Governments response, and I say that from the Opposition Benches; indeed, I do not think that there was a partisan issue. What matters, however, is what happens now. If we just sit there saying, Oh well, its worth looking at the issue. Wasnt that interesting? It may have been a little concerning, but then do nothing, we will have short-changed the problem. We have a problem, which we have exposed, and it is all the more soluble because we have exposed it rather than pushing it under the carpet. However, we now need to get on with the business of producingall of us together, not just the Governmentan appropriate response.
Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): I am grateful to those who have spoken so far and particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) for his energetic and politically far-sighted and clear chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism. I am also grateful to the Government for responding to our report with a Command Paper, which is a rare honour for a parliamentary group that does not have the status of a Select Committee. Finally, I am grateful to the Prime Minister for his supportindeed, we went to see him to present our reportas well as to the various Ministers concerned, and I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Minister is here to respond on behalf of the Department.
In essence, todays debate is not about bringing closure, but about announcing a new chapter in Parliaments commitment to rooting out anti-Semitism. We have been lucky in that a remarkable series of publications and statements from within different communities has touched on this issue since our report came out. In particular, I want to refer to a book called The Islamist, which is published by Penguin and which I am happy to give an absolute plug in Hansard. It is written by Mohammed Husainknown as Ed Husainwho is a young Muslim from east London. He went through school, college and university as an Islamist and went to study and live in Syria and Saudi Arabia. Frankly, his book should be read by everybody in Britain and certainly by all of us in this chamber, by every vice-chancellor and by everybody in the University and College Union, which organised the anti-Jewish boycott.
In a sense, the book is what we have all been waiting for: it is neither a debate between different groups with different positions nor a close textual reading of statementssome highly odiouscalling for the death of Salman Rushdie 16 or 17 years ago or of statements by visiting theologians, whose remarks on Jews would have done Goebbels or Himmler little justice. Instead, we now have a book that bears witness to the extent to which the hatred of Jewsanti-Semitismthe hatred of Israel and contempt for anything to do with Jewishness are part and parcel of the ideological formation, alas, of young people in this country who decide to go down the road of radical Islamist ideology.
Some right hon. and hon. Members in the House, and indeed in the Government, may have been attracted by different creeds and beliefs in their student days, but they put such things behind them as the years passed. The problem that we face today, however, particularly on campuses, is a continuation of the ideological formation described in the book. More Ed Husains are coming, but very few will have the literary gifts, the energy or the desire to confront their own demons or their old friends and comrades, or to say things about their families and religion that might not be too comfortable.
I strongly recommend Ed Husains book. In it, he describes being in his college and working under the religious banner of the Islamic Society. He describes
invoking Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, and having his injunctions on the walls. Those injunctions include:
The Koran is Our Constitution. Jihad is Our Way. Martyrdom is Our Desire.
Koran recitation, religious discussion, antisemitism and good food
The point is important. I go to mosques in my constituency, and the councils of elders and the imams are good, pious mentheir religion is one of hope, peace, love and charity. Yes, the young boys learn the Koran, just as I learned the Latin mass, and I can take hon. Members through it if they would like me toIntroibo ad altare Dei. Perhaps I will stop my Latin at that point, although I understand that the Pope may be bringing the Latin mass back. All religions teach their young boys and girls to recite, and to learn by heart and by rote. There is absolutely nothing wrong in that. But that exact point is made by the fact that when I learned my Latin mass I did not then mix it with hatred of another religion or group of people. By all means let people teach and discuss the Koran and learn as much as possible about the life of the Prophet; but let them not go down the road of anti-Semitism.
Mrs. Ellman: My right hon. Friend performs an important function in drawing attention to the extent of Islamic anti-Semitism, which is often not recognised, but does he also agree that strong anti-Semitism is to be found in groups such as the British National party and Combat 18?
Mr. MacShane: Very much so. The only full length work written by the odious Nick Griffin, called Who are the Mindbenders? is a long litany of hate against people in the British media whom he says are Jews. He goes through peoples names, saying that they were originally called something else. All the traditional, odious hundred-year-old rhetoric against the Jew is there at the heart of the BNP. There is an objective alliance between the extreme Islamist organisations, such as the Muslim Association of Britain, and the extreme right-wing organisations. In a sense they join as the circle of anti-Jewish extremism closes itself.
deep down, we never really objected to the Holocaust. Indeed in the prayer room we were convinced that the college principal as well as several other members of the management, were Zionist agents. Without question we despised Jews.
We suspected that the college management was dominated not only by Jews, but by homosexuals too....there was a gay-Jewish conspiracy to undermine our efforts.
I read these extracts because perhaps people do not understand how mutilated is the thinking of those ideologues. It is not narrowly a matter of the behaviour of Israel in the occupied territories; it is a much stronger, deep-going hatred of the Jews and of gays, and deep contempt for the rights of women fully to be women and control their own lives rather than being dictated to by men.
In the book Ed Husain meets Inayat Bunglawala, who is now one of the spokesmen or leaders of the Muslim Council of Britain, and who is regularly on Today and Newsnight. I hesitate to add to the many woes of the director-general of the BBC, Mr. Mark Thompson, at the moment, but he might want to ask why someone with that track record of anti-Semitism is allowed such an unchallenged free rein on the main BBC programmes.
Mrs. Ellman: I note my right hon. Friends comments about Mr. Bunglawala. Does he have the same sentiments about Dr. Azam Tamimi, formerly of the Muslim Association of Britain, who is also a frequent commentator on our national media? Dr. Tamimi is on record as saying in a BBC interview that he would be a suicide bomber if he could.
There isI speak as a former president of the National Union of Journalistsa deeply ingrained belief in all of us about the importance of freedom of expression, but freedom of expression that supports the killing of innocent people anywhere in the world is a freedom on which there are some limits. In the United States there are very powerful laws upholding freedom of expression, but as the great Justice Frankfurter said, they do not extend to shouting Fire! in a crowded theatre. In other words, even in America, there must be some self-limitation.
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