John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): It is a pleasure to hold this debate under your chairship, Ms Clark. We thank you for the appropriate and modern way in which you have consulted on how things should happen, which was noted and appreciated by all present.
I am pleased to see, for a Thursday afternoon, a significant attendance from all parts of the House. Many more would have liked to be present and to participate, not least Ministers and shadow Ministers who have informed me of their support for the debate and for the work of the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism but who, under the conventions of Parliament, are required not to participate in a Back-Bench debate in Back-Bench time. Nevertheless, putting that on the record is appropriate.
More than five years ago, I commissioned the all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism, so ably chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), who will be participating in the debate, if he catches the Chair's eye. Much progress has been made over those five years, but much more remains to be done.
The basis of the inquiry, which included four different parties among the 14 elected Members comprising the panel, is that parliamentarians like it or not, have a leadership role. Our responsibility is, first and foremost, to ensure that our own Parliament is free of prejudice, including any prejudiced remarks, whether made calculatedly to offend or ignorantly. Part of our success is that parliamentarians in this Parliament, even if any of them ever considered overstepping the mark in acceptable discourse, would step back. In fact, we have a clear understanding of what is acceptable, which is a marker for the rest of the country.
Our robust approach, first and foremost, has been to take responsibility in our own parties-although we work on a cross-party basis-for sorting out issues of racism and, specifically, anti-Semitism. In other words, we sort out our own parties before pointing the finger at our opponents. As has been stated on the Floor of the House, therefore, successes in fact have not required publicity precisely because of what we might call the re-education of those who choose to depart from the norms of normal debate-they are re-educated in their own parties-which is exactly how political parties should take responsibility. It is a credit to all parties, throughout the House, that they have been prepared to live up to their responsibilities-even so, more can be done.
In the previous Parliament, as well as the current one-under the previous and current Governments-I and others in all parties have been rightly prepared not
to pick holes in the minutiae when dealing with Ministers who have taken what we want forward. We have praised them the more they have taken small risks to move things on, such as taking on civil servants and the establishment. We have been prepared to back them and not to use the normal foil in debate, criticising when everything we call for is not met.
Such behaviour is appropriate and, in that spirit, let me commend the responsible Minister in the current Government who, like his predecessors in other Governments, has been prepared to go significantly beyond the call of normal ministerial duty in the attention, the seriousness and-I do not think this is overstating it-the boldness in pushing forward the agenda that we need pushing forward. Although appropriate, that moral integrity and political courage has been appreciated well beyond parliamentarians.
As an all-party group, we will continue to back Ministers who are prepared to do things. If their initiatives are not as successful as they and we would like, we will not criticise them, but we will praise them for being prepared to take difficult initiatives, instead of sitting on the fence when that it is easier to do that sometimes.
There has also been significant support from civil servants-Sally Sealey and Neil O'Connor of the Department for Communities and Local Government spring to mind, as well as others working alongside them. They have made a significant input in their briefings to Ministers, which wise Ministers have read, absorbed and acted on. Doubtless, they will continue to do so.
With such backing, we have seen other Ministers do things beyond the normal call of duty-although they are normally my political opponents, that ought to be put on the record-such as the Secretary of State for Education, with whom I often clash. However, on issues relating to anti-Semitism, he has done more than one would normally expect of a Minister in his position. That should go on the positive record for all parties.
The Minister for Universities and Science, who has a difficult portfolio when it comes to anti-Semitism, has also given us great encouragement in his months in office by his incisive understanding of the issues as they affect his portfolio and by his preparedness to take action. We commend those Ministers in particular, for being ahead of the game. We encourage others, who are doing their bit, to be ahead of the game, too, because anti-Semitism issues remain major issues in this country and worldwide.
Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I fully agree with my hon. Friend in praising the efforts of Ministers in dealing with the issue. However, is he aware of the growing concern in the British Jewish community about rising levels of anti-Semitism, including anti-Semitic rhetoric? Do Ministers have a role in combating that?
As a long-standing and internationally recognised expert and leader in combating anti-Semitism, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman) is an example to us all. I thank her and use the opportunity of her intervention to advertise the meetings we have
convened throughout the Jewish community since we received the Government response to our work as an all-party committee in December.
Locations for the meetings include Liverpool, where my hon. Friend is speaking, and certainly Leeds, Manchester, Oxford and London, but I will have forgotten some of the others. Members of Parliament from all parties are participating, not just explaining our good deeds, as it were, but taking on questions, comments and feedback from members of the Jewish community. Our first such event in Manchester was a huge success. It was well attended, and the rigorous debate by parliamentarians and the general public was well received. There will be more such events, which are an important aside to our work.
We must also put on the record our thanks to various groups. I refer to my entry in the Register of Members' Financial Interests and the support that I receive both indirectly and directly from the Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism Foundation, chaired by Stephen Rubin, and the support given by staff and others to the work of the all-party group against anti-Semitism. All members of the group receive that support, and I include it in my declaration.
We are grateful for and welcome the support and advice that we receive from the Community Security Trust. Gerald Ronson, Richard Benson and their colleagues ensure that we engage with the issues and are alert to the problems at all times. The trust does a magnificent job that other countries could learn from. The Board of Deputies of British Jews has worked closely with us, as has the Holocaust Educational Trust, which has involved parliamentarians and their young constituents in an effective programme to educate young people about our history. Our appreciation for those bodies is significant.
Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this timely and important debate. All hon. Members should oppose any form of anti-Semitic behaviour. It is our responsibility to create an environment where religious and racial toleration is part of a much bigger project. If we do not accept that everybody has a right to live as they please, we will not find it easy to deal with anti-Semitism.
John Mann: I agree with the hon. Gentleman. Our approach has always been to make it clear that when we deal with anti-Semitism, we deal with racism. Some people would be prepared-not necessarily happily-to be called anti-Semites. They would certainly love to be called anti-Zionists, which they would regard as an accolade. When they are described as racists, however, they do not like that term, even though it is accurate.
Our pitch is not that anti-Semitism is a greater evil than any other form of racism, but that it is not a lesser evil and that we will not tolerate it being seen as such. Others who deal with hatred-Islamophobia or homophobia, for example-could adopt some of our methods when advancing their fight against prejudice. With the expertise that we have built up, we are always happy to work with people who are undertaking such initiatives and, in our modest way, to share our experiences and see whether there are any common ties, experiences or lessons learned that other groups can use. There is a crossover, including in methodology.
Government responses have included the establishment of the interdepartmental working group across two Governments from different sides of the political equation. That group has involved the three largest political parties, which is testimony to our methodology. It would be easy to lose that consensus, but we said four or five years ago-not, in my case, in anticipation of losing an election and power-that our success would be demonstrated if there were a continuum should there be a change of Government. The methodology that we used and the way in which we have built cross-party consensus has succeeded, which is testimony to our approach.
Other Parliaments across the world could learn from that success. All too often, dealing with anti-Semitism has become wrapped up in political argy-bargy. Sectional interests rather than cross-party working have meant that those Parliaments have not advanced as they should have. The importance of our model should not be understated, because it gives a powerful message that Parliament stands as one. The transition to the new Government and, in a more complex way to the new coalition Government, demonstrates the proof of that model. There is a danger that that message could be lost in the good works and the successes, and people must understand why those things happen in order for progress to be maintained in the immediate future and the longer term.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): First, I apologise that I cannot stay until the end of the debate. The hon. Gentleman has discussed a crossover in methodology, and I wanted to seek his comments on something that the Community Security Trust is doing, and the methodology that it uses to protect the Jewish community. It is working with people of another faith that are suffering similar threats, and helping them to enhance their security. That is a good crossover in methodology, and I welcome the fact that the CST has taken on that role.
Another significant development that will be increasingly important in the future is the establishment, for the first time, of an Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism at Birkbeck college. I estimate that 400 people attended the inaugural lecture by Professor David Feldman, which is a significant number. The intellectual interrogation that is needed to draw on and analyse lessons from around the world is already of huge value to us, and we look forward to working closely with that institute. It is a landmark for this country. There is too much in London for my liking, but on this occasion I will excuse that, because Birkbeck is conveniently nearby. That is perhaps the only praise that London will receive from me in this Parliament.
Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab): As an honorary fellow of Birkbeck college, I cannot allow that slightly anti-Bloomsbury square remark to pass unnoticed. However, I have been talking to vice-chancellors in the north of England, because I agree with my hon. Friend that the study of anti-Semitism is something that we should root into our university disciplines as well as in our schools.
John Mann: Betwixt my constituency and that of my right hon. Friend is Sheffield. Perhaps one of the universities there will choose to get involved in this. That would be, if not an immediate priority, a welcome development in the future.
Let me put on the record some of the ways in which things have moved forward. Police forces record anti-Semitic hate crimes, and the first official statistics on anti-Semitic hate crime were released by the Association of Chief Police Officers on 30 November 2010. There is the Crown Prosecution Service review into the disparity between anti-Semitic incidents and the joint Government and charitable sector inter-faith school linking programme, championed by the Pears Foundation. Sir Andrew Burns has been appointed as the UK's first envoy for post-holocaust issues. He is a great champion, and his work will have an impact. We welcome that appointment and look forward to working closely with him over the coming years. There has been international replication of our model of an all-party inquiry. Canada, Italy and Germany have all, in different ways, replicated what we have done. Following the successful London conference, there was a successful Canadian-led conference in Ottawa, addressed by the Canadian Prime Minister and many others. Indeed, 51 countries participated. We are making a mark in showing our successes but also being honest about our failures. Others are picking up on that and learning from their successes and failures as well.
The Government recently announced that the burden on Jewish parents in paying for school security guards would be addressed with Government money. The inquiry recognised that as a priority. It is not a gesture but significant practical support from Government.
We have been very active and have more members than ever before in Parliament. In addition, successive Governments have been highly and appropriately engaged on the issue. Nevertheless, 2009 was the worst year for anti-Semitic incidents that the CST has ever recorded, and 2010 is not likely to be much better. Those incidents continue, and often the issues are linked to the ongoing conflict in the middle east. It behoves the Government to ensure that at times of increased tension, communication plans are in place to keep community cohesion at its most effective. Of course, the attempts to boycott Israel have been repeatedly denounced by successive Governments. In response to such attempts, the Britain-Israel research and academic exchange initiative, with Foreign and Commonwealth Office support, is a practical step towards increased, rather than reduced, academic collaboration, and a step forward towards peace. We commend successive Governments for their approach to that.
More progress is needed on a few issues, one of which is internet hate. We look forward to the promised ministerial conference, convened via the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, on internet hate. That will be significant, and we look forward to guidelines being published on establishing mechanisms for complaint, which will empower those in the communities directly affected. We also look forward to a potential American initiative that will involve meeting directly and challenging the Googles and Microsofts of this world on precisely what they are, and are not, doing, to try to ensure that there is consistency of approach at a high level. I am certain that if our colleagues in the US Congress can organise such meetings, we will in some way be able to get representatives to
participate in them, because the internet is an important priority in countering race hate.
The position is similar with newspapers. I noted the potential best practice emanating from the Manchester Evening News, which has a proactive moderating policy on the blogs and comment pages that it runs. All too often, however, newspapers say that it is beyond them to moderate highly offensive and inflammatory remarks. I do not think that that is beyond them; I think that there is a duty and responsibility in that respect. With regard to the online press in particular, we need to see that as a priority in the next year.
I implore the Minister to take these issues back to the Government, unless he has more information for us. The issues include reviewing the Press Complaints Commission guidelines to ensure that groups as well as individuals can register complaints. The areas of the media and the internet are big priorities in the next year. We are looking for more Government action to move the agenda on, not least because the Attorney-General's office has successfully managed to prosecute those who have used vile and racist internet sites hosted abroad. We have made a breakthrough that the rest of the world is interested in and which is of huge significance, but we need to develop beyond that. It must not just be a case of isolated prosecutions that are important because they have been successful.
The Government need to take the issue directly to the European Union. Is it beyond the European Union to have some common standards relating to the internet that would greatly enhance what has happened in this country? That should be within our reach. I appreciate that there are different views on how good and useful, or useless, an institution it is, but whatever one's views, it exists and we can agree to resource it amply. However, despite the history of the origins of the EU, the Commission has never, ever seen anti-Semitism as part of its remit, which must change. Addressing the internet would be a good start, and dealing with education would also be significant. That needs to be in the work programme that the European Commissioners have every time that they are appointed, that the European Parliament can comment on, and that, as necessary, the Council of Ministers can be involved in.
Mrs Ellman: I applaud my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the very serious phenomenon of internet hate. Does he agree that messages of anti-Semitic hate, often coming from Islamic sources, should be challenged in a much stronger way than they are at the moment?
The case that was prosecuted-the Sheppard and Whittle case-involved what we could call a Nazi website, hosted in the United States, but jihadist-style or simply offensive websites, allegedly coming from, for example, Saudi Arabia, are a major problem. The United States and Saudi Arabia are allies of ours. They are generally friendly and helpful countries. However, they have a different approach. In the United States, it is about the freedom of speech. We need an approach that moves forward this agenda. The interesting issue with the Sheppard and Whittle case is that we were able to prosecute in this country actions directly related to the use of hate sites abroad. If we could get such action fully entrenched in this country and developed across the European Union, it would have a significant practical
impact, but it also would allow dialogue, be it with the Saudis or with the Americans, from a position of some strength in terms of what is there, so that we could attempt to eradicate all internet sites that are peddling race hate, from whatever direction they come. Of course, that is significant because it is the extremists, not the normal, general, common-sense people of this country, who are attracted to such sites.
Let me mention other priorities. I shall be reasonably brief on those, because I know that other hon. Members will want to discuss them. For Government, higher education is a top priority. Another organisation that we are delighted to co-operate with, the Union of Jewish Students, is having a lobby of Parliament. I hope that hon. Members in this Chamber and beyond will meet its representatives and hear at first hand their experiences of studying in universities. Our position is clear, but it is worth repeating. In an atmosphere that is widely recognised as the most tolerant in this tolerant and democratic country, the fact is that one group of students feels that it does not have the same freedoms as others. I have described that as a consequence of antisocial behaviour. It impacts on their ability to have the same freedoms as other students, and magnifies the importance of such problems well beyond what is seen in the rest of society. Those universities, as learning institutions, must therefore be exemplary in their approach. I hope that the Government will consider the successful agreement that has been negotiated and enacted at the university of Manchester. I do not declare an interest, because it is many years since I studied there and I am discussing current students and the present administration.
That model could be used in universities across the country-it could also be used abroad, not least in north America-to set the role and remit of universities and to say how students should complain and how the outside world, including us, should evaluate and monitor the effectiveness of the procedures that have been put in place. That is an important breakthrough, and I hope that the Government will give appropriate time and energy to it, as far too many of our university institutions are paralysed whenever there is a problem and do not know what to do. There is a model for universities, and they will receive our support.
With students wanting to study at university, we, as a democratic society, cannot have the kind of incidents that we saw at the London School of Economics in December. It was not only the comments of Abdel Bari Atwan that were unacceptable, because the consequential behaviour that resulted from them was equally unacceptable. That is not tolerance, and it is not free speech. Protocols in universities, such as the one enacted by Manchester, need to be spread to all universities. If we get that this year, it will be a magnificent achievement for Parliament and an accolade for the Government, who will have our support in pushing the universities because the issue is important.
The Minister for Universities and Science has committed himself to making clear the Government's position on speakers on campus, and we look forward to hearing what the Government have to say about that. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will commission a departmental review and update our freedom of speech guidance.
I shall speak next about elections. There has been controversy on elections, and there may be more today. I give an example. During the last election, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee explicitly targeted six Zionists. I believe that it regards Zionists as an insult. I made a lengthy submission to the Committee on Standards in Public Life on the subject, in which I asked whether it is fair in a democracy that a group from outside can spend resources targeting people in that way-whoever they target, and from whatever direction-because it puts them at an unfair disadvantage.
Mr MacShane: I was targeted by the Muslim Public Affairs Committee; its rather stupid leaflet said, "Vote BNP to get rid of MacShane". An ultra-Islamist group was inviting the anti-Semitic BNP to dethrone me. It was not a problem in Rotherham, but it was in Oldham East and Saddleworth. It is an evil group, and my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to it.
John Mann: The Equality and Human Rights Commission is struggling with elections. We may need to write our own code of conduct this year on how elections should be run and what should happen if candidates believe that things have been done that they find inappropriate. There is a void there, and it crosses all parties. The issue is not in one direction, and it goes many different ways.
The main political parties, as well as the smaller ones, have a responsibility to ensure that candidates or complainants, including those from the community, have clear guidance on what they should do, both at the time and retrospectively. I fear that the problem is becoming too big, too quickly. Some claim success, however irrelevant their participation has been in the campaign, which emboldens more extreme action and more extreme language. If we can get agreement, we should publish our own code of practice this year outside the general election cycle. There are, of course, always elections, but we should do so well in advance of the next general election. It could be launched in the run up to the next election, with a lengthy lead-in to ensure that we get it right. That could provide a significant service. Attempting to do it may move things on in what is a tricky but rather indelicate area. If we do not, it will be to the detriment of all political parties, rather nastily and viciously, in elections to come.
I next highlight football. I do so because there is a huge danger in eastern Europe that the new Nazis will coalesce under the banner of white power using football, which may become a big problem in this country. They have not yet made huge inroads here, although groups of fanatics and thugs have made small ones using the internet. Immediately before the Olympics, the 2012 football championship will be hosted by Ukraine and Poland. It could be rather difficult, as there will be many opportunities for outrageous behaviour by those who choose deliberately to offend, and it can happen quickly and easily. Through the police and Home Office, we have great knowledge and expertise in dealing with football hooliganism and extremism. We need to lend more support to Poland and Ukraine to ensure that those countries are not caught short. It is a PR disaster waiting to happen, with extremists using the opportunity to spread their propaganda and to incite people.
I was asked by the Football Association 18 months ago to chair a working group into anti-Semitism and
Islamophobia, with many people in the football world being involved. I politely asked the FA, which has a new chief executive, to respond to the report submitted by my working group, because in the big money world of football as well as at the grass roots there is a responsibility to ensure that our most inclusive of sports is inclusive at every level. It must act when people attempt to use what I regard as our national sport to perpetrate race hatred. Football should be in the lead, so I await the Football Association's response. It is about time that it did so, and I hope that it does so productively and positively.
I speak now about the international agenda and Europe. An increasing number of people in eastern Europe, including some politicians, are attempting to equate the holocaust and what happened in their countries with what happened in Soviet times. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham and I were heavily involved, as were others here today, in what could best be described as anti-Soviet or anti-communist activities, not least with the international trade union movement and other organisations. We have a long track record in that respect. We understand what happened in Soviet times, but it is fundamentally dangerous, wrong and inaccurate to equate the two.
Equating the two provides an excuse for what happened to the Jewish community in, for example, Lithuania, where 94% of its members were murdered in a short period, and where many Lithuanians were involved in murdering their fellow nationals. It is fundamentally wrong and dangerous to equate things in that way, and we need to challenge that practice, because the more it takes hold, the more difficult things will be for Jewish communities in those countries, and the easier it will be for extremists to ride on the back of false nationalism and whip up hysteria, as has already happened, not least in the Baltic states, as people campaign against the Jewish international media conspiracy, the Jewish bankers and so forth. Those are old concepts, but they are being used in the modern media in these countries.
Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): The hon. Gentleman is of course right that there is a fundamental difference between what happened in Nazi Germany and what happened as a result of Soviet persecution of Jewish communities and discrimination against Jews. Surely, however, the problem with drawing such a distinction is that people must understand that if they tolerate anti-Semitism in any form, they are on a dangerous slope, which can lead to the events we saw in Europe and particularly in Germany.
John Mann: Absolutely. Our approach of being honest about the problems in our country, our Parliament and our political parties-in our own backyard-is exactly the approach that the countries I am talking about need to take if they are to come to terms with their history. That is what being part of the modern democratic world is about. These countries are now part of that world, and they need to understand their responsibilities and obligations. We should not accept lower standards from these new democracies than we do from the older democracies, including ours.
Ian Paisley (North Antrim) (DUP):
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing the debate at a most opportune time. Next week, the House will mark Holocaust
memorial day. Does he agree that that puts down a very firm marker, which affirms many of the points that he has made? Holocaust memorial day is a very good way for Parliament to put on the record its support for many of the issues that he has addressed.
John Mann: I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I take it from his comments that we can include him as a member of our all-party group. Unless they shake their heads, we will also ensure that others present are added to our list, if they are not already on it. The hon. Gentleman's intervention was appropriate, because the work done for Holocaust memorial day is significant in this country and elsewhere in the world.
I have a final plea and question for the Government. The Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation needs to raise a significant sum-$120 million-to preserve the uniquely wicked and evil site at Auschwitz into the future. Many countries have contributed, including Czech Republic, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Estonia. Germany, of course, has given €60 million. The United States has contributed $15 million. Austria has given €6 million. Even the city of Boulogne-Billancourt has made a contribution. It is important that we meet the commitments that the previous Prime Minister gave the project. That can be done over a period of years, and it can go beyond the current three-year financial planning-it can even be a commitment for future Governments, of whatever flavour. However, it is important that this Government give a firm and substantial commitment on behalf of us all that we will play our role in guaranteeing the future of this site. On behalf of Parliament and this country, our Government should give a significant sum, albeit over a period of years, as the US has done. That will guarantee that the learning that can come from the existence of this death camp is there for future generations.
Katy Clark (in the Chair): Order. Several Members have asked to speak in the debate. I advise Back-Bench Members that if they keep their contributions to nine minutes, we will be able to call everybody.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I congratulate the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) on securing the debate. Although I would not want to go into a dark alley with him to discuss party funding, I would be on the barricades with him on this issue. Often, when I look at people, I wonder who would be first to lead the resistance if there ever was, God forbid, a dictatorship, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would be right there. The work he has done over a number of years, which I watched before I was elected to the House, will be remembered by the Jewish community.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer). I know his constituency well because I grew up there. His community is very lucky that he is its representative and specialises in these issues.
As I have always seen it, there are three kinds of anti-Semitism. First, there is the low-level, under-the-carpet discrimination. It is the kind of anti-Semitism that
happens at a dinner party. A person walks outside the room, and someone says, "Let's give him a ham sandwich." Everyone titters, but when he goes back into the room he does not know that anything has happened. That dinner-party anti-Semitism also manifests itself in harsh criticism of Israel, which is out of all proportion to the criticism of any other country. Given that it is out of proportion, I would argue that it is sometimes used as a fig leaf by people who just do not like Jews.
Secondly, there is skinhead anti-Semitism: thugs smashing up graveyards, violence and intimidation, and the criminal damage done to synagogues around the world. Dare I say it, that is the easiest kind of anti-Semitism to deal with because we at least know what we are dealing with.
Today, however, the most worrying, pernicious, dogmatic and dangerous form of anti-Semitism comes from extreme Islamism. Yes, it is true that extreme Islamists do not just attack Jews-the massacre of 21 Christians in Egypt on new year's day is a tragic reminder of that. As we know, the free world faces a major assault on its values. Whether we are talking about Baha'is in Iran, Christians in Egypt or Jews in Israel and elsewhere in the world, the extreme Islamists believe that theirs is the only view that deserves to survive. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 and 7/7 were not just attacks on Britain and America, but were explicitly designed as an assault on western civilisation itself.
Islamism, by the way, should never be confused with Islam. Islam is a religion, practised by millions of citizens. Islamism, however, is a revolutionary political doctrine, supported by a small minority, whose aim is to overthrow democratic Government and replace it with religious autocracy.
I raised the threat posed by Iranian President Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitism in early-day motion 1145. Today, however, I want to focus on the problem of extreme Islamism in the UK. I want to make four key points. First, numerous factions and splinter groups, such as Hizb ut-Tahrir, operate in the UK. They call for the eradication of Israel, but they have not been banned. Moderate Muslims, Jews, Christians and members of all parties have called for the Government to proscribe Hizb ut-Tahrir because its website, leaders and literature frequently promote racism and anti-Semitism, call suicide bombers "martyrs" and urge all Muslims to kill Jewish people. Hizb ut-Tahrir is an extremely destructive group, which should no longer be appeased.
Secondly, there is extremism in universities. Late last year MI5 identified as many as 39 university campuses as vulnerable to violent extremism. The London School of Economics, as has been mentioned, has increasingly serious problems not just with students but with its professional staff. The involvement, for example, of Dr John Chalcraft and Professor Martha Mundy with its middle east centre is worrying. Those two senior LSE academics are extreme advocates of the movement to boycott Israel on the international stage. As the organisation Student Rights has shown, they have a track record of intense hostility to Israel and the Jewish people. As with many so-called study centres for the middle east, much of the funding flows from mysterious trusts and foundations in Islamic dictatorships, whose accounts are not transparent. A further example is the LSE's Palestine society, which is soon to host a visit by Ahron Cohen, a leading
anti-Zionist, whose conference expenses are usually paid for by the Iranian Foreign Ministry, and who stated in The Sunday Times that the Jews who died in the holocaust deserved it. Those people do not help the debate. They do not promote peace, and the LSE has a duty to explain why it allows those things to continue.
Thirdly, there is radicalisation in some mosques. I recently had the privilege of going to Kurdistan with the all-party group on the Kurdistan region in Iraq. The Prime Minister of Kurdistan told me that he had been to England and visited a mosque in the north; he said that if he had seen that kind of mosque in Kurdistan he would have shut it down overnight, because of its aggressive and intolerant teachings. Kurdistan is very progressive, and supportive of the Jewish community. We all know the reports that Richard Reid and Jermaine Lindsay who triggered the King's Cross explosion on 7/7 spent considerable time together at Brixton mosque in south London.
Finally, and most alarmingly, there is a creeping culture of appeasement in Whitehall. Whether that is a push to create artificial Muslim organisations, such as the Muslim Council of Britain, or civil servants going out of their way to appease radical Islamists, it is a major worry.
Hon. Members may recall that last autumn the director general of the office for security and counter-terrorism, Mr Charles Farr, was reported as pledging his support for the extremist Mr Zakir Naik to enter the country. That was in complete opposition to the views of the Home Secretary, who barred Mr Naik from entering the UK. We also hear in the news today that Ken Livingstone is now an employee of the Iranian Government's English propaganda channel, Press TV.
What are the effects of extremist culture in the UK? One consequence, which I raised with the Prime Minister, is that Britain has become an exporter of terrorism. From Afghanistan to Sweden to Israel, extreme Islamists from the UK have been travelling abroad with the intention of causing mayhem and murder. Closer to home, we all remember the attack on the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms). In the Jewish community there is a constant climate of fear. There are growing reports, as has been mentioned, of Jewish students being spat at and beaten up, and having their rooms vandalised, and the incidence of recorded anti-Semitic events on university campuses has spiked in recent years. The CST recorded nearly 1,000 major anti-Semitic incidents in 2009-the highest annual total since it began records in 1984. Guards are now posted outside many synagogues and Jewish schools. Hate literature and terrorist propaganda is now sold openly in many book stalls or religious outlets.
Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con):
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend as a friend who many years before coming to the House helped me to gain an understanding of the impact of anti-Semitism within
the Jewish community. Does he agree that there is no room for complacency in our universities and schools? That was brought home to me this week when my son came home feeling concerned, and unable to understand why his locker had been etched with the words "Jew" and "gay". That is a horrible but timely reminder, as we approach Holocaust memorial day, of the deep and evil hatred and intolerance at the root of the holocaust, which we must counter today as we have in the past.
Robert Halfon: My hon. Friend, who spent many a Friday night at my house in our childhood, and who knows a lot about the Jewish community, is exactly right. He has been a great friend of the Jewish community for many years. What happened to his son is a tragic symbol of an incident that happens all too often. I should mention that the kind of people concerned do not just attack Jews; they then move on to the next thing. It is noteworthy that the words written were "Jew" and also "gay".
The usual excuse for what is happening is the state of Israel, or the Iraq war. That is the reason that we are given for Islamism. However, I believe that that worldwide movement of extreme intolerance uses Israel and Gaza as an excuse for anti-Semitism and violence. Of course there are difficulties between the Israelis and Palestinians, but that is not the root cause of extremism. The reality is that even if the Gaza conflict were to be solved tomorrow, with Israel retreating mostly to 1967 borders, the Roshonara Choudhrys of this world would still exist. The objective of extreme Islamists is not a peaceful resolution to the middle east situation, but jihad; it is an ideology that believes that Israel and, by extension, Jews should be wiped off the map. President Ahmadinejad, as I have mentioned, makes no local distinction between the west bank and Tel Aviv. It is the catch-all Zionist entity that must be destroyed. When Ehud Barak offered almost everything to Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000, far from discouraging Islamists, it emboldened them. Extreme Islamism exists because of dogma and ideology, not policy goals. Our public institutions must stop appeasing that threat.
There are now security guards outside many synagogues and Jewish schools for 24 hours a day. The Education Secretary has had to spend £2 million to fund tighter security measures for Jewish faith schools in the state sector. Is it tolerable in a free democracy that a religious minority is under threat? I remember being in a London synagogue-not as recently as I should have been-where the rabbi said to the congregation "Please do not congregate outside, because of the terrorist threat." That was in London. I thought, "How can it be that you go to synagogue and cannot walk outside, like any normal religious faith, and chat outside with family and friends?" When I think about it, it makes me weep. I thought it was wrong of the rabbi to say it, despite the security threat, because we do not live in 1930s Germany. We live, proudly, in the Britain of 2011.
I welcome the Government's response to the all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism, which contained many strong and positive measures, such as the £2 million from the Education Secretary to protect Jewish faith schools in the state sector, and £750,000 to educate British students about the holocaust, through organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust. I did not agree with the previous Prime Minister on much, but I very much
respect the work that the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) did in that respect. However, at the same time there is quite a lot of Sir Humphrey-or perhaps in this case Sir Humphrey Cohen-with draft scoping documents, diagnostic toolkits, cross-Government working groups, focus polls of staff and students about their experiences of higher education, self-audit performance schemes, conferences, and stakeholder engagement forums. I am sure that some of that will be valuable, but the original report of the all-party inquiry put a heavy emphasis on the problems on university campuses, and that is where the Government need to take bold action.
"Waffling on about free speech and forming committees is no way to deal with nascent terrorists".
"Last weekend, it was revealed that British students have been visiting Somalia to fight for the extremist group Al-Shabab...while the Sunday Telegraph reported that Yayha Ibrahim, an extremist preacher barred from America and Australia, was planning a speaking tour of British campuses. This just weeks after underpants bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, an alumnus of University College London, attempted to murder 289 people on a Christmas Day flight to Detroit."
The writing is on the wall. The problem is clear. If we delay action, we will allow it to continue. The poison of extreme Islamism is not something that can be talked into submission or bubble-wrapped in bureaucracy. Its imams are preaching the most ideological and embittered form of anti-Semitism in the UK. The fundamental right of Israel to exist and of Jewish families to live in peace should not be a matter for debate.
The Education Secretary has often said that a democracy can be judged by how a country treats its Jews, and I completely agree with him. When it comes to extremism and anti-Semitism, the time for words and appeasement is over. Extreme Islamic groups must be proscribed. Hate preachers must be prevented from coming to the UK by a zero-tolerance policy. The Charity Commission needs to improve the monitoring of these extreme groups' finances, as many have charitable fronts. Finally, there must be a financial penalty for university campuses that do not put their house in order.
Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree) (Lab/Co-op): In trying to tackle race hate on campus, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that more needs to be done to prevent blame shifting from university authorities to the student unions?
Finally, as Golda Meir once said, pessimism is a luxury that no Jew can allow himself or herself. I do not want to be pessimistic, but I am very worried. I hope that the Government will respond with real action to some of the suggestions that I and other hon. Members have made today.
Mr Denis MacShane (Rotherham) (Lab):
I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon). I found nothing in his speech that I do not completely
applaud. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), whose energetic, coherent and sterling work on anti-Semitism has been a model for parliamentarians around the world. I am grateful to him for bestowing on me the honour of chairing an inquiry into anti-Semitism.
Two or three months ago, my hon. Friend attended the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism in Canada. What reward did Canada receive for hosting that conference? On Sunday, there were horrible, brutal anti-Semitic attacks on four schools and a synagogue in Montreal. They took place in the Montreal riding-constituency-of Mount Royal where my good friend, Irwin Cotler, the former Justice Minister in the last Liberal Government of Canada, is the MP.
Professor Cotler is one of the world's greatest human rights advocates and, as a Minister, he dedicated himself not only to combating anti-Jewish hatred but to wider human rights questions, including the defence of human rights activists in Palestine and Egypt as well as aboriginal Canadians. There is a move in Canada and elsewhere to nominate him for the Nobel peace prize, and I can think of no worthier recipient.
Two years ago, I had the pleasure of working with Professor Cotler in Geneva at the Durban 2 conference. The first Durban conference degenerated into an anti-Semitic hate fest. It had been called to combat racism around the world, but the only country that was denounced as racist was-surprise, surprise-Israel. Although I was a Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister at the time, I was not responsible for that area. It was to Britain's shame that we did not withdraw our delegation.
At Durban 2, our ambassador walked out as Iran's President Ahmadinejad launched into one of his traditional appeals to Jewish hate. I hope that the Minister will assure the House that in the preparations for Durban 3, the UK will take the strongest position to ensure that the anti-Semitic elements in international political affairs will be kept in their ugly holocaust-denying and Israel-hating box and that the issues around the racism and Christianophobia that is endemic in many middle east countries get a full airing.
I must say to you Ms Clark and to my colleagues on the Front Benches that I have a parents' evening at my daughter's school, so I may not be here for the winding up speeches, but believe me I will read Hansard very carefully.
I am concentrating on international affairs, because the two previous hon. Members spoke very adequately about what is happening in the UK and at the Department for Communities and Local Government. Before this debate, I checked on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website under the heading "anti-Semitism" and found that all the references were to the previous Government and the initiatives that were undertaken-I must stress that they were undertaken on an all-party basis-after the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism made its report three years ago. Many of the recommendations are still relevant today.
We have far too many examples of hate preachers. The woman who attacked my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) was inspired by one such hate preacher. So, too, was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who studied at University College London.
There he helped to organise a day of hate with leading anti-Jewish Islamists invited to take part. As previous speakers have said, we must ask why our vice-chancellors are so unwilling to take robust, clear action on this issue. On the whole, our campuses are fascist-free. The British National party is not welcome. Its core ideology is rooted in anti-Semitism, and its leader, Nick Griffin, has written widely to promote classic anti-Jewish themes, such as holocaust denial and accusations about secret Jewish cabals and lobbies wielding undue influence. Although we are happy to keep the BNP at bay, vice-chancellors do not take similar robust action against Islamist ideologues. I stress the word "Islamist" in its ideological sense as a political world view and not as the religion, Islam, which has the same rights as other religions and also the same obligation to be questioned and criticised by those who are concerned about the rise of religious politics across the world.
We also asked for greater involvement by the Foreign Office in monitoring the rise of political anti-Semitism in Europe and on the internet. Today, Baroness Warsi is to make remarks about attacks on Muslims with a reference to anti-Muslim remarks now leaving the dinner table and going public. In April, she told people in south Yorkshire that she did not want to see more Muslim MPs or Muslim Lords because
"Muslims that go to Parliament don't have 'asool'."
Asool is Urdu for "morals" or "principles". I am glad that she is now defending the Muslim community against unfair attacks. I hope she also tells her audience that anti-Semitism has never been returned to dinner table coarseness and that it is out there as public discourse. We have heard the casual remarks, such as the one by the European Commissioner, Karel de Gucht, who said that it is impossible to have a conversation with a Jew about Israel. The German central banker, Thilo Sarrazin, said that Jews have different genes. If those comments were said in the 1930s, we would see them as a historical reminder of the anti-Semitism of that period. However, those remarks were made in the past 12 months by mainstream, senior, responsible, moderate Social Democratic, Liberal and Conservative Europeans.
Mrs Ellman: Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm that anti-Semitism is shown in a wide variety of ways? Will he join me in condemning a statement made by a former Member of this House, who is chair of Labour Friends of Palestine? His statement was made at a meeting in this House. It was reported in the media and not denied. He said that there are
"long tentacles of Israel in this country who are funding election campaigns and putting money in the British political system for their own ends."
Mr MacShane: That is an intolerable remark, as I told the former Member himself. It is perfectly possible to criticise Israel and to defend the cause of the Palestinian people without making a 1930s-style allegation. We can see in Europe the rise of political anti-Semitism. We have many open anti-Semites in the European Parliament, supported by the two Nazi MEPs from Great Britain.
In Hungary this week, we have had the surreal spectacle of a court allowing a convicted Nazi war criminal, Sandor Kapiro, to sue for defamation Dr Efraim Zuroff,
the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Israel office. I know that Hungary is not the home of Kafka but this is Kafkaesque, as the Hungarian authorities are allowing a Nazi war criminal to persecute a Jew whose job is to expose and bring to justice the last remnants of the perpetrators of the holocaust.
Today the Prime Minister is hosting a number of right-wing parties from Baltic states at Downing street. I welcome the outreach to Baltic and Nordic states, but I hope that he is telling their leaders that the attempts by many of the conservative right-wing parties in the Nordic countries in particular and in the Baltic states to make an equivalence between the holocaust and the crimes of communism-the so-called "double genocide" campaign-is odious and offensive, and it is condemned by all democratic parties in Europe. Lord Janner of Braunstone has written eloquently about this issue.
Given my own family background, I certainly do not need any lessons on the evils of communism and Stalinism in eastern Europe. However, this downplaying and devaluation of the holocaust is a cold-blooded tactic by politicians, some of whose pre-war ancestors were openly anti-Semitic. The European right in many of the Baltic states is nationalistic and populist. Latvian right wingers celebrate the Waffen SS. Mr Michal Kaminski, the Polish nationalist politician, says that he will apologise for what happened to Jews on Polish soil when Jews apologise to Poland for what they did during world war two. Frankly, that is unacceptable language. There is very great concern in the Jewish community-tiny as it is-in those countries about this growing attempt to airbrush out of history the crimes against Jews between 1941 and 1945.
"For Jews in Europe during the Holocaust there was little complication. The truth was and still remains that the Soviet and Allied forces were the heroes and that Hitler's Nazis were the perpetrators and the war criminals. Any attempt to pervert this history is an attack on the memory of the hundreds of thousands of Jews from that region who were murdered including many of my own family, who were in Lithuania and Latvia."
Lord Janner is right. Just as the Islamists seek to devalue the holocaust as part of their ideological assault on the right of Israel to exist, so too elements of the ultra-nationalist and populist right in Baltic, Nordic and eastern European countries seek to devalue the holocaust as a unique event to justify their own anti-Jewish ideology of the past and, in some cases, of the present.
The British ambassador in Lithuania, along with other ambassadors, signed a letter to the Lithuanian Government protesting about the "double genocide" phenomenon. I asked the Foreign Office to publish that letter but to my surprise it has not, praying in aid to pre-WikiLeaks rules about secrecy and confidentiality. I think that it would do the Foreign Office no harm at all and in fact every credit to publish that letter because I know Foreign Office officials and other Government officials, and they want to work hard to promote the matter as solidly as possible.
I will stop shortly to allow others to speak. Very briefly, however, I want to highlight some sentences from the European Union's formal definition of anti-Semitism. It is an important international document that tries to explain what anti-Semitism is and it was agreed after many debates and discussions a few years
ago by all parts of the European Community. It says, among other things, that it is anti-Semitic to make
"mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective-such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions."
"Denying the fact, scope, mechanisms (e.g. gas chambers) or intentionality of the genocide of the Jewish people at the hands of National Socialist Germany and its supporters and accomplices during World War II (the Holocaust)...Accusing the Jews as a people, or Israel as a state, of inventing or exaggerating the Holocaust. Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations...Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination...by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour. Applying double standards by requiring of it a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation...Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis."
I will sit down shortly, but I could bring to the House cartoons and articles in our main newspapers-our liberal newspapers, our left newspapers and our conservative newspapers-that precisely draw that moral equivalence between Israel and Nazism, which attempt to typecast all Jews as supporters of Israel and thus having a double loyalty.
The battle is intensifying; it is now about the demonisation and criminalisation of Israel. I salute my friend Ian McEwan for going to Israel to accept a literary prize. I want to see more academic, journalistic and political exchange with Israel, and indeed with its neighbouring states and the people of Palestine and their leaders. I had hoped that the marvellous work of the all-party group against anti-Semitism would somehow come to an end. Today I find that its work is more necessary than ever.
Katy Clark (in the Chair): I remind colleagues that a considerable number of Members have asked to speak. Unless contributions to the debate are significantly shorter, I will not be able to call quite a number of colleagues.
I thank and pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) and my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) for securing the debate. I particularly pay tribute to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw for everything that he does in his role as chairman of the all-party group against anti-Semitism.
A year ago in the corresponding debate to this one, I spoke about a recent visit that I had made thanks to that wonderful organisation, the Holocaust Educational Trust; I congratulate Karen Pollock of the trust on all the work that it does-long may it continue. I went with a group of students from my constituency to Auschwitz. Not long before that I had visited Theresienstadt, another of the concentration camps. When I was at Auschwitz, I shed tears at what I saw.
Little did I know then what I was in store for a few months later and today I will talk through what I personally experienced during the last general election. It was not something that I expected and I sincerely hope that the experience is not repeated for me, or any other candidate or Member of the House.
After a day of campaigning, I was walking back to my car when I was approached by two young gentlemen-I use the word "gentlemen" in its loosest sense-who said to me that I was a "Jewish pig" and "should die". I have always been someone who has tended to use humour whenever I am particularly upset, so I said to them, "I'll put you down as a possible. You haven't quite made your mind up about how you are voting". They were as shocked by that comment as I was to hear what was coming out of my mouth rather than running away and indeed they went. The significance of that incident was that they hated me because I was a Jew.
A fair number of my constituents-nearly a third-are Jewish. I also have Muslims, Christians and members of every other religion in my constituency and we live in harmony. It was not the first occasion that I have ever experienced anti-Semitism, but it was one of the first major occasions.
The anti-Semitism did not stop there; it got worse. A leaflet went out about me, saying that I was an enemy of Islam. I will briefly relay what else was said in that leaflet, which is on the internet if anyone wants to see it. People just need to google my name and the leaflet about me will come up. It said that I was an enemy of Islam because I had said in a speech-in fact, here in Westminster Hall-that President Ahmadinejad was a mad man. I stand by that comment. The leaflet said that I had said that no sane-minded person wanted war and that both Jew and Arab should live in peace but Israel had to be recognised as a country, with secure boundaries. Again, I stand by that comment. The leaflet said that I had said that Britain should buy weapons from Israel. I did not say that. Various other accusations were made in the leaflet, finishing with the claim that I was an enemy of Islam. Out of interest, the picture that was used on the leaflet seems to have me wearing a skull cap. Obviously, I wear a skull cap. I perhaps visit the synagogue a little more often than my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), but not as often as one should. None the less, that was the picture used, obviously showing that I am Jewish.
Also, I was the recipient of an e-mail saying that I should be stoned to death. I said that I could possibly accept it if someone did not elect me because they did not like me, but stoning me to death was a little on the extreme side. However, I am not ashamed to tell hon. Members that one night at home I sat down and cried. I was really upset by everything that had happened during the election campaign, which was not right. It is legitimate for someone to want to criticise someone else's party or politics, but not their religion. I am proud to be a Member of Parliament, British and Jewish, and there is no conflict there whatsoever.
I want to give thanks to some people who supported me through that difficult period, in particular Peter Terry, the then Metropolitan police borough commander for my area, for the police protection that he provided. I had to have police officers with me at the hustings, and
police patrols and a panic button at my house, which was not fair on my family, who did not stand for public office. I also want to thank the Community Security Trust, the Board of Deputies, Conservative Friends of Israel and, indeed, Labour Friends of Israel, for their phone calls and support when I was particularly down.
Do I know who was behind all this? I have some shrewd ideas, but I would never make accusations that I cannot prove. They, however, know full well who they are. In the name of politics, I can only say that this place and its politics, of whatever party, is, and deserves, better than that. I ask the Minister to take to the Government my view that we need to go a little further than the hon. Member for Bassetlaw has suggested. We need firm laws, covering every candidate in every seat, about what is acceptable and what is unacceptable behaviour towards others, whether they be Jews, Muslims or Christians.
I also want to thank the local synagogues, and the national Union of Jewish Students who, at a difficult time, gave me a great deal of support in words-I am not talking about anything to do with elections. I pay tribute to the British League of Muslims and the Hainault and Chigwell Muslims, who put up "Vote Lee Scott" banners and went out campaigning for me. As the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) has rightly said, that has nothing to do with Islam; it is to do with far right-wing people of any religion trying to persecute others.
I return to the question of what we can do about this. One of the most important things that we can do is education. The work of the Holocaust Educational Trust is vital, but this goes beyond that, because there is the massive problem of what young people hear and see on the internet. Forgive me, Ms Clark, because I am going to break with parliamentary tradition and call someone from another party, "my hon. Friend". I have done this before and have got into trouble, as I will again. I am talking about the hon. Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), and her work. She is far braver than me in taking a stand, because a third of my constituents are Jewish. A website has gone up with pictures of the hon. Lady and, in fact, of virtually everyone in this room, and it says that we are stooges of Israel, and vile people who should be destroyed. It has gone even further and put up pictures of MPs who are no longer even alive.
Mr Scott: I am happy to welcome the right hon. Gentleman as an honorary Jew, but there is no need for him to prove to us today whether he is one. I am sure that that would be ruled out of order by Ms Clark.
I finish by saying that there is a lot to be done. We have again seen the rise of anti-Semitism, but the one thing that we must be solid about is that we must not be bowed or change what we stand for-our beliefs and values. I have no doubt that, by staying united, we will defeat this, as we have done in the past. I also wish to give my apologies, as I have to leave the debate before it finishes to return to my constituency.
Mr Nigel Dodds (Belfast North) (DUP): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott). I am sure that the sympathy of all Members across the House goes out to him for what he had to experience during the general election campaign. As someone who has represented an inner-city Belfast seat for many years, both at local level in the Northern Ireland Assembly and here at Westminster, I can empathise with the personal security issues he has experienced. The business of police protection is all too familiar to many of us from Northern Ireland who have been the subject of various direct attacks and threats. I therefore fully sympathise with the hon. Gentleman, and heartily endorse his call for a more explicit Government response on the election campaigns. I also endorse what the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) said on that issue, and congratulate him and the other Members who secured this very important debate.
The hon. Member for Ilford North mentioned education, and I join those who have praised the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which is extremely important. This week, the opportunity has been afforded to Members in the House to sign the book of commitment, which honours those who perished during the holocaust and supports the sharing and safeguarding of untold stories so that we can learn from the experiences of survivors.
Like the hon. Member for Ilford North, I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau recently, as part of a group from Northern Ireland involved in a project entitled "The thin end of the wedge", run by the charity Forward Learning. I was greatly moved as I stood there with people from communities in Northern Ireland that have been ravaged by sectarianism, violence, indifference and hatred over the years. The project is designed to encourage community activists to get involved in what is a unique learning experience, and to positively tackle sectarianism, racism and anti-Semitism in Northern Ireland by learning from the past, including from this most extreme example of hatred against another people-the holocaust-on the very site of the worst atrocity that humanity has ever inflicted on a people.
The project, run by the tireless director and great worker, Frank Higgins, and by Drew Haire, who works with the charity, has been supported by the EU, and has received money from other sources as well. It was very moving for me to stand there with those folk, and very graphically see at first hand what racism and anti-Semitism can, and did, lead to. Education in schools and universities, and beyond that in communities, as exemplified by that project in Northern Ireland, is extremely important, and I heartily endorse the work that "The thin end of the wedge" does in my constituency, and in my community.
Before I deal with some wider issues, I want to say that in the United Kingdom we have not had the extremes of anti-Semitism that other countries have had. Nevertheless, it is there, and Members have referred to the role that this country now sadly plays as a hotbed of Islamist extremism. It unfortunately seems to attract an awful lot of that, and to export hatred and violence to a greater extent than other countries. In Northern Ireland, however, we have the unique experience of our troubled past and perhaps we have something to contribute. Organisations such as the British National party, which is trying to organise and recruit in Belfast in particular,
feed on the usual grievances and try to use them to engender support, and it has been excellent to see the reaction of communities in Belfast to those attempts. The BNP made a recent attempt outside one of our main football grounds to get support, organise people and get them to sign petitions, ostensibly about an issue with which most local people would agree. However, there was a strong reaction from the football supporters, the club, the local community and elected representatives across the board, and it was greatly appreciated by Jewish representatives and others in Belfast.
On the other hand, a number of organisations associated with the extreme left and Hamas have issued pro-Hamas propaganda. Again, people have pointed out, not least in the Northern Ireland Assembly, that the idea of twinning local schools through the Hamas Ministry of Education risks poisoning the minds of children in Northern Ireland. There is little chance that those children will learn any Jewish narratives or the truth about life under the Hamas regime for women, Christians, homosexuals and others.
I will be brief, as I know that others want to speak. On a more general application of the issues that we are discussing, as the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) said, Islamist propaganda and activity are the greatest threat today in terms of anti-Semitism. We know all about the far right, but there is almost a consensus that the far right is beyond the pale. However, Islamist propaganda and activities seem to be tolerated. People are careful not to say "Jew" or "Jewish" explicitly; instead, anti-Zionist or anti-Israel language and activities are substituted for what is effectively anti-Semitism.
Robert Halfon: The right hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point in his speech. One thing that has always astounded me is that, at demonstrations about the conflict in the middle east, people walk around in T-shirts that say, "We are all Hezbollah now". It is, whatever one's views about the conflict, a symptom that they are willing to associate themselves with extremism and fundamentalism.
Mr Dodds: That is absolutely right. The fact of the matter is that Hezbollah and Hamas are not just anti-Israel but exist explicitly to wipe out Israel completely and, by extension, Jews. People who associate themselves with that are making it clear that they are part of anti-Semitism. That needs to be said and exposed, but it is not said as clearly as it should be. Debates such as this are useful in highlighting that.
I reinforce the point that criticism of Israel, as the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane) said, is absolutely legitimate and perfectly acceptable. There are people within Israel and the Knesset who criticise Israeli policy and foreign policy all the time. What verges on anti-Semitism, though, is the disproportionate singling out of Israel for the sort of criticism that it gets, with no or disproportionately little reference to the faults, difficulties and problems of the other side. We have seen some examples recently. Unfortunately, some trade unionists from Northern Ireland went to the middle east and were vociferous when they came back in their condemnation of Israel in the most extreme terms. There was not a single reference to what Hamas was up to or what it stood for. When that was pointed out, it was of course said, "Oh, you
can't say anything against Israel, or you're labelled an anti-Semite." That is the accusation used against people who stand up against anti-Semitism.
Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): I am glad to take part in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) on introducing it and on all the work that he has done on the issue. He said that Parliament stands as one. This debate demonstrates, among other things, that we stand as one in our condemnation of anti-Semitism and our determination to root it out.
All forms of racial and religious prejudice and hatred are utterly deplorable. We see it in anti-Semitism and in the persecution of Christians in Pakistan, where a Minister was recently assassinated for daring to stand up for the rights of a Christian. We see it in anti-Islamic prejudice. But there is a clear line between anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim prejudices. They have a different character, for a reason that I will explain.
Of course, there is a perfectly genuine argument to be had about religious and political views that is entirely separate from prejudice and hatred. We should always be careful when trying to deal with prejudice and hatred that we do not undermine people's right to have genuine religious arguments about whether Islam or Christianity are sound religious beliefs, or political arguments about Israel. I speak as the chairman of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. There are clearly legitimate arguments to be had. If anyone is in any doubt about that, they should go to Israel and listen to the intensity of political debate in that vibrant democracy.
The problem that distinguishes anti-Semitism, although it might seem strange to say it, is that we as a nation and the western world rashly assumed for a while that we had dealt with it. We believed that we had slain the monster with the defeat of Nazism, and that we were dealing just with the dying kicks and last nervous reactions of a corpse. That was wrong. We must understand that anti-Semitism is a living and vibrant evil force that we must deal with.
Those who were victims of anti-Semitism in Soviet Russia or the darker reaches of European society knew full well even in those years that we had not slain the monster. Indeed, in many quarters of British society, high and low, even in the years immediately after the war, anti-Semitism reared its head or bubbled along just below the surface. Now we are obliged to make a new generation aware of anti-Semitism's horrific potential as we saw it in 20th-century Europe. That, of course, is what the Holocaust Educational Trust does wonderfully. I imagine that most people here have taken part in its visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau and seen the impact on young people. When one is there, one wishes only that all young people could see it to understand what it all means.
It is worth thinking for a moment about young people's attitudes. When anti-Semitism or a failure to appreciate its dangers arises among young people, it is worrying.
At its most basic, combating anti-Semitism is about respecting each other. It is interesting how young people's vocabulary has taken on the words "respect" and "disrespect" in ways that we in the older generation do not normally use them. But if those words are to be used, they must have meaning. A society in which mutual respect is a cherished value is a society with no room for anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is challenged when mutual respect exists. When someone sees people in their company of friends or peer group being treated with disrespect because of their racial background or religious beliefs, they will challenge it in a society where mutual respect is a primary value.
We must teach generation after generation the value and importance of mutual respect. That is a particular and difficult challenge for many Muslims and Muslim leaders, who already face a challenge in dealing with the possibility that extremists will be recruited from within their communities into terrorist acts. Much work is being done to deal with that, but the problem beyond it-given the urgency of preventing the recruitment of terrorists, it is understandable that this is not always comprehended-is that there are plenty of young people who are not recruited into terrorism and who have no time for the threat to society that terrorists pose with their bombing and slaughter, who still take on too easily the agenda propagated by extremists. Their methods may differ, but the extremist message can affect their attitude towards the Jewish community. The challenge, therefore, is bigger than that of stopping the recruitment of extremists from within the Muslim community, and it is an important task.
I referred earlier to the Holocaust Educational Trust, which is one of a number of bodies that I want to commend in the context of this debate. The trust's work is well known, but I think that people have become increasingly aware of the work of the Community Security Trust. It seems horrifying that that trust has had to become such an effective and valued organisation, simply protecting people in the Jewish community as they go about their daily lives-as they go to school, to the synagogue or to a Jewish community event. Many of us who attend events with the Jewish community have become familiar with the faces and the professions of those involved in the CST. They are a reassuring presence and are very necessary. I was struck by the earlier comments about how other communities are beginning to appreciate the value of CST's work and to learn things from it.
We should commend others and encourage them in their work as well, such as those who have fought for free speech in our universities, against those who seek, by ban or boycott, to deny a platform for speakers, usually on the grounds that they are associated in some way with Israel. It takes courage for a young student to make a stand and campaign against that on campus. We should commend and encourage those who have engaged in such campaigns.
One area upon which I am supremely unqualified to offer guidance is that of internet abuse and hate. I am unqualified because I make relatively little use of the various forms of social networking that are now available. My hon. Friend the Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) was asked a question about the subject this morning. He defined himself as a dinosaur and offered to have a word with the questioner afterwards to discover what it was about. We know,
however, what the topic under discussion is about. We have created the most open forum of debate that the world has ever seen. It is an international forum with unbelievably easy access, but poison is being injected into it in the form of direct attacks on and the identifying of individuals, general statements of hatred, and utterly false statements that are used to encourage people to form anti-Semitic and other prejudiced views.
We have to deal with those problems. We have been dealing with them, to some extent, through prosecutions, and it is good that that has been achieved. However, internet service providers will have to do a lot more to prevent the internet and social networking tools, which are of such immense value to so many people in the world, from becoming a source of terrible evil and a means by which evil is spread. I do not think that anyone who has any power to act in that field should escape from an obligation to do something about it. It is an obligation even on those who, unlike me, engage regularly with social networking. Sometimes, as in ordinary debate in any other forum, one has to challenge. When someone slips in a demonstrably false and prejudiced statement, it should not go unchallenged. Therefore, I encourage those with the means, the skills and the aptitude to participate fully in such things to pose those challenges.
One could produce many anecdotes and stories. Others in this debate have produced personal experiences of how anti-Semitism can rear its head. I do not propose to do that, because others have already done it today. I simply want us to remind ourselves that there is a continuum, which is why I intervened on the hon. Member for Bassetlaw. He was absolutely right to say that it devalues the understanding of the holocaust in Germany and, indeed, in the countries to which it was taken, such as the Baltic states, to say that what happened in Soviet Russia was the same. They were different things and involved different levels of persecution. One was mass slaughter and the other was denying people basic civil rights. Other people were being slaughtered in Soviet Russia but, in many cases, on different and rather random, horrific grounds in large numbers. The two phenomena were different.
When society allows what I have referred to as disrespect, when it allows prejudice to feature as part of its media and when it allows people to be discriminated against because of their religious belief or racial background, that is a very dangerous road. Some of us present have a direct link, through our parents in particular, to an understanding of how dreadful things were, and that knowledge must be passed to generation after generation.
Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): It is a pleasure to serve under you, Ms Clark, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann)-a long-time friend-on securing the debate. Many positive and interesting contributions have been made this afternoon, many of which I could not possibly emulate. The depth of wisdom and experience in the Chamber is so great that I found myself wondering why I was here. Then, when we heard the speech of our colleague and friend, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott), I realised why. He spoke very movingly and, to provide some solidarity, nobody should go through what he and his family went through during the general election.
I shall concentrate on the section on the media in the report produced a few years ago by the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism, chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw. The group's inquiry called on the media to have discussions on the impact of language and imagery in the current discourse on Judaism, anti-Zionism and Israel, and-while striking a balance on the independence of the media-to recognise that the way in which the news is reported has significant consequences on interaction between communities in Britain. Ministers in the previous Administration held a departmental conference on the issue. Many ideas were discussed, and the challenges and problems were recognised. I reiterate my hon. Friend's support for an early conference, and I know that the Minister will try to follow that up if possible.
I want to talk about specific examples of anti-Semitism in the media, particularly an ongoing problem with Fox News, which is also broadcast in the United Kingdom. I shall focus in particular on the show hosted by Glenn Beck, who has been broadcasting anti-Semitic messages for a number of months. Fox News is bound by all of Ofcom's broadcasting code, including the section entitled, "Due Impartiality and Due Accuracy and Undue Prominence of Views and Opinions". It has to have an EU licence to broadcast in the UK, and therefore has to adhere to the broadcasting code. However, I believe that the kind of content that I shall highlight would certainly not fall within the code's remit.
I have been made aware of recent comments by Glenn Beck on his show that should be of great concern to all of us who want to stand shoulder to shoulder with colleagues such as the hon. Member for Ilford North. Although the comments were broadcast primarily in the US, it cannot and must not be forgotten that the show is also aired daily, live on Sky TV, in the UK. Glenn Beck singled out Simon Greer, the chief executive officer and president of an organisation in the US called Jewish Funds for Justice, who made comments about "advancing the common good". Glenn Beck responded by saying that such comments
"are what led to the death camps in Germany",
"as a Jew, should know better."
Fox executives, including Fox News president, Roger Ailes, and the producer of Glenn Beck's television show, Joel Cheatwood, assured Jewish Funds for Justice and other community representatives that they understood their concerns, that
"ultimate sensitivity must be exercised when referencing the Holocaust",
After the note was sent, in November 2010, Glenn Beck broadcast a three-part programme on prominent Jewish philanthropist and holocaust survivor George Soros. The programme invoked disturbing language that bore a stark resemblance to the imagery and language used by extreme right-wing groups to demonise the Jewish community in the lead-up to world war two. Glenn Beck referred to George Soros as the "puppet master" and attacked him for having escaped the holocaust and for his pro-democracy work, which he compared to Nazism.
"a Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps."
That provoked enormous offence to the Jewish community in the United States. Thus far, Fox News has defended that Glenn Beck special. News Corporation has been silent on the matter. These are not isolated incidents of intolerance from Beck. Indeed, in response to some of this stuff, Jewish Funds for Justice compiled the 10 most shocking statements made by Beck in his show during 2010. The organisation recently undertook an action at News Corp's offices and presented a petition signed by more than 10,000 people that called on Rupert Murdoch to remove Glenn Beck from the Fox News station because of his comments.
"God will wash this nation with blood if he has to."
"the common good first...leads to death camps."
"saw people into gas chambers."
"Charles Darwin is the father of the holocaust."
"To the day I die, I am going to be a progressive hunter."
I think that most colleagues would agree that those comments are highly alarming and absolutely inappropriate for broadcast on any show, let alone one that positions itself as a news show. Such comments would not fall within the parameters of the Ofcom code to ensure:
"Due Impartiality and Due Accuracy and Undue Prominence of Views and Opinions".
"first 18 months on Fox News, from early 2009 through the middle of this year,"-
"he and his guests invoked Hitler 147 times. Nazis, an additional 202 times. Fascism or fascists, 193 times. The Holocaust got 76 mentions, and Joseph Goebbels got 24."
I hope we all agree that that is a disturbing number of instances to raise those terms, in a way that is both irresponsible and does not provide any educational or
beneficial basis for doing so; for instance, labelling President Obama a "Nazi." The Holocaust Educational Trust has said:
"One of the best ways to combat anti-semitism and prejudice of all kinds is to encourage tolerance and respect twinned with advocacy of engagement with civil society and the democratic process."
That type of journalism is dangerous and can have wide-ranging negative effects on society. The kind of material broadcast by Glenn Beck is not unique; a number of other "shock jocks" operate in the States. However, none has displayed intolerance on such a frequent and irresponsible scale as Glenn Beck. It is vital that that kind of "news" is not made or broadcast in the UK. However, the proposed acquisition of BSkyB by News Corp means that there is an increased threat of its becoming a reality.
Although the Ofcom code exists to prevent that kind of anti-Semitic language from being broadcast as news, there is still the danger of "foxification" in the UK. Professor Steven Barnett of the university of Westminster has recently argued that the laws that oversee broadcasting in the UK would prevent a recreation of Fox News. However, it is possible that there could be a shift in the centre of gravity, and that the situation in the UK will change.
Robert Halfon: Although I have not seen the Glenn Beck show, I have seen other parts of Fox News, which tend to be much fairer on extreme Islamism and on Israel than other news outlets. Would the hon. Gentleman acknowledge that, whatever Glenn Beck may or may not do, Fox News-and, indeed, the Murdoch newspapers-has a good record on this?
Mr Watson: People tell me that Fox News is positive about Israel but negative about Jews. It is possible for Glenn Beck to represent that negative angle of Fox News. The reason why I am so concerned is that Rupert Murdoch has claimed that Sky News would be much more popular if it were more like Fox News. I do not want that to become a reality in the United Kingdom.
"At the same time, Roger Ailes was interviewed by Tina Brown's Daily Beast about NPR's decision to fire one of its commentators, who also appears on Fox News. The commentator had said that, upon boarding a plane and seeing someone dressed in Muslim garb, he gets nervous. A silly comment but one that did not seem to warrant dismissal. Speaking of NPR officials, Ailes said: 'They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don't want any other point of view.'"
"My own view is [Fox] is out of control".
"I think Rupert Murdoch has lost control of it. I know from sources he's not happy with a lot that appears on it and I think he's lost over the Glenn Becks and the O'Reillys".
In October 2009, Waitrose became one of a number of UK firms to pull all advertising on Fox News in response to comments made about President Obama. It was reported just last week that the broadcast of Glenn Beck's show in the UK has run without any commercials for nearly 11 months in response to his incendiary comments. Such great concern has been caused by Beck that there is an ongoing campaign both in the UK and the US to stop Glenn Beck and deter companies from advertising during his show. I am pleased and extremely encouraged that companies in the UK feel strongly enough about the issue to withhold advertising. It demonstrates that the anti-Semitic and generally divisive, incendiary and prejudicial language that has been broadcast in the UK will not be tolerated in this country. However, it is important that these issues continue to be raised and that TV executives are challenged on such matters.
If Glenn Beck were here today I would say to him: "Glenn Beck, you are a bigot. You bring shame to your country, not because you lack balance, but because you are an unthinking buffoon. Rupert Murdoch tolerates you because you are his useful idiot. He uses you to get a foothold in the doors of the powerful. Like his phone-hacking journalists and his pugnacious leader-writers in Australia, you are expendable. Let us hope he disposes of your nasty brand of intolerance sooner rather than later."
It is Rupert and James Murdoch who should answer for bigots such as Glenn Beck and phone hackers such as Clive Goodman and Glen Mulcaire. They employ them. They promote them. They are responsible for them. It is time for thinking citizens in the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia to unite against the Murdochs' vicious brand of politics that masquerades as publishing.
Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con): Thank you for allowing me to speak in this important debate on anti-Semitism, Ms Clark. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) not only on initiating the debate, but on giving such a fine and thoughtful speech on the whole subject. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) on all his work, not only now but in the past and in the future, on this important subject.
I should start by mentioning the fact, also noted by the right hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), that my party chairman is today making a major speech-she may already have made it-on Islamophobia. We should not try to divorce this hatred of different people because of their different religions. One of the problems is that in this Chamber we are, largely, talking to ourselves. We are all committed to combating anti-Semitism, so we have to reach people who are anti-Semitic and who promote those views. We have to re-educate them and bring them back to the real world so that we can participate in a proper democracy, and so that people can celebrate their religion and background without fear.
Anti-Semitism is not new; it has been around for more than 2,000 years. It is grounded in ignorance and the fact that people look different, and they celebrate a religion that is different from other people's. Anti-Semitism is, therefore, bounded by ignorance and prejudice. We have difficulty in combating prejudice. Most people, I am afraid, are prejudiced in some shape or form, but we can make sure that we address that prejudice by ensuring that discrimination does not take place and by educating people to combat some of those natural prejudices.
I live next door to a synagogue. There is another synagogue some 200 yards up the road. My next-door neighbours on the other side are Muslims. Beyond them are Hindus, and across the road there are Catholics and people from other Christian religions in the space of a few hundred yards. We live in peace and harmony. We know that everyone should be allowed to celebrate their religion properly. I represent a constituency that has two major synagogues, and shares another on the border of the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr Offord). I salute the work that all of them do.
I grew up in north-west London with many members of the Jewish faith and, although I am not Jewish, I regard myself as an honorary Jew, with many Jewish friends-people I have grown up with. I trust that we will always live in peace and harmony.
We live, however, in a time when anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic attacks are on the increase. We have to combat that in all its shapes and forms. I salute the work the Community Security Trust does to make sure that people who go to a synagogue or a Jewish school can do so safely. I commend its work in gathering information on anti-Semitism and the attacks on the Jewish community, but is it not a sad indictment in this day and age, that in this country, which regards itself as free and fair, people have to have security at their places of religion or education? I congratulate the Government on providing the funding and on supporting the necessary security, but I condemn the fact that it is necessary. Anti-Semitism is one thing that we have to constantly guard against.
Before coming to this House, I was a councillor in the London borough of Brent. Two years ago, there was an attempted firebombing in a synagogue in Brondesbury. It led to a dramatic increase in tension among all communities. That is the sort of thing that emanates as soon as we allow anti-Semitic remarks and anti-Semitism to arise. People start to attack places of worship or educational facilities, and we must not allow it to go on. I commend the London declaration and the recent Ottawa protocol, because they set out the stall by which we can help to educate people to prevent anti-Semitism from gaining further root.
We must always remember the international dimension. Hon. Members have referred to the situation with the President of Iran and in other countries, and to people who seek to deny the holocaust, who seek to deny that anti-Semitism exists, and who promote the view that Israel and people of the Jewish faith should be eliminated from the face of the earth. We have to be constantly on our guard to prevent those people from gaining any semblance of ground.
There is nothing new in this. When I was at university we had what was probably the biggest meeting at Liverpool university for many years. There was an attempt by
some sections of the university to seek a ban on the then Israeli Prime Minister visiting this country. I am delighted to say that the attempts to put that proposal were roundly defeated by the broad mass of students. I commend the work done by the Union of Jewish Students across the country to ensure that there is free and fair debate in universities, but we constantly have to be on our guard. Parliamentarians and people from outside know that there are frequent attempts to boycott Israel and to boycott Israeli academics. Those attempts give rise to the facets of anti-Semitism that we seek to combat.
As is probably well known by most of my hon. Friends, I am a Tottenham Hotspur fanatic. I have a season ticket home and away. I did not realise why Tottenham Hotspur had so many attacks from fellow fans until I got my season ticket in the west stand at White Hart lane; the first time I went there was like going to shul on Sabbath. I have been to football grounds all over the country and combated attacks by opposition fans who routinely say, "Gas the Jews. Kill all the Jews. Hitler was right." To witness that at first hand is to realise why we must always be eternally vigilant against anti-Semitism. Next week, when we honour and commemorate the 6 million Jews who were killed by the Nazis, we must always remember that those racist, anti-Semitic remarks are the tip of the iceberg. We have to combat them wherever and whenever they are made.
Mr Dodds: The hon. Gentleman mentions the thin end of the wedge, referring, as it were, to the project in my constituency. On football, he mentioned Spurs in particular. I was struck the other day, on going to a premier league match here in London, by the fact that people supporting a rival club-although not in the club itself-were selling openly anti-Semitic and racist paraphernalia. It seems that such paraphernalia is on open sale and nothing is done about it. That is not an infrequent observation. I wonder why the authorities do not stamp down on that kind of thing, because, as the hon. Gentleman said, those small things add up-they matter.
Bob Blackman: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. There has to be more foresight in the clubs and the authorities that allow that type of memorabilia to be promulgated and, therefore, accepted in broader society. One problem is that many young people go to football matches, and their views and attitudes are formed by the people they mix with and what they hear and see. We must prevent them from having the view that that sort of attitude and behaviour is acceptable.
Growing prejudice is a problem we face in society. However, when there was an attack by the English Defence League on the central mosque in Harrow, it was important that the whole community came together. Not just Muslims, not just Christians but Jews, Hindus and everyone came together to say, "The English Defence League can pack up their banners and go home. The mixed and vibrant community does not want you. We will not tolerate you. We will not tolerate intolerance." The great thing about the society that I want to promote and see, is that when any part of the community is attacked, the community comes together to defend itself and does not allow intolerance to grow.
I end by borrowing a quote that sums up the debate so far: "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." We can no longer turn a blind eye; we must always be intolerant of intolerance. We must always combat the snide anti-Semitic remarks. I am well aware of what my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott) went through during the general election. In many ways, I was subjected to it as well, although I did not feel it personally in the way that he did. No one should have to go through that, whether they are an MP, a representative in public life, or just going about their law-abiding business. We have to send a strong message from this place that we will not allow it to continue; we will not allow these attacks to proliferate, and we will always defend people of all walks of life and all religions.
Mr Offord: I am pleased to join colleagues in contributing to this debate, though I feel sad that we need to. People who have not come to the debate obviously do not have Jewish constituents, or are not aware of the problems that some of our Jewish constituents face.
I was shocked during the general election to hear reports from some of the people who worked with me. The Labour party candidate had the same experience. One of my supporters went to a housing estate and someone shouted at him through a window, "Get back to the ghetto." That was presumably because he was wearing a yarmulke. I was shocked that people in my community could attack Jewish people in that way.
I was grateful to one of my constituents who gave me a yarmulke with my name in Hebrew and English on the top. I thought that was great; it was a very nice blue colour and I was happy to wear it, until someone said to me, "Wear it on the tube and go into central London." Once again, that shocked me because it brought home that my perception and experience of anti-Semitism are nothing compared to that of the Jewish people in my community.
I am pleased with the report from the Government on the progress made following the all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism. I am particularly pleased with some of the work around our schools, in my constituency and others, such as Finchley and Golders Green and, no doubt, in Harrow East, where schools have now been given money to provide security. My first question in Parliament was to the Secretary of State for Education about schools. He confirmed his view that no parent should feel unsafe about their child simply going to school each day. That is also my view.
The report talks about how anti-Semitism is different from other forms of racism. Modern anti-Semitism has, out of necessity, become more nuanced and subtle. Anti-Jewish prejudice is often focused on Israel. Jewish people are seen as natural supporters of Israel and, as such, Jewish people throughout the world are seen by some as legitimate targets. That is a concern.
We heard today from my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott). However, it is not just Jewish people who are subject to anti-Semitism. My hon. Friend
the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) said he has also been subjected to it. A useful illustration comes today from my local paper, the Hendon Times, where I have been attacked by someone who helped us in the general election campaign. I was always rather concerned about some of the views of this individual, but we are a broad church in the Conservative party. However, this individual started making anti-Semitic comments. Once I was elected, I would have no truck with any such individuals. I hear today through the local press that he has decided to join UKIP. UKIP is welcome to someone who makes anti-Semitic remarks, because he is certainly not welcome in the Conservative party.
I also want to talk about my community in Hendon. I have a large Jewish community that is subject to anti-Semitic comments. Of the 924 anti-Semitic incidents across the country, 164 were in Hendon, which is in the Barnet local authority area. Therefore, we do not suffer disproportionately more than other Jewish communities. However, we suffer 90% of the slurs, allegations and comments. The CST referred to that as "mission indirect". That also includes hate mail, anti-Semitic e-mails and abusive or threatening phone calls that my constituents still receive. That is in contrast to places such as Manchester, where anti-Semitic attacks consist of violence and vandalism. In some ways, that reassures me, but not entirely, while people continue to see problems in their daily lives.
I want to mention a couple of organisations. I am grateful to the Holocaust Educational Trust for the work it does. I have also visited Auschwitz and found it a very moving experience. I am also grateful to Danny Stone for the work he does for the all-party group. In my constituency there is an organisation called the Community Security Trust, which has already been mentioned. I pay particular tribute to Richard Benson and Carol Laser for their work, of which many people here are aware. I believe that they are part of the big society, showing the way to how local people can help each other. They provide protection not only for synagogues but for schools. They work with young people to help them protect themselves in our local community. Their collaboration with the Department for Education has been great with regard to providing school security.
That brings me back to the necessity of today's debate. I find it sad in this day and age that we have to have such a debate. However, I am glad about what has come out of the report: the Jewish community is not left alone to fight anti-Semitism. Many of us here today are ready to stand with it.
Alison Seabeck (Plymouth, Moor View) (Lab): This has been an extremely thought-provoking and, at times, emotional and hard-hitting debate. As Members have highlighted, it is also timely, as it links to Holocaust memorial week. I would like to reinforce the comments of the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), reminding colleagues that it is still possible to sign the book of commitment, which has been placed in the House. I would also like to support the comments of the hon. Member for Ilford North (Mr Scott) about the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust.
I congratulate the all-party group on anti-Semitism on securing the debate, under the guidance of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), and on
the work that they do in ensuring that I and other parliamentary colleagues can engage with the issue on a cross-party basis and draw down information from the reports produced.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw about the pending review to tackle hate crime on the internet and in the media. We also heard some strong comments from my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson). I hope that the Minister has taken note of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw on the role of the EU and EU directives. I am also interested to hear the Minister's thoughts on what he expects the forthcoming seminar to address and how he feels that it might be able to make progress building on the work started under the former Labour Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw stressed just how powerful cross-party consensus can be. We have been made aware of that in this Chamber, with hon. Members in every part calling each other hon. Friends. That is, genuinely, to be welcomed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw also drew attention to the importance of the need for better reporting of hate crime, specifically anti-Semitic crime, and to the progress being made in that respect, with the report from the Association of Chief Police Officers.
Hon. Members expressed concerns on the radicalisation of young people, which cuts across all faiths and political views. In 2009 I was a member of the Select Committee on Communities and Local Government, which looked into some of those issues as part of its inquiry into preventing extremism. Our findings made it clear that defining a single pathway to radicalisation is impossible, as is predicting which specific individuals will progress to overt extreme practices, including anti-Semitic behaviour.
The Select Committee was also critical of how the then Government generally kept referring back to the usual suspects, some of whom-outside their relations with Government-were not putting out materials. I think that that should have been tolerated. However, that is now a side point.
In the current economic climate of cuts, concern should be expressed about adequate funding and support for a range of groups in the localities, to ensure that advice is available to help to prevent alienation and to support community cohesion. We have heard that education is important, but some local authorities are struggling to continue to meet their commitments in that respect and are cutting their community cohesion budgets.
I would welcome the Minister's comments on how work previously carried out under the preventing violent extremism programme will be taken forward or amended by the new Government. Clearly, there is a direct relationship in that programme with anti-Semitic behaviour.
The Select Committee was clear that it was important for faith groups and their leaders to take the initiative and, where possible, to work in cross-faith groups to
encourage tolerance and acceptance and that there are strengths in diversity. Hon. Members highlighted some excellent work in the area, such as the strong example of the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), on the back of a serious incident.
Work needs to be done with young people in their communities. That is essential, because the alienation of young people from their parents and elders also causes radicalisation, providing evidence of some anti-Semitic behaviour and of a lot of the mindless behaviour described by the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon).
Members throughout the Chamber have referred to the role of universities, many of which have responded, to ensure that precautions such as speaker request forms or signed behaviour agreements are in place. However, as Members pointed out, a great lack of knowledge and, at times, of expertise and commitment remains in some areas, among some universities-student union and staff-side-in dealing with potential incidents, as well as in avoiding opportunities for unacceptable behaviour and radicalisation. However, I trust that vice-chancellors reading the text of the debate in Hansard will take note of the concerns expressed, in particular by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr MacShane), who is no longer in his place.
The Government, like the previous one, will want to continue a dialogue with the further and higher education sectors, to ensure that every care is taken to avoid the worst practices and experiences, some of which we have heard described today. We all look forward to the Minister's comments.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw also touched on Parliament leading by example and talked about the targeting of Jewish and pro-Zionist candidates in elections. Election material that is intimidatory, with inappropriate use of language, such as was evident in Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005 and in the dreadful examples given in today's debate, must be stopped and challenged. That point was made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Sir Alan Beith). We should never stand back, but always challenge. No candidate should have to face what the hon. Member for Ilford North faced.
The material and quotes described in the document on anti-Semitic and violent rhetoric by UK extremist groups are intolerable and should always be challenged. I hope that anti-Islamic material would also be subject to the same full force of the law. Other faiths, too, face unacceptable hate crimes, as we heard from the right hon. Member for Belfast North, who highlighted some excellent educational work in Northern Ireland.
We have had a full and rounded debate. Along with other colleagues, I welcome what the Home Secretary is doing this evening in further enhancing discussion around Islamophobia, because there are links. However, anti-Semitism has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the oldest prejudices-for want of a stronger word-in the western world. Although, generally, it has been driven out of mainstream cultural and political discourse, it remains and it is, sadly, accompanied by a host of other prejudices against a range of different groups, whether defined by religion, gender, race or sexuality. We have to work throughout communities and age
groups to drive out anti-Semitism and to encourage cohesion. It is not, therefore, simply an outcome of the Iraq war or recent history.
Remembering the unique, tragic and appalling history of anti-Semitism, in particular in the 20th century, is important, and it should serve as a lesson to us all-one we must certainly never forget. I hope that, in some small way, today's debate has contributed.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Andrew Stunell): I shall certainly leave plenty of time for Back-Bench speakers. Indeed, I appreciate the opportunity, as a Front Bencher, to sneak in and contribute to the debate.
It would not be right to go any further without giving praise and thanks to the all-party parliamentary group against anti-Semitism, in particular the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann). I welcomed the tone that he set for the debate, making it clear that anti-Semitism is a cause of deep concern, crossing party boundaries, and has prompted what I hope is the clear intention of the new Government to continue building on the foundations laid under the previous Administration and to carry forward the work commissioned by his all-party parliamentary group. I thank him for his support for my stewardship, which I fully understand is conditional upon future progress if, none the less, welcome for all that. The debate is an opportunity to demonstrate our strong and enduring commitment to tackling anti-Semitism, as a House and not just as a Government or as a set of political parties.
I will start by responding to some of the specific points raised by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, and to one or two other points. I will then set out what the Government propose to do, and provide feedback on the Government response to the report by the all-party group, which we published before Christmas.
The hon. Gentleman raised the issue of internet hate and, perhaps more generally, the consequences of the electronic world as it affects the print media. The Government response published in November drew attention to our work with newspaper editors and the Press Complaints Commission, which, it is fair to say, was not really conclusive. Nevertheless, a working group on online matters is run by the Press Complaints Commission. I assure hon. Members that I shall keep track of that and, where appropriate, provide a bit of impetus. It is appropriate for me to pass on the remarks made in this debate to my ministerial colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, to ensure that the points raised are not lost to them.
The hon. Gentleman, and others, spoke about the problems in higher education. That point was reinforced for me when I heard a speech by the Chief Rabbi who visited the Department for Communities and Local Government and spoke powerfully about the need to
tackle that issue. I share the hon. Gentleman's commendation of the Manchester university protocols-like him, I declare an ancient interest in that university. Work needs to be done, and I will say more about that in a few minutes.
There have been three powerful pleas to deal with election campaigning, and of course, all mainstream parties signed up to rules, guidelines, advice and codes before the last election. I think that reconsideration of recent events is appropriate. I do not want to introduce an element of controversy, but perhaps a recent court case has a bearing on the issue. I want to talk to the Electoral Commission about whether progress can be made, and draw on incidents that have been raised in this debate. If hon. Members have more relevant evidence that they feel should be considered, I invite them to make it available to the Electoral Commission.
The hon. Member for Bassetlaw referred to football, and the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) declared his undying love for Tottenham Hotspur-we all have our weaknesses, so I understand that. However, there is clearly something to be done in that area, and I was interested to hear the concern of the hon. Member for Bassetlaw, who said that he had not received an appropriate and timely response about his work from the Football Association. I will draw his remarks to the attention of my colleagues in DCMS and perhaps there will be some air time for that. We talk about the nudge theory these days-perhaps the matter just needs a bit of a nudge. A problem exists in relation to specific incidents, events and clubs, and it should be paid proper attention.
The final point made by the hon. Gentleman that I will mention relates to the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation. Subsequent to the election, the Prime Minister put on record the Government's intention to make a donation to that foundation. No announcement has been made about the timing or the size of the donation, but the words used by the Prime Minister were "a substantial contribution." I cannot take the matter further at the moment, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that the issue is on the agenda.
It may be possible to respond to all the points raised, but this is a Back-Bench debate, so some matters are probably best left on the record. The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr Offord) reported that the Community Security Trust headquarters is in his constituency. As he will know-I wrote to him to tell him-I visited the trust in the autumn and was extremely impressed by its work. I support the hon. Gentleman's view that the trust makes an important contribution to tackling community tension and plays a part in developing the big society.
The hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck) asked about the future of the Prevent Violent Extremism programme. She will know that Lord Carlile is carrying out a review on behalf of the Home Office, and that reports and policies are being developed. Announcements will be made in the near future, and I assure the hon. Lady that this Government are as concerned as any other Government have been to take whatever appropriate steps are needed to guarantee the security of all citizens in the country.
Sir Alan Beith:
I want to reinforce a point that I made earlier about the importance of actions taken to prevent terrorism and the finding of new recruits in the Muslim community. That issue should not blind us to the equal
importance-at least in the long term-of ensuring that young people who have no interest in getting involved in terrorism do not absorb an agenda from some radical preachers that is too hostile and prejudiced, even though they may resist the urge to get involved in terrorism.
Andrew Stunell: My right hon. Friend asks me to draw a fine line between having unpopular opinions and committing violent, unpopular and illegal acts. I do not want to get drawn too far into that debate, but the Government and the DCLG are developing their thinking on how to promote integration in our society and tackle the alienation of all groups, even those not necessarily connected to a religion or ethnic background. Unfortunately, there are plenty of alienated young people who do not fit either of those two stereotypical models. Ensuring that we promote the integration of all into society is an important Government objective.
Reference has been made to the cross-Government working group that was set up to tackle anti-Semitism, and I will report briefly on what the group has been doing and what it proposes to do. The group meets quarterly to monitor further progress on the commitments made by Departments to tackle anti-Semitism. That work can be seen in the Government's response document from last November, and the group ensures that those commitments are followed through. In the first instance, the working group focuses specifically on issues that are still cause for common concern. Anti-Semitism on the internet is top of that list, and we have undertaken to give regular progress reports to Parliament on that subject.
I had a meeting yesterday with the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who is the Minister with responsibility for crime prevention. We looked at how to ensure that issues of concern to the DCLG and the Home Office can be jointly taken forward, and we will do what we believe to be necessary in order to stimulate action.
Later this year there will be a second ministerial seminar to find ways of improving action and impact. It will involve colleagues from a number of Departments including the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the Crown Prosecution Service. There will be representatives from the Association of Chief Police Officers and the DCLG, as well as MPs, lawyers and departmental officials. The seminar will be led by the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey), who is the Minister with responsibility for communications. We are pushing forward on this. We are clear that we must find ways of tackling at both national and international level anti-Semitism on the internet.
I want to pick up the point about anti-Semitism on university campuses. First, although I am sure that it was implied in many of the remarks that were made, no one actually mentioned further education, and further education colleges and campuses-
Andrew Stunell: I apologise if I overlooked that reference. The point that the hon. Lady and I-I am sure-agree on is that, of course, what has been said about university campuses is important, but so too is what may be going on in other educational establishments.
The problem was first highlighted by the all-party group's inquiry in 2005, but progress has been harder to make on it than on some of the other issues that were raised. There are some examples of good practice, including the Manchester university code, but it is clear that that is not enough. There is a strong feeling that many individual universities and student unions have not taken these issues as seriously as they should have done; or perhaps it is not so much that they have failed to take them seriously, but that the high passions that are aroused, often by international events, have been allowed to spill over into completely unacceptable behaviour, which has not been challenged robustly and effectively. We believe that that must change.
Robert Halfon: I thank my hon. Friend for his thoughtful response, but does he not agree that the university problem is ever increasing? Will he consider taking up my suggestion that where there is extremism on campus and it is not dealt with properly by the university authorities, they should be penalised in some way, possibly financially?
Andrew Stunell: I do not think I want to get there yet. I was about to say that Universities UK has established an academic freedom working group. The aim of that group is to consider how universities can best protect academic freedom, freedom of speech, freedom on campus and freedom to study under the contemporary conditions of geo-political conflict, racial and religious tension and violent extremism. The Universities UK working group will include representatives from the FE sector, so it will be very wide ranging. When the report is published, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Universities and Science will respond with a ministerial statement, so we are setting store by that report and will certainly respond strongly to it. I can announce today that I am asking the cross-Government working party, which I referred to initially, to take up this issue alongside its work on anti-Semitism on the internet. Those will be the two focal points of that work.
The debate is particularly timely, with Holocaust memorial week being next week. As I have said, the Government have now published our response to the report of the all-party inquiry into anti-Semitism. We have backed that response up with facts and figures in a number of cases. As has been reported in the debate, £2 million has been allocated to pay for the security of Jewish schools in the state sector. On Monday, I shall visit North Cheshire Jewish primary school, which is in the constituency adjacent to mine. I know from my previous visits to the area that the security required there is a shock to all non-Jewish visitors, who expect a primary school to be a primary school, perhaps not with open access, but certainly with friendly, welcoming access rather than high fences and armed guards. There, in a quiet suburban neighbourhood, far away from any threat of upset or trouble, one would have thought, it has proved necessary to have such high levels of security. I think that the whole House acknowledges that it is right that Jewish faith schools should have assistance with the extra protection that they need.[Official Report, 27 January 2011, Vol. 522, c. 4MC.]
I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for his remarks about the security of schools and, indeed, synagogues, but will he comment on the other
issue that children face when they are going to school? Often, children attending Jewish schools are targeted on public transport and in going to those schools. We must take action to stop that happening, as well as making children safe when they get to school.
Andrew Stunell: The announcement about security at schools is the acute side of the treatment. We also need to deal with the chronic issues, which have rightly been drawn to the attention of the House during the debate. Part of that involves understanding and assessing the problems. We reported at the end of last year that agreement had been reached for all police forces to record anti-Semitic hate crimes, and the first official anti-Semitic hate crime statistics were published on 30 November last year.
As I have said, the Government are committed to hosting a seminar later this year to ensure continued progress on tackling anti-Semitism and all other forms of hate on the internet. We certainly understand the importance of tackling anti-Semitic discourse and we supported the publication of the report entitled "Playing the Nazi Card". We have also appointed Sir Andrew Burns as the UK envoy for post-holocaust issues. He has started work on looking at holocaust-era assets and developing an international tracing service.
We have made a public commitment to fund the Lessons from Auschwitz project for the coming financial year. We are committed to remembering the holocaust and have committed £750,000 in the form of a grant to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for the 2011 commemorations and related educational activities. We have committed £2 million to Faith in Action, a small grants programme to support local inter-faith activity. A large number of those projects have directly involved Jewish communities across the country. More broadly, we supported inter-faith week to the tune of £200,000 in 2010.
The Government take this issue seriously; the Department takes it seriously; and I personally, as the Minister, take it seriously. I look forward to working with other engaged hon. Members on both sides of the House in the coming year to make a reality of all our wishes on this very important topic.
Mike Freer (Finchley and Golders Green) (Con): I thank my hon. Friends and Opposition Members for attending the debate-the first Back-Bench debate on anti-Semitism. I may be new to Parliament, but I am not new to the issue, so I have followed the debate closely and have been impressed by many of the contributions by hon. Members.
The debate is particularly important, not just because the Government recently published a response to the all-party inquiry, the "Three Years on Progress Report", but because we are approaching Holocaust memorial week. Like many other hon. Members, I pay tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust for the work that it does with pupils, parliamentarians and, indeed, aspiring parliamentarians. I first went on the trip as a parliamentary candidate.
|Next Section||Index||Home Page|