U.K. Parliament Debates Anti-Semitism

parliament anti-semitism
Sajid Javid, U.K. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, at Downing Street in London last week. (Reuters/Simon Dawson)

The new session of Parliament got off to a moving start on Tuesday, as Jewish MPs were given standing ovations for passionate speeches describing their personal experiences in a debate about anti-Semitism.

The debate was called by Sajid Javid, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, as an opportunity for MPs to talk about anti-Semitism in a formal framework. Many of those speaking were Jewish MPs, who have frequently been the target of abuse and shared graphic examples of the extreme unpleasantness to which they have been subjected. Luciana Berger, MP for Liverpool, Wavertree and Ruth Smeeth, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, gave particularly powerful speeches, with MPs breaking the tradition of no applause in the House to show their support. John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw, and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism (APPGA), also recounted the horrific personal abuse that he and his family had experienced, as a non-Jew who stands strongly with the Jewish community as a public opponent of anti-Semitism.

Jewish MPs, who are completely non-practicing and have no connection with the community, also shared their stories. Dame Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking, said that she has never “practiced Jewish religious traditions” and continued by relating her family’s experiences in the Holocaust. She said that “I have never felt as nervous and frightened at being a Jew as I feel today. It feels as if my party has given permission for anti-Semitism to go unchallenged. Anti-Semitism is making me an outsider in my Labour party. To that I simply say, enough is enough.”

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn was present at the beginning and end of the debate, but left for a considerable period of time during the middle. He did not speak during the debate, which was probably a matter of parliamentary protocol, as PM Theresa May did not speak either. The debate was wound up by the Home Secretary Amber Rudd and the Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott.

Ms. Abbott, who is a close colleague of Mr. Corbyn, has frequently been the target of racist abuse. She spoke out strongly on the topic, saying, “For me, it has always been the case that racism includes anti-Semitism. Jew hatred is race hatred, and one anti-Semite in the Labour party is one too many.” Interestingly, she quoted Rabbi Herschel Gluck, OBE, president of Shomrim North London, as having said, “Minorities, and especially the Jewish community in Europe, are the weather vane of discontent and a wider feeling of insecurity in society.”

Ms. Abbott, speaking as the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, which covers part of the Stamford Hill kehillah, raised the issue of the rising level of hate crime and also the problems surrounding Ofsted inspections in chareidi schools.

A number of MPs, including the Home Secretary Amber Rudd, thanked the Community Security Trust for their work in protecting the Jewish community. Wes Streeting, MP for Ilford North, also paid tribute to the Board of Deputies, the democratically elected representative body of Anglo-Jewry, and the Jewish Leadership Council, an umbrella charity for Jewish organizations, saying that they “speak for the vast majority of British Jews.”

The debate was wound up by Amber Rudd, who described it as “extraordinary and important.” She called on Mr. Corbyn to address the issue of anti-Semitism in his party, saying, “The Labour party is a noble and honorable party, and it is absolutely wrong that this corner of anti-Semitism has been allowed to flourish. He has an obligation to take action. We expect nothing less.”