Today, we – the Home Affairs Select Committee, of which I am a member – have published our Report on Antisemitism in the UK, following our lengthy inquiry into the subject. We are a cross party committee made up of Conservative, Labour and SNP Members of the House of Commons representing different parts of the UK. Our report was agreed unanimously by all members. It does not make for pleasant reading. Here are some thoughts by way of an overview . . .
Our report paints a picture of rising antisemitism in the UK over the last few years. There was a 29% increase in police-recorded antisemitic hate crime in England & Wales and Northern Ireland between 2010 and 2015, compared with a 9% increase across all the hate crime categories. Undoubtedly, the increasing influence of social media in society has helped fuel the increase in antisemitism in our country. As the Chief Rabbi said in the oral evidence he gave to us:
“When, 20 years ago, Mr Smith said to Mrs Smith something abusive about the Jews, in their kitchen in Nottingham, only the two of them were aware of the comments. Today, when Mr Smith says the same thing, he just types it out on Twitter and I see it in the palm of my hand in a split second, as can anybody throughout the world. Looking at that message, in the palm of my hand – gosh, it really has an effect on me. It also encourages other people to likewise raise their ugly heads, come out into the open and do the same.”
As we say in our Report, the social media companies are simply not doing nearly enough to tackle this – they must devote more resources, employ more staff to identify hateful and abusive users, and remove foul material. It is ironic that the Committee’s own tweets on this inquiry have attracted antisemitic abuse – Twitter has not seemingly done anything proactive to address these tweets, an experience common to many.
When talking about antisemitism, I think it is very important to define what you understand to be antisemitism – it is extraordinary that the Labour Party’s Chakrabarti report failed to do this. Broadly speaking, our committee endorses the definition used by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which describes antisemitism thus:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
This IHRA wording is mainly based on the working definition of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC). Examples of antisemitism provided by the IHRA include:
– making 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;
– 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, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour;
– 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);
– drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; and
– applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
Although we broadly accept this definition, we propose additional clarification to ensure that freedom of speech is maintained in the context of discourse about Israel and Palestine, without allowing antisemitism to permeate in any debate. We say that the definition should be extended to include the following statements:
“It is not antisemitic to criticise the Government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.
“It is not antisemitic to hold the Israeli Government to higher standards than autocratic nations and dictatorships around the world, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli Government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.”
Of course, it was impossible for us to do this inquiry properly without looking at antisemitism in politics. The media coverage of our report may give the impression that antisemitism has only been a problem in the Labour Party because of recent events but, as our Report makes clear, that is not the case – all of the main political parties have had various controversies and problems with antisemitism in recent years. However, I am a Labour Party MP and activist – naturally, although I want to see all antisemitism stamped out, I have a particular concern that the Labour Party should live up to the principles we were founded to promote and not turn our back on them.
Clause IV of the Labour Party’s Constitution states that we work to create a society “where we live together freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.” It goes on to elaborate what this entails, stating clearly that this involves building a “just society” which promotes “equality of opportunity and delivers people from the tyranny of poverty, prejudice and the abuse of power”. From the evidence we have taken (you can read the transcripts in our report), any objective observer will conclude that the Labour Party has failed to deliver on all our principles in the way that it has handled recent incidents of antisemitism – we have to be big enough and honest enough to admit this.
Some have suggested that there is institutional antisemitism across the whole of the Labour Party – this is not a view I share, not least because I have not seen one incident of antisemitism in almost 20 years of activism within my local Labour Party in Lambeth. However, we would be putting our heads in the sand if we denied the existence of antisemitism amongst a minority in our wider Labour family – this is something our movement has a solemn duty to root out if we are to remain true to the principles we were founded to promote and protect.
For what it’s worth, in conducting this inquiry with Committee colleagues I have not shied away from robust questioning of witnesses giving evidence on Labour – I have treated cross examination on this issue just like any other. Inevitably I have been criticised for this but I have no regrets – it would have been cowardly to do otherwise because people’s right to freedom from hatred and prejudice is bigger than any one individual or party in my view. It is grossly insulting to suggest that those of us who recognise this – Labour Party members or otherwise – do so because of some desire to score political points either between political parties or within them.
But, in the end, this report is about much more than the Labour Party. It is about antisemitism in our society, the levels of which shame our country. We must all work together to rid our country of it wherever it appears.