Theresa Villiers took part in a very powerful debate on antisemitism in Parliament this week, which included moving contributions from MPs such as John Mann, Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth.
Theresa has a long track record of campaigning against antisemitism and is a strong supporter of the work of the Community Security Trust. She also attended the rally against antisemitism which took place in Parliament Square in March.
In her speech in Parliament, Theresa said “I congratulate the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann) on one of the most powerful speeches I have ever heard in this Chamber. I also congratulate other Members, most notably the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger). There is no doubt that the debate has been painful listening.
I remember growing up in north London and being taught in school about Anne Frank and the horrors of the holocaust. Although, regrettably, antisemitism still existed, there was an assumption that it was dying out—that it was steadily diminishing and that hopefully, one day in the not-too-distant future, it would be confined to history. Sadly, today’s debate illustrates that we are very far from achieving that goal. The view that I and my family and friends had back in those days was hopelessly naive.
As it has in the past, antisemitism has mutated into different forms and found different outlets. Yes, it lingers in the poisonous rantings of the extreme right, but there can be no doubt that it has been given a new lease of life by radical Islamism and the militant anti-Zionism of the radical left. It has been given a powerful new platform by social media.
I am a member of the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism and proud to be so. I helped to produce the APPG’s groundbreaking 2006 report, which led to far-reaching changes in how we tackle antisemitism in this country. For example, it led directly to every police force around the country committing to record antisemitic incidents separately and systematically. As we have heard today, the report concluded that Jewish students regularly faced harassment and intimidation on campus in a wholly unacceptable way. It is a matter of deep regret that that continues.
The report noted the presence of antisemitism online, but of course what was found in that 2006 assessment is dwarfed by the sheer scale of the antisemitic venom that is now on social media, which includes the wholly unacceptable abuse of Members of this House such as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree.
The report was also clear that criticism of the Government of Israel can and does become polluted by antisemitism. Such criticism is not, as people have pointed out, antisemitic in itself, but equating contemporary Israeli policy with the Nazis most certainly is. So, too, is holding Jewish people collectively responsible for the actions of the Government of Israel.
The journalist Stephen Pollard gave evidence to 2006 inquiry about his sense of shock when long-standing friends made casual remarks accusing Jewish people of responsibility for the actions of Israel and went on to express their intention to boycott British businesses that had Jewish managers. Mr Pollard told MPs:
“The story of the Jews has been the same for thousands of years: apparent assimilation, friendship and trust, all of which can disappear overnight. By what arrogant complacency did I assume that in my generation it could be different?”
That is a deeply bleak assessment, and we must ensure that it never comes to pass.
The 2006 report warned:
"It is increasingly the case that, because anger over Israel’s policies can provide a pretext, condemnation of antisemitism is often too slow and increasingly conditional.”
Twelve years on, that has proved to be a prescient statement. It is at the heart of the concern about the failure of the Labour leadership to stamp out antisemitism in its party. I found it shocking that the Board of Deputies of British Jews was so worried about antisemitism in the Labour party that it felt the need to organise a protest in Parliament Square. I found it deeply disturbing to hear Labour MPs describe the scale of the problem. Perhaps just as depressing, however, was the letter published on Facebook and backed by 2,000 Labour supporters which sought to defend the Leader of the Opposition from what it described as
“a very powerful special interest group mobilising its apparent… strength against you.”
Those 2,000 people resorted to an obvious antisemitic trope in their attempt to defend their leader from the allegation that he was not taking antisemitism seriously enough.
There can be no place for this in British politics. It is time to act; enough is enough."