A chance to reflect on my own struggles against anti-Semitism
This week I joined more than one hundred parliamentarians from here in the UK and across the world at the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combatting anti-Semitism’s international conference, hosted by the German Government in Berlin. I was privileged to be given the opportunity to join an international panel of elected representatives to address the conference on the achievements of the UK’s All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on anti-Semitism, to share our good practice and reflect on my personal experience of anti-Semitism.
When the APPG on anti-Semitism, chaired by the tenacious John Mann, was established in 2005, it filled me with great hope. I first experienced anti-Semitism as a university student and as a young person outside Parliament, I was pleased to see the issue being taken seriously at the heart of national political life. The first inquiry commissioned by the APPG produced 35 recommendations which the then Labour Government responded constructively to. This was followed by a number other inquiries and reports, involving more than 200 MPs, which have led to a series of important successes and changes both within Parliament and beyond.
These achievements have included the establishment of a unique Whitehall cross-Government Working Group on Antisemitism; an agreement reached for all police forces to record anti-Semitic hate crimes which led to the publication of the first official anti-Semitic hate crimes statistics and a funding agreement for the security needs of Jewish schools in the state system.
We saw a Crown Prosecution Service Review into the disparity between anti-Semitic incidents and convictions which resulted in training and a work programme being created; a Government-backed school-linking interfaith programme formed; Government funding was secured for research into modern discursive anti-Semitism and the role of a UK Government envoy for post-Holocaust issues was established. All of these achievements were thanks, in large part, to the persistent and tireless work of the APPG on anti-Semitism.
More recently, the work of the APPG has focused on new developments in the fight against anti-Semitism, including the use of online social media networks by those who wish to promulgate hate. This is a growing concern, incident figures indicate a 10-fold increase in online anti-Semitism over three years. This is an area that, unfortunately, I know a lot about. Having received thousands of anti-Semitic messages on Twitter, email and Facebook over the past couple of years, I understand the importance of modernising our response to battle against online racism.
Here, the work of the APPG leads the way. In 2013 we saw two ministerial conferences and international action plans on internet hate. The most recent inquiry from the APPG recommended further police resource, guidance for prosecutors, awareness raising about online reporting mechanisms and the exploration of the potential for prevention orders for cyber hate.
The progress that the APPG has secured in the past 10 years has been significant, but we can never be complacent. I and the other parliamentarians at the conference in Berlin were there because we understand there is much further to go. But it is not just individuals who can effect change – we must also look at the role our political parties can play. It is with great pride in what my own party has achieved throughout the generations that I know what we can achieve together is much greater than what individuals can achieve alone. Yet parties are also the places where serious damage can be done, where attitudes can be allowed to fester. Too many of us will be aware of elements from within our political groupings – from people whose values we are supposed to share – who harbour anti-Semitic and other racist sentiments. This must never be tolerated.
Strength in fighting anti-Semitism – along with all other forms of racism – comes not from the victims or likely targets but those who have nothing to gain and who stand united.
The struggle against prejudice must never be the responsibility of its victims. This is a strong message that the leadership of the APPG on antisemitism has shown here in the UK, as a fine example to the international community. Long may it continue.