Andrew Stunnell writes … The fight against antisemitism isn’t over yet

antisemitismThe findings of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, launched today, make very sober reading.

MPs and Lords from across the political spectrum, including Navnit Dholakia and me, have spent six months following last summer’s Israeli- Palestinian conflict in Gaza assessing the evidence of the hate and discrimination it has triggered directed at Jewish institutions and people across Europe, and making recommendations about how to tackle its upsurge here in the UK.

Our recommendations cover key areas including work to reassure the UK’s Jewish community, which from the evidence we have received appears to be in a considerable state of anxiety and discomfort. The fundamental safety and security of our British Jewish (and indeed any other minority) community is critically important. Non-Jewish readers probably don’t know that every Jewish school in England already has high security fencing and (unarmed) security guards, supported by the Government. Unfortunately we now think it is time to enhance and improve measures to safeguard synagogues and other Jewish institutions, too. And we want to see clearer guidance for police, prosecutors and judges to make sure our response to antisemitism is as strong as it can be.

Guards, CCTV and effective prosecutions are important but will not put an end to antisemitism. A key dilemma is the language used to debate the Israel-Palestine conflict. Free speech is a critical facet of our democracy –up to and including the ‘right to offend’. The last couple of months has tested that tragically. However, whilst we may use any language within the bounds of the law, that does not mean that we should. Too often in the summer and since, trivialisation of the Holocaust, accusations of a malign Jewish influence in our politics and allocation of Jews into ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ categories based on their views of Israeli policy have peppered the debate around Israel-Palestine. Whether knowingly or not, public figures have employed language that deeply wounded the Jewish community and in some cases lurched into antisemitism. So as liberals we have a shared responsibility to ensure our passion for and pursuit of justice and equality does not inadvertently isolate others. That absolutely means reining in antisemitic discourse and language.

In a sad irony the diaspora of both communities locked in the Israeli-Palestine conflict now find themselves demonised across Europe. It makes the importance of inter-communal dialogue during times of international stress even more important, and it was disappointing to learn that the conflict had served to disrupt existing interfaith activity. We need a national review of this work and a stronger local support network which I hope Liberal Democrat councillors will help to deliver.

But ‘Hitler’ and ‘Holocaust’ were in the top 35 words in use on Twitter last summer and there is an urgent need to tackle cyber hate, too. We recommend improved police resource and reporting mechanisms and the extension of prevention orders by the Courts beyond sexual offences to cyber hate. ‘Internet asbos’ could prevent the most determined offenders from repeatedly perpetrating acts of cyber hate.

This report points the way but politicians at the national and local level now need to take action and speak out against antisemitism. Remember, Liberal Democrats oppose all discrimination!

All comments on this post will be pre-moderated.

* Andrew Stunell is the Liberal Democrat MP for Hazel Grove, was a member of the all-party parliamentary inquiry into electoral conduct and is a former communities minister.

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30 Comments

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Feb '15 - 10:16am


    In a sad irony the diaspora of both communities locked in the Israeli-Palestine conflict now find themselves demonised across Europe.

    This is to suggest that all Jews are Israelis who have fled their country, and all Muslims are Palestinians who have fled their country.

    The former is perhaps an interpretation of Zionism, though usually we try to avoid making a direct link which suggests all Jews are Zionists. The latter is definitely wrong. The whipping up of naive Muslims to make out that the Gazans are the heroes of Islam and are the only people suffering from oppression in the Middle East, and it’s all about a Christians&Jews v. Muslims conflict is all feeding into the problems observed here . We should avoid language like this which stokes up the antagonism. It is becoming clear to me now that the poor Gazans are being used as a tool by “radical” (meaning “shallow and psychopathic”) Muslims, who want to see them suffer in order to help build up the conflict and division which is used to attract recruits to their cause. The Israelis are playing into their hands, but that’s the terrorist game, isn’t it? Do some provocative action, wait for the disproportional attacks back, make out yourself to be the defenders of the people against those attacks, push out the moderates on your side calling them “cowards” and “traitors” and the like, repeat. Repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat, enjoying the death and destruction and division and hatred it causes.

  • Thank you so much for raising this important issue. To blame Jewish people in this country for what is going on in Israel is as unjust as to blame Muslims in this country for the terrorism in the Middle East and beyond. Jewish people have always been fair game for subtle taunts somehow and I have detected casual antisemitic attitudes in many contexts. In this country, with the Church of England forming part of the ‘establishment,’ we should remember tat Jesus lived and died a Jew – and Christianity stands on the shoulders of Judaism . The sad truth is that some people need an ‘other’, a scapegoat, to hate and that is their weakness and nothing to do with Judaism at all.

  • Geoffrey Payne 9th Feb '15 - 12:46pm

    I agree with every word in this article. However I think the same principles should also be applied to Islam as well and I hope Andrew Stunnell will carry out a similar initiative on that as well.

  • Helen Dudden 9th Feb '15 - 6:16pm

    There is an urgent need to tackle antisemitism from wherever it comes from. It has been on the increase for sometime and has gone further with violent behavior in some areas.

    If we are to promote a healthy society without lawless behaviour any type of hate crime should be controlled.

  • Jonathan Davies 9th Feb '15 - 10:48pm

    Geoffrey – Britain’s Jewish Community agrees with you. The Board of Deputies’ ten commitments which it is asking Parliamentary candidates to support incudes:

    “Oppose all forms of hate crime, including Antisemitism, Islamophobia and other types of racism, promoting and enhancing community safety.”

  • Andrew Stunnell in this articles mentions how our government already funds various things such as security fences around Jewish schools.  Now there are calls for more such funding for community centres which cater for the approximately 300,000 Jewish community in the UK.   
    Not everyone who is Jewish welcomes this sort of thing as anyone watching the Daily Politics yesterday will know;  
    see towards the end of this clip the views of Liberal Judaism and Rabbi Danny Rich —
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-31302670

    According to the estimates of the Travellers Aid Trust there are in the UK around 300,000 Roma, Gypsies and Travellers living in the UK.
    http://www.travellersaidtrust.org/pdfs/grant%20makers%20fact%20sheet%2009.pdf

    There is an All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsy Roma and Travellers but it does not have quite the same political and media clout of some other APPGs.

    Gypsies are one of the very few ethnic minority groups who are regularly subjected to officially approved state harassment in this country.

     Two reports, which were launched in October 2014 at a parliamentary meeting hosted by Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Gypsy Roma and Travellers, providing chapter and verse on the English government’s record – though the devolved governments of Scotland and Wales  fare better and are given due credit.   
    Most people are probably unaware of these reports and indeed were probably unaware of the APPG on Roma, Gypsies amd Travellers.   It does not get the wall to wall coverage devoted to yesterday’s announcement by that other APPG that Andrew reports on in his article.

    One does not have to search very far to find to discover examples of such discriminatory treatment by public authorities in England against Gypsies.   The Dale Farm eviction in Essex and related court cases went on for years and cost the taxpayer millions.
    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dale_Farm#New_site

    On the 21 January 2015, the High Court found that the conduct of the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government constituted indirect discrimination against Romany Gypsies and Irish Travellers. This was in relation to Traveller appeals in the Green Belt. 

    So in this country we have one community that is receiving millions of pounds of government funding to protect it, even though some members of that community do not welcome the protective fences etc.  

    Whilst at the same time another community is subjected to millions of pounds worth of harassment and discrimination funded by the government.

    In the case of Gypsies- fences are erected by the authorities to keep them off their own land, which they have bought perfectly legally and lived on for years.

    Not exactly “joined-up government” is it ?

  • Geoff Hinchliffe 10th Feb '15 - 8:32am

    We are in danger of falling into the terminology trap of not distinguishing between “antisemitism ( = racism) and anti-Zionism ( political ).

  • Miranda Pinch 10th Feb '15 - 10:14am

    Andrew says in his article: “But ‘Hitler’ and ‘Holocaust’ were in the top 35 words in use on Twitter last summer and there is an urgent need to tackle cyber hate, too.” I would like to know the context of these words. It is a fact that those who are pro-Israel often use both as a justification for the most abysmal behaviour towards an innocent people and I suspect that some of these instances were in that context. As the daughter of a ‘holocaust survivor’ (she would have hated that designation) , I along with many other Jews hate the use of those terms in that way.
    That is not to say that anti-Semitism does not exist. Of course it does and quite rightly it needs to be tackled along with all racism and discrimination. However there is also a great deal of discrimination against Muslims at the moment as well. The war on Gaza had a direct relation on anti-Semitism and the Israeli policy of attempting to suggest that all Jews around the world are of one mind, has gone some way to increase such attacks. We are not of one mind. Far from it.
    The recent Islamic attacks on innocents, whether Muslims, Christians or internationals, has also increased Islamophobia and hate crime and, like Jews, many tar Muslims with the same brush, which is equally unacceptable. Yet we hear little about security for the many Muslims and their Mosques.
    Why the huge disparity and expectation? After all, around the world it is largely Muslims suffering at the hands of so-called Muslims. In Palestine we see Muslims and Christians suffering at the hands of so-called Jews! I do not equate Israel with Judaism, far from it, and not do I equate Islam with violent extremism.
    It is about time we had a more balanced debate.

  • Helen Stevens 10th Feb '15 - 11:47am

    Every Jewish school, synagogue and community centre that I know has for many years had security organised and paid for by the community. In 1967 my father was asked after the 6 Day War to be part of a guard rota at his local synagogue.
    It’s most obvious at the schools with guards and fences but there aren’t that many of us and it’s just that the rest of you don’t know about it. How many readers of this blog go through security checks simply to attend a local community centre yet my bag is checked every time I do this?
    This is a hidden problem that no-one has talked about until recently. How many of you like (like me) when you visit your grandparents’ graves pick your way past a waste of graves that have been smashed with sledgehammers? And I am talking about a London cemetery.
    Mr Tilley, Danny Rich wasn’t saying that there should not be security at synagogues (including his former synagogue in Kingston), schools and community centres, what he was saying was that we should remain outgoing, not get this out of proportion and indeed compared to other countries, this is a pretty safe community.
    But we shouldn’t even have to say that. Three hundred years after the first of my ancestors came to this country, it should not still be necessary for me, a secular Jew, to be that bit careful about when I reveal my origins and to whom. I shouldn’t still be hearing the odd comment about Jews sticking together, being tight about money, having too much influence. And yet I do, and I’ve heard worse than that.
    But I am an invisible Jew, you would not work out I am Jewish from my surname or way of dress. I’m not in any danger but I do assure you, it’s more uncomfortable above the parapet.
    And that’s my other point. Mr Tilley appears firstly to be suggesting that somehow Jews are making a fuss disproportionate to the size of the community and the level of threat (although as I have explained, no fuss was made about this for very many years) and thus we should not be getting help from our Government so that we can (hopefully) feel as safe as the rest of you.
    And secondly he seems to be suggesting that Jewish people have excessive influence comparative to the size of their community and indeed manipulate Parliament and the media to the detriment of other communities who also suffer discrimination. In effect, other communities have their problems shoved aside by our louder voices.
    For me that kind of comment rings alarm bells. Is this the kind of contribution that Liberal Democrats excuse or agree with? Or will others condemn Mr Tilley’s remarks?

  • @Helen

    I am totally with you on this Helen.

  • Helen Stevens 10th Feb ’15 – 11:47am
    “….,,,, he seems to be suggesting that Jewish people have excessive influence comparative to the size of their community and indeed manipulate Parliament and the media to the detriment of other communities who also suffer discrimination. In effect, other communities have their problems shoved aside by our louder voices.”

    Helen Stevens, I apologise if I did not make myself clear. I hope I was not “suggesting”, which sounds a bit underhand.
    I hope that I was making the facts perfectly clear by providing a link to two different APPG reports and the media coverage thereof. Those are facts and cannot be denied.

    If you do not think that Parliament, the media and the establishment in this country react in different ways to different communities and thereby act to the detriment of some other communities you are simply ignoring the facts that I tried to set out as clearly as possible.

    I am not Roma but I can see the injustice very clearly. Can you not see the injustice?

    As for security checks — I went through them every day of my working life following the IRA bombing campaign of the early 1970s. Indeed the office I worked in at the time was actually bombed. I was nothing special just an ordinary civil servant. The National Liberal Club of which I was a member at the time also had its windows blown out by a terrorist bomb. You see you may not have been aware but lots of ordinary people in this country who are not part of your community also have had very real threats to their security.

    I think people can make up their own mind what Liberal Judaism and Rabbi Danny Rich said — I provided a link to the film clip so people could hear the actual words spoken. I was not trying to misinterpret anybody. I have not tried to embroider their remarks.

    You end your comment with an invitation to others to “condemn my remarks”, or rather the interpretation that you have put on them

    I would invite people to comment on what I actually said rather than how you have chosen to interpret my words.

  • Joe Otten

    What I said in my original comment, rather than any interpretation or gloss put on it, was —
    “… So in this country we have one community that is receiving millions of pounds of government funding to protect it, even though some members of that community do not welcome the protective fences etc.  
    Whilst at the same time another community is subjected to millions of pounds worth of harassment and discrimination funded by the government.
    In the case of Gypsies- fences are erected by the authorities to keep them off their own land, which they have bought perfectly legally and lived on for years.
    Not exactly “joined-up government” is it ?”

    We have one community where The High Court have just made a judgement against the Government in England on discrimination against that community.

    It was relevant to point to the APPG reports on Gypsies. I thought that people in LDV would be interested because that Parliamentary Group has as its principle figures Andrew George MP and Lord Avebury, both respected Liberal Democrats.

    I as not “suggesting” anything that I did not say. I was not “whistling” to any dogs or inserting hidden meanings.

    You have not suggested that Matthew Harris has been involved in a “racial slur” or “dog-whistle” tactics with his comment — ” .. I hardly think that heavy-handed enforcement of planning laws affecting travellers, as at Dale Farm, compares to a terrorist into a room with a Kalashnikov and spraying the room with bullets.”.

    As far as I am aware nobody in the UK has been the subject of an attack with Kalashnikovs.
    The removal and destruction of homes at Dale Farm from land owned by those people evicted actually happened.

    The eviction and destruction of property and injuries to innocent people is apparently no more important than “enforcing planning laws” to Matthew Harris. That is the attitude that the current climate legitimises.

    When David Blunket made remarks about Roma in Sheffield not so many months ago LDV carried a discussion of the subject. Is it in some way not legitimate to continue such a discussion in the light of subsequent events?

  • Malcolm Todd 10th Feb '15 - 4:17pm

    John Tilley

    You’re right about the treatment of Roma; your interpretation of the interviewees in that BBC clip seems entirely reasonable to me; and I don’t for the moment imagine that you are deliberately trying to send “dog whistles” to anti-semites.

    However.

    Bringing up the harassment of the Roma in this context is rather a clear instance of “whataboutery” and naturally arouses the same suspicions as another (sincere but misguided, I think) poster has done by bringing up “what about working class men” arguments in the context of articles about discrimination against women. It suggests at best that the poster is trying to change the subject and at worst that there is an underhand accusation of malign conspiracy.

    I think you know your history well enough to know why any suggestion of excessive Jewish influence in the media (not to mention talking about Jews demanding public money) will set alarm bells ringing. I think you should also recognise that whilst Jews as a group are given more and more favourable coverage in British media than travellers or Roma (which I don’t think anyone can seriously doubt, though your comparison of two specific reports of course doesn’t prove it) that doesn’t say anything about whether they are given unreasonable or unreasonably favourable coverage. If your concern for the Roma is genuine, you should be discussing in the context of media/society as a whole, not of another arbitrarily chosen minority. If you’re just using them to attack this report, well – shame on you frankly.

  • Helen Stevens 10th Feb '15 - 4:36pm

    Thank you Joe Otten for your comments and I appreciate what you are trying to do.

    However Mr Tilley couldn’t be clearer in his second post. He believes that Jews in this country have excessive influence. What is there to clarify?

  • Helen Stevens

    Please do not put words into my mouth.

    Please read what I actually said in my comment.

  • I am not sure what’s happening here. Words are being out into my mouth. I have not said that “Jews in this country have excessive influence. ”

    Is it a little unjust that my reply to Joe Otten of almost 3 hours ago has not been released from moderation but Helen Stevens can make this accusation ?? —

    Helen Stevens 10th Feb ’15 – 4:36pm
    Thank you Joe Otten for your comments and I appreciate what you are trying to do.

    However Mr Tilley couldn’t be clearer in his second post. He believes that Jews in this country have excessive influence. What is there to clarify?

  • Malcolm Todd

    If you look back in LDV you will find that this is not the first time I have spoken out about Roma / Gypsies.
    I spoke at a Liberal Assembly on this subject in the mid 1970s. I am on record of speaking on the subject when I was a local councillor. I have not just picked up on the subject because of the report mentioned in the original article by Andrew Stunnell. As both our comments are timed at 4.17 you probably had not seen my reference to the Sheffield Roma discussion which In think was in late 2013.

    I recognise what you say about certain sensitivities and why we have to walk on egg shells on some subjects. It is unfortunate that we cannot discuss this subject in the same way we discuss other subjects but I recognise it as a fact of Iife in 2015 in a way that it was not even ten years ago. A culture has grown up in the UK where some subjects are “forbidden” and the usual rules of free speech no longer apply.

    I do know and take an interest in history and I know that the history of the persecution of Roma and other travellers across Europe is a serious ongoing subject. They were sent to death camps by the Nazis in the 1940s, were discriminated against by Eastern Bloc Communists until 1990, and have been treated appallingly by both the French, Italian and other governments in “mature democracies” in the last ten years.

    What you describe as “Whataboutery” could also be seen as putting things into context. I happily plead guilty to being one of those people who regularly says “What about working class men ?” when I see middle-class and indeed upper class women complaining about what a rough deal they have in life. We could always pretend that every instance of discrimination can be dealt with in separate silos. I think the wider context is often quite important.

  • stuart moran 10th Feb '15 - 10:29pm

    Sorry but am I living in a parallel world where the posts are different from what others are seeing?

    I read John Tilley’s posts and have no idea where Joe Otten, Matthew Harris and Helen Stevens are coming from?

    It is disgraceful that any community feels under threat within our country and I worry about the rise in the threat level against our communities

    What I do think though, as John Tilley, expresses is that communities get treated differently – with the Roma discrimination and innuendo seem to be acceptable whereas for other groups that would not be tolerated.

    I do not think it is because the Jewish people have too much influence at all – in fact I would say that thought has never really crossed my mind. What I do think though is that the Israeli Government is supported and tolerated far too much mainly for its strategic and political position. It is the same type of tolerance that is afforded to Saudi Arabia.

    I have no problem with Government helping communities that are under threat but I would also say that this has to be consistent and Lib Dems have been at the forefront of doing this, as John Tilley states

    I also think, from a personal point of view, that the Jewish cause is not helped by Netanyahu and his use of the Jewish identity to support his unpleasant political views.

    I really hope we see an end to this – it has always astonished me looking back through history why certain communities are blamed for ills that beset society – the two that spring to mind are the Jews and the Roma.

  • Stephen Hesketh 10th Feb '15 - 11:05pm

    stuart moran 10th Feb ’15 – 10:29pm
    “Sorry but am I living in a parallel world where the posts are different from what others are seeing?
    I read John Tilley’s posts and have no idea where Joe Otten, Matthew Harris and Helen Stevens are coming from?”

    Stuart, some appear to be living in a parallel universe but I do not believe it to be John Tilley or your goodself.

    John is demonstrably one of the most natural and truely Liberal contributors to LDV. Any suggestions to the contrary must be treated with a great deal of scepticism.

  • Malcolm Todd 10th Feb '15 - 11:48pm

    John Tilley

    Indeed, I had not seen your comment when I posted before. Both yours and mine were in moderation for some time. I accept that your concern for the Roma is not instrumental but genuine; I still think that it is questionable to put it alongside the issue of this article in the way that you do, but I do mean questionable, not obviously wrong.

    Incidentally, looking back on my own earlier comment, I am horrified to see that I wrote “I don’t for the moment imagine that you are deliberately trying to send ‘dog whistles’ to anti-semites”. What I meant to write was “I don’t for a moment imagine …” I certainly wasn’t trying to set myself up as some sort of judge to whom you had to justify yourself and hope nobody thinks I intended to.

    I can’t accept, however, your bizarre claim that “A culture has grown up in the UK where some subjects are ‘forbidden’ and the usual rules of free speech no longer apply.” Here we are, discussing exactly this sensitive subject, unforbidden. The “rules of free speech” obviously include the right of others to interpret and twist your words (or mine) as they see fit and to object loudly to what they think you said. Let’s not shout “persecution” where there is only disagreement and criticism.

  • As some have said, with guards outside some UK synagogues because of the shootings in Paris, and at the synagogue in Brussels before that, comparing the relative difficulties of the Jewish and Roma communities misses the point of Andrew Stunnell’s article. I think we should express solidarity for the Jewish community at this time – as we should do for any religious or ethnic minority facing the potential threat of violence.

  • Helen Dudden 11th Feb '15 - 10:40am

    I hope that at your Spring Conference you will discuss freedom of expression fully. I am not a member of your Party or political.

    We all have the right to live our lives as we wish, I am saddened by some of comments, I have read and seen,.

    Those of us who feel our lives are best lived in the Jewish traditions, have that right.

  • Malcolm Todd

    Your comment about — “…bizarre claim that “A culture has grown up in the UK where some subjects are ‘forbidden’ and the usual rules of free speech no longer apply.”

    Did you see this report in The Guardian about encouraging local police forces to check with newsagents what magazines their customers are reading ? —

    http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/feb/10/police-several-forces-seek-details-charlie-hebdo-readers

  • Malcolm Todd 11th Feb '15 - 11:22am

    Yes, I’m aware of it and it’s profoundly wrong. It still hardly counts as “forbidding” discussion, nor does it seem to have been widespread (describing three police forces, each represented by a single known incident, as “several” may be technically accurate but it’s rather misleading). I think David Davis, not for the first time, gets it pretty much bang on: “more ‘stupid than sinister’ but disquieting nonetheless”.

  • Malcolm Todd
    I agree with almost everything in your last comment. It was merely an example to perhaps illustrate that an atmosphere has built up in which such stupid rather than sinister actions become more likely.

    It is the same atmosphere as results in spending money on security fences around schools in the UK. As the young man from Liberal Judaism said you have a fence put around a school and then people going to the school start to think “oh there is a fence — so there must be something to be afraid of otherwise they would not have put up a fence”.

    The three incidents of police investigating who gets what magazine from their newsagent is probably just stupidity on the part of the local police — although you might have thought that whoever it was in the “security services” who passed on the “intelligence” to local police forces might have thought it through first.
    As the report says — “..Five million copies of the magazine …. were published in a special edition, with about 2,000 of them reportedly distributed in the UK.”.
    You might have thought someone would have questioned how it would “protect” any community to investigate who had got a copy of one of the magazines.

  • Richard Underhill 9th Feb '17 - 6:44pm

    Sunday Times political editor Tim Shipman says that his sources in his book ‘All Out War’ are “whoever answers the ‘phone.” He also said that Tory Will Wragg had “ousted the Lib Dem veteran Andrew Stunnel at the election.”
    It is a matter of public record that he did not.
    http://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/news/greater-manchester-news/hazel-grove-mp-andrew-stunell-6116425
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/politics/constituencies/E14000738
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Stunell

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