On 9 December 2014, John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, moved a debate on Anti-semitism. Below is Lyn's speech, responding in a her capacity as Shadow Communities Minister
Lyn Brown MP - 3.39 pm
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw (John Mann), not only on securing the debate, but on his tireless work on this issue.
Where I come from and represent has a long, proud tradition of fighting racism and fascism and condemning anti-Semitic behaviour in all its forms. It is a tragedy that despite our understanding of the consequences of anti-Semitism, we are still having to debate how to tackle it in communities today. It shocks me that the latest manifestations of virulent and hateful anti-Semitism use the imagery of the holocaust to denigrate, abuse and persecute.
This summer we saw terrible scenes across Europe. An anti-Jewish riot took place in the suburb of Sarcelles, just outside Paris. What began as a protest turned into a rampage. Cars and waste bins were set ablaze, several Jewish-owned businesses were torched and a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a synagogue. As the rioters rampaged through Sarcelles, witnesses described hearing the chant, “Hitler for President.” In the same month in Germany, Molotov cocktails were thrown into the Bergische synagogue in Wuppertal, a place of worship that had previously been destroyed on Kristallnacht. That was not an isolated incident. An elderly Jewish man was beaten up at a pro-Israel rally in Hamburg. Bottles were thrown through the window of an anti-Semitism campaigner’s house in Frankfurt. In several German cities, anti-Israel protests sparked by the latest Gaza conflict included anti-Semitic chanting. Dieter Graumann, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said:
“These are the worst times since the Nazi era.”
Meanwhile, far right parties such as Greece’s Golden Dawn and Hungary’s Jobbik seem to have gained a foothold in European politics. We cannot allow a revived anti-Semitism or a base fascist narrative to gain credence and acceptance once more on our continent.
Let me be absolutely clear: there is never any justification for anti-Semitism or racism in any form or against any group or individual. Many will take exception to the actions of the state of Israel—I, too, have been vocal about the behaviour of the Israeli state—but that is not, cannot and must not be seen as a justification for anti-Semitism, just as the conflicts that inflame the middle east, of which we have seen manifestations at home, cannot and must not be used as an excuse for Islamophobia.
Although I have mentioned violence on mainland Europe, Britain was unfortunately not immune from the summer’s upswing in anti-Semitism. The Community Security Trust, which does excellent work on behalf of Britain’s diverse and vibrant Jewish community, as well as on community cohesion per se, recorded 314 anti-Semitic incidents in July in the UK. That is the highest monthly total on record. A further 229 incidents were recorded in August. To put that in context, the July total surpasses the 307 incidents recorded in the previous six months.
The combined July and August 2014 figure of 543 incidents is higher than the entire total for 2013. I am told that of those incidents, just under half involved a direct reference to the second world war and a third used holocaust-related language or imagery. It is nothing less than sickening that, 70 years on from the most shameful episode in European history, the holocaust is being used as a tool to abuse and taunt the Jewish community. The events of the second world war are being evoked in an attempt to create real fear and distress.
Many of the anti-Semitic incidents recorded in July and August took place on social media channels, and that continues today. The use of social media and the internet more widely has huge potential for good. It allows for communication and education on a scale unimaginable just a generation ago, but it also allows for the spread of falsehoods, lies, myths and rumours that are designed to deceive. As we have seen, social media sites can provide a platform for abhorrent views and levels of abuse that would simply not be acceptable in normal public life.
The recent vitriol, harassment and abuse directed at my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Bassetlaw by far right extremists and white supremacists is completely repugnant. I know that all Members unequivocally condemn it. Sadly, there is a perception in some quarters that anti-Semitism on social media is less serious than anti-Semitism on the street. I dispute that, as do others. On social media, it is more permanent and more widely viewed and distributed. In many ways, it can be much more personal and more real, because it is beamed in, directly infiltrating victims’ phones, homes and computers, and can be shared with millions of people.
The previous Labour Government passed laws to stop the incitement of racial hatred. Those laws need to be enforced to the fullest possible extent by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. The major social networks, Facebook and Twitter, have a responsibility to do much more given the platform they provide for users. I was encouraged to hear that Facebook now sees the importance of tackling cyber-bullying and empowering others to report cyber-abuse, but it was disappointing to hear that when Members from this House met with Twitter last month, its representatives likened anti-Semitic tweets to hearing an offensive conversation in the street, where it is gone as soon as it is passed. That is simply not true. On so many levels, it is a fallacious argument.
Clearly, social networks need to do more—first to enforce their own existing rules and secondly to ensure they are equipped to deal with hate and prejudice in the constantly evolving sphere of technology and communications. The Community Security Trust has issued helpful guidance on combating anti-Semitism on social media and how to report hatred. It sets out the four important steps of reporting all hate crime to the police; reporting all anti-Semitic hate crime to the CST; collecting evidence; and, finally, reporting incidents directly to the social media site. I encourage all those who experience or witness anti-Semitic incidents or other racist incidents to follow the trust’s advice.
We know that hate crime develops from dislocation and dissonance in our communities, so as well as confronting hate crime when it appears, we must work together to fight its causes. We must tackle divisions and silos within our communities and prevent the spread of ignorance and fear, but we must recognise just how complex and multifaceted the issues are and that they straddle a number of Departments.
I offer my thanks to every Member who has contributed to this excellent debate. Clearly more needs to be done to tackle the most persistent, baseless and irrational prejudice. My hon. Friend the Member for Bassetlaw knows that better than most, and his efforts to ensure accountability and decency within our society are to be applauded and supported. The issues raised in today’s debate need to be looked at carefully, and I am sure that the Minister will address those important points when he responds.