By Lord Tariq Ahmad, Communities Minister
Can you remember where you were when you heard the news about 7/7? What about the Dunblane massacre? I’d hazard a guess that not only can you remember where you were, but who you were with and what you were doing. You might even remember mundane details, such as the colour of your shirt or what you had for breakfast.
Memory and emotion are firmly intertwined. Trauma sears into our brains and, often, never leaves. Being able to recall traumatic events throughout human history has proved to be critical to survival. But in the modern world, these bad memories can be debilitating.
Within the course of the last century, the Jewish people have felt a trauma unlike any other. Six million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust in the single greatest tragedy of humanity.
But just as trauma can be debilitating, it can also fire the flames of justice. It can steel a resolve to make sure that never again will hate be unchallenged or genocide permitted.
In 2006, the All Party Parliamentary Inquiry on Antisemitism challenged the government to do more to help eradicate anti-Semitism in Britain.
On Monday, with the publishing of the Government Action on Antisemitism report, I’m pleased to say that all 35 recommendations arising from the inquiry have been met.
Since our last report four years ago, much of the focus has been on changing behaviours through education. Education is the government’s biggest weapon in fighting racism, bigotry and discrimination and we’ve been using it to make sure that all of us will never forget the darkest time in human history.
Not only have we made the Holocaust a compulsory part of the history curriculum for all 11 to 14-year-olds, but we’ve also designed projects to specifically target young people.
Through one such project, the Anne Frank Trust, we’ve reached 35,000 young people. We’ve taken the poignant messages of Anne’s life and diary – one brave little girl’s experience of persecution – and used it to help students understand the damage caused by prejudice.
The Holocaust stirs a strong emotional reaction no matter who you are and no matter your back ground. My first visit to Auschwitz last month affected me deeply, but I wasn’t alone. I was joined by children from across our country. Since 2006, some 25,000 students and teachers from state-funded schools and sixthform colleges in England have been given the opportunity to visit and learn the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
But we’ve not focused solely on young people and over the past four years we’ve built Holocaust Memorial Day into an established annual remembrance event through £3.1m of funding to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. Not content to see anti-Semitism fought just in this country, we’ve led the international community by chairing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and funding £2.1m to the Auschwitz Birkenau Foundation’s restoration fund.
However, we know anti-Semitism did not start or end with the Holocaust. Over the summer, we saw boycotts of businesses associated with Israel, anti-Semitic graffiti and levels of reported anti-Se- mitic incidents dwarfing those of previous years.
The Government does not have all the answers. We need the help of our communities at a local level to eradicate anti-Semitism and indeed all types of bigotry from Britain.
My department coordinates the Cross-Government Working Group on Antisemitism, which has representatives from the Community Security Trust, the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, among others, to share their expertise on what more can be done.
My department believes in creating and strengthening strong and cohesive communities where people feel they belong. By coming together, we can tackle extremist views and make sure Britain, our Britain, is the best it can be united, tolerant, fair, and rooted in respect of our history, our traditions, our beliefs and in our dealings towards each other.
Britain has made great strides in recent years, becoming a more respectful and inclusive society but our journey has some way to go.
The Government Action on Antisemitism report shows Britain now has in place measures that have created an environment in which we see that levels of antisemitism in the UK are significantly lower than in any other European countries. But that is not enough.
While Jewish communities in Britain feel noticeably less anxious about prejudice than elsewhere in the world, the evils of anti-Semitism are not ghosts of the past but remain a reality today. We will never forget the world’s history and the trauma the Jewish people have suffered.
It remains for all of us to play our part to create a better future for ourselves and our future generations