Justice Secretary Michael Gove is to represent the British government at a landmark conference on anti-Semitism in Berlin in March, writes Jenni Frazer.
The inter-parliamentary conference, hosted by the German government, will be addressed by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and delegates are expected from across the world.
The conference was formally launched in London this week by the German vice-president of the Bundestag, Petra Pau, and her opposite number in the UK, the Deputy Speaker, MP Natascha Engel.
Both women spoke with passion about the aims of the conference, which is convened under the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combatting Antisemitism, (ICCA) founded by British Labour MP John Mann. The ICCA’s inaugural conference took place in London in 2009 followed by a gathering in Ottawa, Canada, in 2010. More than 150 parliamentarians from 45 countries are members of the organisation.
Ms Pau, one of the most high-profile members of the German government, told Jewish News that the intention was “to cross party lines and international borders.” Not only would the conference be an opportunity for parliamentarians to share their experiences of dealing with antisemitism, but the ICCA would set up working parties to explore the rise of antisemitism within various areas such as social media and the internet, and within sport.
Natascha Engel, herself German-born, was formerly chairman of the Commons Backbench Business Committee and oversaw its report on breaches of election behaviour. She said: “We found that we were looking at all sorts of racism and homophobia, but of course we heard from people like [former MP] Lee Scott, who ended up having to have a police escort after Nazi thugs threatened him. The truth is that antisemitism is on the rise – and it is absolutely not on.”
Both politicians noted the timing of the conference which Ms Engel said could not be better, given the mass migration in Europe and the continued upheaval and violence in the Middle East, which itself gave rise to anti-Semitism. “We need to ensure that we find ways of bringing people together, rather than finding people to blame for various ills,” she said.
Ms Pau cited a project in the Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg, in which Muslim families have been encouraged to learn about antisemitism and how to combat it. She acknowledged that there were problems within various Jewish communities in responding to the vast numbers of Muslim immigrants, but hoped that the work of the conference would go some way towards allaying such fears.