Anti-Semitism: An attack on one religious group is an attack on us all

Anti-Semitism: An attack on one religious group is an attack on us all

Hilary Benn  visited Israel and the Palestinian Terrotories in December.
Hilary Benn visited Israel and the Palestinian Terrotories in December.

By Hilary BENN, MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

This week, I was delighted to help open a parliamentary and academic symposium on anti-Semitism, hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism and the Pears Institute at Birkbeck.

Hilary Benn opened this week an academic symposium on anti-Semitism
Hilary Benn opened this week an academic symposium on anti-Semitism

We were discussing a major report by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) on how Jewish communities across Europe perceive and experience anti-Semitism.

The last Labour Government oversaw improvements in the prosecution of hate crimes, additional support for the victims of anti-Semitism and the establishment of a cross-government working group to try to tackle it.

This is something of which our party remains justifiably proud.

The ever watchful Community Security Trust (CST) has reported a fall in anti-Semitic incidents in Britain for 2012 and, allowing for improved reporting, a real-terms fall in 2011.

While these figures are, of course, welcome and there are a number of positive developments, we must always guard against any complacency.

The FRA report was based on findings from a number of EU Member States, including Britain. The headline findings should be of great concern.

Respondents perceive anti-Semitism – and racism more broadly – to be a problem in their country.

They are not living with the sense of security and peace of mind that every European citizen and every ethnic and religious group is entitled to.

In fact, more than 75 percent said the situation had become more acute over the last five years and more than 20 percent of the respondents reported anti-Semitic incidents in the previous 12 months.

While this was a survey of perceptions, there is a reality which underpins them, and as parliamentarians it is important we ask the right questions as we decide what we need to do.

There are some basic steps which we can take in the UK.

First, we should remain vigilant. While the number of anti-Semitic incidents has fallen, the long-term trend remains upwards, so continuing to form links within and between communities is critical.

Second, we must continue to encourage reporting.

The CST has referred to reports which indicate that as many as three in four anti-Semitic incidents go unreported.

This is not good enough and we must continue to find ways in which victims of anti-Semitic or other hate crimes can easily and confidently report what has happened to them.

Third, we should continue to engage with other parliaments and governments to tackle issues like hate on the internet.

The last Labour Government hosted the inaugural conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism (ICCA) and its continuing efforts, led by John Mann MP, to bring parliamentarians and industry together to find ways of combating online hate are to be applauded.

Finally, we should establish and promote best practice so that others can learn from our example.

The cross-government working group on anti-Semitism has proven successful at bringing together government departments and Jewish community leaders so that concerns can be addressed and ways forward found.

This is a responsibility on all the political parties, regardless of who is in government at any particular time.

Hate crime is a problem, sadly, that many communities face.

And that is why coming together to stand against it is so important.

Last year, there was an arson attack on the Barnet multicultural centre. I went to visit those running the centre to show solidarity with them.

They were profoundly shocked by what had happened, but they also told me that the first offer of help had come from the local rabbi, followed by other churches and residents.

All of them saw an attack on one as an attack on all.

As we do all we can to expose and face down anti-Semitism wherever it is to be found, this is exactly the spirit we need as we go forward together.

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