Luciana Berger has demanded to know “where’s the zero tolerance we were promised” on Labour antisemitism, as she was praised by a political rival for her “grit” in fighting the scourge.
The MP for Liverpool Wavertree delivered a passionate address to the Yad Vashem UK annual dinner, just four days before her party’s MPs will vote a motion giving Jeremy Corbyn a week to reveal how many cases of hate are still to be dealt with.
She told the guests at the Sheraton Grand Hotel: “I’ve been thoroughly ashamed, angered and appalled by the rise of antisemitism on the left and inside the Labour Party. It’s disgusting, and increasingly it’s going unchecked. I’ve been calling for faster justice for the victims of Labour antisemitism, and for the perpetrators to be adequately dealt with.
“Where is the ‘zero tolerance’ we were promised? Some of those accused of antisemitism are merely reminded of the code of conduct before being allowed to carry on as members of the Labour party.” To huge applause, she added: “Let’s be clear, I don’t want peddlers of anti-Jewish hate to be given a stern warning or sent on a training course – I want them expelled from the Labour Party.
“And we must demand that none of our political parties can ever provide a safe haven for antisemites.”
Berger, who has seen six men jailed for targeting her with abuse, insisted there were many people ready to stand up to all prejudice. She acknowledged this “may come at a personal cost. It may come at the expense of our jobs. It may come at the expense of our mental well-being”.
But the former shadow minister urged people to refuse to be “bystanders” to hatred – inspired by the efforts of heroes of the Shoah who are honoured as Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem.
Hailing the “vital, never-ending work” of the museum, she added: “It is about looking forward, not back. Not a museum to the past, but contributing to the discourse of the future. And most of all, by developing our understanding, preventing such events from ever occurring again.” The founders could never have imagined that countering denial would be a challenge seven decades on, she told the gathering at which a host of survivors were joined by the the Chief Rabbi and Israeli Ambassador.
“Holocaust denial is a pernicious lie. It denies historical evidence and facts, and thus represents the triumph of falsehood over truth. And it feeds the terrible climate of conspiracy theory and ‘fake news’ that infects our public discourse.”
“This climate of conspiracy theory infects so many aspects of our public debates and party politics, and it is so damaging to public life. Conspiracy theories are the foundations of the rise of populism across Europe, in the USA, and elsewhere. Populist leaders use conspiracy to explain every social and economic ill, and to rouse people into misplaced anger. Populists create ‘the other’. Sometimes this is Jews, but it can be Muslims, or immigrants, or Roma, or Mexicans, or whoever gets people riled.
Berger insisted it is the “mainstreaming” of conspiracy theories through social media is of greatest concern.
“That vile antisemite David Icke can fill provincial theatres across the UK. Elected politicians can offer nudge nudge hints on their social media. The online bloggers can print their distortions and lies which are then amplified across Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. And millions of people are exposed to it, and soak it into their consciousness.
“I don’t need to tell you how dangerous this is. The Holocaust was built on myths, promoted through books, newspapers, speeches and films. But the power of social media to inculcate myths is a thousand times worse – faster, more potent, reaching hundreds of millions.”
Insisting good people must not be cowed by threats from the far right or far left, she said: “The bad people are combining – online, through populist movements and parties, you saw it last week with the racists coming together around Parliament – and therefore the good must associate or fall one by one.”
Lord Eric Pickles, the government’s envoy for post-Holocaust issues, described antisemitism and Shoah denial as “two sides of the same coin” and stressed the importance of Yad Vashem’s work as fewer and fewer survivors are around.
As a Tory, he said, he took no pleasure in seeing recent developments inside the Labour party. Praising Berger’s “true grit” when she could have a far easier life outside public life, he said: “I can’t say I’ll ever vote for you but I’m comforted that you’re there.”
The evening saw the unveiling of a bronze bust of Yad Vashem UK president Sir Ben Helfgott by the artist Frances Segelman.
Guests heard from Na’ama Shik, director of e-learning at the Yad Vashem school and the UK branch’s chair Simon Bentley. He introduced the lighting of the Yad Vashem memorial candles by survivors Sir Ben, Mala Tribich, Freddie Knoller and Zigi Shipper.
— Justin Cohen (@CohenJust) January 31, 2019