A veteran MP’s campaign against anti-Semitism is entering a new phase, as Deborah Cicurel reports..
‘The importance of shining a light on anti-Semitism cannot be understated.’ So says John Mann, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Committee Against Anti-Semitism and long-standing friend of the Jews.
The Labour MP commissioned the all-party parliamentary inquiry into anti-Semitism and has remained steadfast, loyal and unwavering in his commitment to crushing the seeds of the scourge that have grown so threateningly in the past few years.
Mann has now assembled the great writings on the subject into one fascinating book, with contributions from the likes of George Washington, and film actors Charlie Chaplin and Michael Douglas.
• Describe the process of assembling your new book…
For some time, I had been contacted by Jewish students and others looking for reliable sources about anti-Semitism from which to quote . The more I researched, the more I noticed that not only had there been some very interesting speeches by high-profile figures (both Jewish and not), but that they had not been brought together in one place. I sought to change that. My daughter and I worked together closely to find the relevant texts.
•How did you select each extract?
It was a mixture of knowledge and discovery. Some of the speeches were well known and it might have been strange not to have included them. In other cases, we suspected that people had spoken out and in the course of researching discovered an entirely different speech. We wanted to ensure the book worked thematically and had a good range of speeches made by people from different backgrounds. There were, of course, some that we would have wanted to include, but couldn’t do so for various reasons, such as failure to secure a permission. Perhaps we can publish those in a second volume…
• What’s the most effective weapon against anti-Semitism?
I wouldn’t say there is a single tool. There are a combination of factors that make us in the UK the most effective at fighting anti-Semitism in the world. Of course, education has a role to play, but we insist on having the right systems in place. Once a framework for action has been established, it can be tweaked. But if there is no framework in place, everything falls down. So for example, radical speakers coming to UK campuses and preaching hate was a problem. Now, Universities UK and the National Union of Students have good-practice guides about hate speech. If a problem occurs, students have a framework, they have guidance, they have policy solutions they can work on with their institution to implement. We will continue to look for the gaps and find the right frameworks to establish.
• Why has anti-Semitism reached such a dangerously high level?
I think it’s first important to recognise that most Jews can live life in Britain without ever experiencing an anti-Semitic incident. Incident figures give cause for concern, but it is important not to be alarmist. There are, of course, traditional motivating factors for anti-Semitism such as far-Right and Islamist ideologies, but I believe that a great deal of modern anti-Semitism evolves from the Middle East conflict and the related discourse. A lot of our efforts now are focused on targeting this type of hatred against Jews. Additionally, we live in a world that is better connected than ever before, particularly by social media. There are obvious benefits to this, but it also means that anti-Semitism can spread more easily and effectively than before. Again, we are working to put the right frameworks in place to address this.
• What are the biggest threats to British Jews?
British Jews face the same threats as any other British citizen. They obviously then face additional threats such as anti-Semitism or attempts to curb religious practices in the same way British Muslims or Hindus face and have their own particular concerns. It’s not for me to determine strategic concerns for the British Jewish community.
• What is it that interests you particularly about anti-Semitism?
I am an anti-racist. Anti-Semitism is racism; it’s not an interest so much as a personal responsibility to tackle it.
• Have you personally witnessed anti-Semitism before?
Sadly, many times.
• How has chairing the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism affected your outlook on anti-Semitism?
I don’t know that my outlook has changed, but I have been surprised at just how common it is for me to hear anti-Semitic rhetoric from public figures. That’s another reason for highlighting the speeches of the people that I have included in the book.
• Of all the extracts you selected, do you have any favourites or one you feel is the most powerful?
I don’t have a particular favourite, but I think that most of the speeches, especially when considered in their own context, are immensely powerful. Chaplin, Brandt, Washington – look at what they said or did and the effects of their actions. Remarkable.
• What can practically be done to counter anti-Semitism in the UK?
We have taken a very hands-on and practical approach to countering anti-Semitism already. When we considered that the police weren’t properly recording data about it, we questioned them on it very directly. When we believed the CPS weren’t handling a case well, we told them so and asked them what they’d do. Where the social media companies have been lazy or slow, we’ve told them. We’ve spoken out and we have proposed appropriate policies. In our last report, we set out 34 recommendations for tackling anti-Semitism. The majority of these were very practical and I would encourage anyone who hasn’t done so to read the report and look at what we suggest. We have already seen a third or so of these successfully implemented and we’ll continue to work to ensure we achieve the full set.