Nick Robinson tells Holocaust Educational Trust: Jewish MPs are being driven out

Nick Robinson tells Holocaust Educational Trust: Jewish MPs are being driven out

The BBC presenter warned “politicians are being targeted and driven out of their political homes for being Jewish” and issued a scathing condemnation of Chris Williamson.

Richard Ferrer has become a leading voice on Jewish communal issues since becoming editor of the Jewish News in 2009, writing about contemporary Jewish life for a national audience. He edited the Boston Jewish Advocate, America's oldest Jewish newspaper and created the Channel 4 series Jewish Mum of the Year.

Nick Robinson speaking at the HET dinner.
Nick Robinson speaking at the HET dinner.

Broadcaster Nick Robinson has warned that “MPs are being driven out of their political homes for being Jewish” and issued a scathing condemnation of suspended Labour MP Chris Williamson.

The BBC Today programme presenter delivered his uncompromising message in a keynote speech at the Holocaust Educational Trust’s (HET) annual dinner at the Guildhall on Monday evening.

Referring to Williamson, the Derby North MP suspended in February after claiming Labour had been “too apologetic” over antisemitism, Robinson said: “Chris Williamson told me on the Today Programme he’s never seen antisemitism in the Labour Party. Well, I’ve seen it Chris, the people in the Labour Party fighting it have seen it Chris, and we will never stop pointing it out.”

Robinson also reflected on the last time he addressed HET’s annual dinner, saying: “I wish I could say things have improved since I last spoke at this event 10 years ago. In the last decade we have seen deniers distort and misappropriate facts, and politicians targeted and driven out of their political homes for being Jewish. We live in an era of tribalism in which rage is in danger of replacing rationality.”

Reflecting on what he’s learned from TV presenter Rachel Riley, who’s faced a torrent of abuse for proudly identifying as Jewish, Robinson added: “Don’t feed the trolls. Don’t condemn, don’t engage, just ignore. Learn from the HET – trust in Holocaust education. What makes the HET so special is it doesn’t use the Holocaust as a weapon to win an argument, it uses the sheer power of seeing and hearing the memories of those who suffered.”

Lily Ebert speaking at the HET dinner on Monday evening.

Praising HET’s “force of nature” chief executive Karen Pollock, he joked: “Only Karen could have ensured both Gordon Brown and then David Cameron would give HET the government’s backing. My only concern in the last few weeks as I’ve heard conversations about who’s most qualified to lead a government of national unity is that Karen Pollock’s name hasn’t been mentioned!”

Robinson concluded on a personal note, recalling a letter sent to his Jewish grandfather, who was a doctor, by a non-Jewish patient during the Second World War: “The note read, ‘I can’t come to my appointment through the front door so will come in through the back door instead.’ At that moment I knew why the Shoah happened. A man who thought a Jew could save his life was not prepared to walk through the front door to stand in solidarity with him.”

Earlier, in the most poignant moment of the evening, the 550 guests rose to their feet to applaud survivors sat at almost every table. More than 50 survivors and their families were in attendance.

The evening was hosted by another BBC presenter, Natasha Kaplinsky, who was awarded an OBE for her services to Holocaust commemoration. She told guests including Richard Dreyfuss, Rob Rinder, Esther Rantzen, Laura Pradelska, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Israeli ambassador Mark Regev: “It’s been the honour of my life to spend the last three years capturing the testimony of survivors to become part of the content at the Westminster Holocaust memorial to be built opposite parliament.”

HET ambassadors with Natasha Kaplinsky, Lily Ebert and Paul Phillips.

Kaplinsky also paid tribute to “precious” survivors who have passed away since the last HET dinner – including Rudy Oppenheimer, Judith Kerr, Eva Kor, Fred Austin, Rabbi Harry Jacobi, Harry Bibring and Gena Turgel.

Chief Executive Karen Pollock opened the evening, telling guests: “We are operating against a backdrop of political upheaval and change. We will stand firm against the rising tide of antisemitism and we will continue to drive forward education about the darkest period of human history, with the urgency of knowing that our beloved survivors will not be able to go into schools across the country for too much longer.”

One of those “beloved” survivors, Lily Ebert, who famously hid a pendant given to her by her mother for the year she spent in Auschwitz, told guests:“I promised myself, if I survive against all the odds, I will do all I can to share my story, for myself and for those that did not survive. And I do. The world should not forget the most terrible crime against humanity. We should learn from what happened. When I look at what is happening today, I don’t see that we have learned.”

She added: “Every year I speak to students and their teachers through the Trust because I want them to know what happened. I know that through the Trust, and through their young Ambassadors, my story, and the story of survivors like me, will always be remembered.”

Chairman Paul Phillips told the audience: “It’s hard to comprehend, as we approach the 75th anniversary of the liberation of these iconic and appalling concentration and death camps, that today in 2019 we live in uncertain times. The politics of the radical fringe has become normalised.”

Guests heard than more than 40,000 people have now taken part in HET’s government-funded Lessons From Auschwitz project and 126,000 young people have witnessed a survivor speak in schools nationwide in the last year.

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