OPINION – Sir Eric Pickles: I’m proud our country is a world-leader in fighting anti-Semitism

OPINION – Sir Eric Pickles: I’m proud our country is a world-leader in fighting anti-Semitism

Eric Pickles
Eric Pickles

by Sir Eric Pickles, MP, Former Communities Secretary

Eric Pickles
Eric Pickles

No one, whatever their faith, should feel afraid to walk out their front door.

Figures published by the Community Security Trust last week show that the need to challenge hatred is as present in Britain today as it ever has been.

Across the UK, 924 anti-Semitic incidents were recorded in 2015. The fact that this figure represents a 22 percent fall on the previous year is welcome; however, the number remains in the 900s and serves as a much-needed reminder that many Jewish people continue to face hatred and discrimination for no reason other than their faith.

These figures are published against a backdrop of growing unease. I have heard from Jewish students studying in France about violence on their campuses and a conflating of Israel and Jewish opinion. Just last month, at one of London’s leading universities, an unruly mob of protestors attacked a classroom where students gathered to hear the former head of the Shin Bet (Israeli Security Agency) speak.

Those protestors threatened one of the values we hold most dear in Britain – free speech. They were not interested in discussion or debate, but instead set out to frighten those attending into submission, and into silence.

At the Conservative Party Conference, a visibly Jewish delegate was abused by the left-wing mob outside the conference hall. The chant went up: “Go back to Auschwitz you f***ing y**.”

Unbelievable language that would not have been heard 10 years ago.

That is why the announcement by Prime Minister David Cameron on this year’s Memorial Day that a permanent monument to the Holocaust will be erected right next to Parliament is so important.

Its place at the heart of British democracy will ensure it acts as a constant reminder of what happens when hate is allowed to take over and the principles that underpin our society are abandoned.

The associated learning centre will make sure the lessons the darkest hour of humanity teaches are never forgotten.

And the most crucial part of making that happen is by helping survivors record their testimony.

Future generations must hear survivors’ stories told in their own words. With education comes remembrance.

The Holocaust represents so much; evil, pain and suffering – but the greatest of all is loss.

So many voices have been lost already, which is why it is crucial survivors share their story to ensure the legacy of the Holocaust for generations to come.

This year, our commemorative events followed the theme of ‘Don’t Stand By’. We remembered that the Holocaust was not just made possible by a small number of Nazi monsters, but by countless individuals across Europe who simply stood by as unspeakable atrocities were committed against their friends, neighbours and co-workers.

And we have honoured the individuals who didn’t stand by, those who stood up to evil and made a life-saving difference, often at enormous personal risk.

So when we see acts of hate, no matter how small or insignificant they might appear, we need to remember the examples of those individuals who stood up.

I’m very proud that the UK is a world leader in standing up against all kinds of intolerance, including anti-Semitism, the oldest of them all.

Both Mr Cameron and Home Secretary Theresa May are determined to ensure that all communities that make up the United Kingdom feel safe in conducting their daily lives.

Sadly, there will inevitably always be acts of intolerance and thuggery. That is why it is so important we continue as a country to stand up and tackle the issue head-on.

It is our job to make sure our voices of tolerance shout louder than those of hate.

We must be clear to people from all communities and faiths that hate crime has no place in our society.

And, most importantly, we must support the victims of such bigotry so that they have the confidence to come forward and report incidents in the future.

• Sir Eric Pickles is MP for Brentwood and Ongar, UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, Parliamentary Chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel and a former Cabinet Minister

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