After Brexit grilling, Theresa May launches scathing attack on antisemitism

After Brexit grilling, Theresa May launches scathing attack on antisemitism

Prime Minister May rushes from Parliament to address reception on gendered antisemitism after gruelling two-hour-plus debate on Brexit deal

Joe Millis is a journalist

Theresa May with Danny Stone, Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl and other Jewish leaders as she addressed antisemitism, after a day of gruelling Brexit questions
Theresa May with Danny Stone, Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl and other Jewish leaders as she addressed antisemitism, after a day of gruelling Brexit questions

Prime Minister Theresa May launched a scathing attack on antisemitism and misogyny at the end of Monday’s Sara Conference on gendered antisemitism, which explored the relationship between hatred of Jews and discrimination of women.

The Prime Minister arrived at the reception at Number 10 after rushing from Parliament where she faced a harrowing two-hour grilling by MPs on her Brexit deal at the Dispatch Box.

In a passionate speech, made despite spending hours in Parliament, Mrs May said: “I have no time for equivocation. Antisemitism is racism – and any ‘equality’ movement that indulges or ignores it is not worthy of the name.”

May confessed that her “emotions are somewhat mixed. Throughout 2018, I’ve had the privilege of taking in part in many celebrations of women and women’s rights. Events marking the centenary of British women winning the vote.

“The unveiling of the Millicent Fawcett statue. An unprecedented gathering of women MPs from around the world. But the joy of those occasions has been tempered by the resurgence of two age-old hatreds that many had dared to hope were becoming a thing of the past.”

She noted that former Haringey council leader “Claire Kober, who is here today, stepped down… after facing a torrent of personal abuse in which, as she said, ‘the only thing worse than the sexism was the anti-Semitism’”.

Mrs May also mentioned journalist Karen Glaser, who “felt compelled to write that ‘When my… mother came to Britain in the Sixties she stopped feeling scared of being Jewish. But now, 50 years later, she was feeling frightened again’”.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick addresses the Sara Conference

She added: “The research published at today’s conference, showing that Jewish women politicians are more likely to attract the attentions of far-Right hate groups, was deeply disturbing. But I doubt it came as much of a surprise to those who have been on the receiving end.”

And in a thinly veiled attack on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, Mrs May said: “These attitudes are not limited to the far Right. As is so often the case with antisemitism, bigotry directed at Jewish women also comes from those who would never consider themselves to be racist, including within the women’s rights movement itself.

“Some Jewish women have been told that they’re not ‘real’ feminists unless they publicly disavow Israel’s right to exist or been thrown off pride marches for flying rainbow flags that feature the Star of David.

“And as one British Jew put it earlier this year, ‘Going on a… women’s rights march can be a tricky affair when you find yourself marching alongside people carrying banners merging the Israeli flag with a swastika’”.

She said her government was “removing all hiding places for antisemitism, becoming the first government in the world to adopt the [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] IHRA’s working definition – and all its examples.”

Mrs May also noted her government’s support for a National Holocaust Memorial next to Parliament and the £1.7 million earmarked in the Budget for school programmes marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.

“And we are continuing to support the Holocaust Educational Trust, not just backing its Lessons From Auschwitz programme but extending it to cover universities. The first students and university leaders to take part in the new scheme travelled to Poland just last week.”

She singled out Labour MP John Mann and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Antisemitism for their work “not just to highlight the scale of the problem but also to explore solutions, particularly with their work around online abuse – so thank you, John, for all your work.

She concluded: “Freedom of thought and freedom of speech have never meant freedom to abuse and freedom to threaten. Antisemitism and misogyny have no place in this country. Hatred can be defeated. Hatred must be defeated.

“Thank you for refusing to tolerate antisemitism and misogyny. Thank you for lending your voices to the growing chorus that will drown out the fury of the racists and the sexists.

“And, when I look around this room and see so many brave, dedicated men and women, I know that hatred will be defeated.”

Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said: “I congratulate the Prime Minister for her strong and unequivocal condemnation of antisemitism. Jewish women have been disproportionately targeted by the racists and I’m very pleased that this misogyny has also been acknowledged and is being confronted.”

Conference co-chair, Luciana Berger MP said: “It is unacceptable that Jewish women are being prevented from participating in public spaces through fear or threat.

Labour MP, Luciana Berger speaking in Parliament

“I am proud to be British, and proud to be a Jewish woman. My identity, nor that of any other Jewish woman, should never be a barrier to full engagement in public life. I am delighted that, together with colleagues, we are sending a strong signal that antisemitism against women will not be tolerated.”

Danny Stone, chief executive of the Antisemitism Policy Trust, said: “We are pleased to have been able to give such prominence to an important issue.

“The level of antisemitic abuse, gendered threats and other invectives directed against women, particularly online, is frightening and unacceptable.”

“The Sara conference marks an important beginning to our understanding of the problem and efforts to address it. We will do everything we can at the Trust to ensure women facing antisemitism know that we are pushing for urgent change, and that they are not alone in the struggle they face.”


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