HC Deb 20 April 2004 vol 420 cc1-21WH

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Derek Twigg.]

9.30 am
James Purnell (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab)

Before I start, I draw attention to my declaration in the Register of Members' Interests and to my position as the chair of Labour Friends of Israel. I would also like to thank Mr. Speaker for granting this debate because anti-Semitism is an important subject. This is a good time to discuss the issue because anti-Semitism is on the rise and we must combat it as we do all for ms of racism.

Anti-Semitism is not only a growing threat but it has mutated into a new form of race hatred that has found cover in extreme and unreasonable anti-Zionism. We must not forget the lessons of the past that anti-Semitism must be fought when it starts and must never be allowed to become a force that cannot be put back in its bottle. It is not for the Jewish community to solve the problem but for the rest of us to solve it for them. They suffer from the problem, but we must solve it.

What is anti-Semitism? It is the hatred, fear, targeting or attack of people simply because they are Jewish, and it is increasing. Last year there were 375 anti-Semitic attacks in Britain—the second highest total since the figures were first collected and a 7 per cent. increase on the 2002 figure.

Examples speak louder than statistics. Last year, a rabbi in Birmingham was spat at and attacked while walking home from Friday night prayers. Bricks were thrown through windows of the Edgware synagogue. Synagogues across the country were daubed with swastikas and graffiti, and there were arson attacks on synagogues in Finsbury Park and Manchester. Five hundred gravestones in Plashet cemetery were defaced causing £1 million worth of damage—the largest ever attack on a Jewish cemetery in Britain. Perhaps most chilling of all was that Britain produced its first suicide bomber, someone educated in this country who used his passport to enter Israel and blow himself up in a beachfront bar. It is chilling not only that this country produced him. Because of the lack of moral outrage and soul searching in this country, the event did not convulse our moral conscience as it should have done.

The picture outside Britain was even more chilling. Over the past year, for example, the Malaysian Prime Minister in his outgoing speech called for the targeting of Jews worldwide. In November, a terrorist attack on two Istanbul synagogues—Oasis of Peace and Beit Israel—killed 25 people and injured more than 300. An arson attack on the same day destroyed a Jewish school near Paris in France. Those attacks were preceded by deadly terrorist truck bombs on synagogues and Jewish community centres in Casablanca and Tunisia. Just two weeks ago, police in Hungary discovered and foiled an attempt to bomb Hungary's new holocaust museum during the visit of the Israeli President. The trend is serious and growing, with al-Qaeda attacking Jewish centres every six months or so. It is a terrible and incredible fact that anti-Semitism is on the rise once again, 60 years after the holocaust.

For 60 years the memory of the holocaust largely inoculated Europe against anti-Semitism. Of course, like all forms of racism, such as Islamophobia, anti-Semitism continued to exist—there are bigots everywhere. However, civilised people learned the lessons of the holocaust and overt anti-Semitism in public debate became taboo. Most people learned the lessons that anti-Semitism starts with talk of cabals and conspiracies and with the demonisation of Jews and that that demonisation can lead all too quickly to persecution. We need to reflect on those lessons.

Anti-Semitism is perhaps the oldest form of racism. For centuries, it has existed deep in the European psyche, in our literature and songs and in our popular culture. As Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has said, the Jewish community could never win: it was attacked whatever it did. Jewish people were attacked because they were rich and because they were indigent. They were attacked because they were capitalists, but also because they were communists. They were attacked because they lived apart, but also because they were everywhere in our society. They were attacked because they were religious fanatics, but also because they were thought to epitomise the moral degenerate.

Linda Perham (Ilford, North) (Lab)

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important to support the work of FAIR—Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting—Palestinian Media Watch and other organisations that keep an eye on the amount of anti-Semitic literature in the media in this country and elsewhere to ensure that we are ever vigilant about such attacks on Jewish people?

James Purnell

I agree. It is of course important that we have a vibrant debate about the middle east, but we need to be very careful that the debate does not turn into racist attacks on any side and, in particular, incitement to violence against Jewish people.

As the Chief Rabbi says, the Jewish community could not win: it was a target whatever it did. Over the centuries, that widespread hatred occasionally erupted into violence, frequently erupted into persecution and, in tragic times, developed into pogroms—that very Jewish word for a very Jewish form of suffering. The holocaust was the final evolution of that anti-Semitism, and it was so inhuman that anti-Semitism virtually disappeared from civilised debate for the rest of the 20th century.

Today, overt anti-Semitism is still taboo, but it is a virus and it has once again started to infect our body politic. The virus is spread by age-old caricatures. It is spread, for example, by television pictures and graphics of spider webs of prominent Jewish people. Those images represent a perceived Jewish lobby with malign and excessive influence. The influence and even the very existence of that lobby is often only imagined in that people who are thought to be Jewish are not Jewish.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) (Con)

The hon. Gentleman has said that anti-Semitism is taboo in civilised debate, but it can occur in civilised debate. I seem to remember that one hon. Member said not so long ago that the Prime Minister was being influenced by a cabal of Jewish advisers. That is exactly the type of thing to which the hon. Gentleman is referring.

James Purnell

I have no desire to get into discussions about individuals. I am saying that people use such images without anti-Semitic motives and without feeling themselves to be anti-Semitic. Indeed, they would be horrified if they were accused of being anti-Semitic, but the images perpetuate and spread anti-Semitic ideas, and people have forgotten the power of those images.

Mr. Randall

My point is that, somehow or other, we are forgetting something. People may talk about a cabal of Jewish advisers, but we would be appalled if someone spoke about a cabal, for example, of black advisers.

James Purnell

Indeed, I echo the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. The danger of that conversation is that people get into discussion of good Jews and bad Jews. Frankly, anyone, whatever their racial or religious background, should be allowed to work for any politician, and there should be no discussion of their views based on those grounds. We should discuss only the merits of their views.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD)

I am involved with the Holocaust Educational Trust and it strikes me that the issue is that people mix up criticism of, for example, Israeli Government policy with justification for criticising an entire faith. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is no more acceptable to justify one's anti-Semitism on the basis of criticism of Israeli Government policy—for example, towards Palestinians—than it would be to criticise British Government policy on Iraq on the basis of the Prime Minister's religious faith?

James Purnell

I entirely agree. It would be completely outrageous to say that the American Government had pledged money to eradicating AIDS because people of African-American origin were highly placed in the American Administration. In the same way, it would be completely outrageous to try to assign particular policies to the ethnic or religious background of people in particular Administrations.

I gave one example of how the virus is spread. Other examples are the cartoon of the star of David piercing the Union jack under the headline, "Kosher conspiracy," and pictures of Prime Minister Sharon biting the heads off babies. We need to remind ourselves why those images are so dangerous. The idea of the foreign, unpatriotic and controlling Jew is deep within our culture. It is reminiscent, most obviously, of the forged KGB document—the protocols of the elders of Zion. That is one example of the permanent theme of the Jewish community having an effect beyond the justice of its arguments, and it is a way of undermining the justice of those arguments.

Mrs. Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Coop)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the perception of the all-powerful Jew is as fallacious as it is pernicious? Criticising Israeli policy is not anti-Semitic in itself, but does he agree that too many critics of Israeli policy invoke images of all-powerful Jews when, in fact, the Jewish population of this country is about half a per cent. of the population, and in the United States is about 2 per cent. of the population? Does he also recall that the Hamas charter supports the protocols of the elders of Zion and talks about world wide Jewish conspiracies to control and corrupt the world?

James Purnell

I entirely agree. My hon. Friend makes a very important point about the Hamas constitution, which illustrates a continuum of which we should all be very aware: what is well known elsewhere to be a forgery is believed to be an authentic document and is treated as such. Another example is the film that is sometimes shown of someone trying to represent Prime Minister Sharon. This film tries to perpetuate the blood libel against the Jews and is an incredibly dangerous image.

People in America often refer to the strength of the Jewish lobby. It is worth remembering that American Governments are so strongly pro-Israel because the American population is very strongly pro-Israel. There is a very strong commitment among American voters to the continued existence of the state of Israel, and revulsion for what happened during the holocaust. Their support for America's support for Israel is fairly unshakeable. People in this country often forget that and it is rarely mentioned.

It is very important to remember why those images are dangerous. When I visited Yad Vashem—the holocaust museum in Jerusalem—I was struck by the resemblance of some of the modern images, examples of which I quoted, to some of the Nazi imagery that appeared in Nazi publications in the 1930s.I do not believe that these modern images had anti-Semitic motives or were produced by people who were anti-Semitic. My worry is that members of my generation are forgetting the lessons that we learned in the 20th century that those images spread a virus of anti-Semitism and echo themes that are deep in our culture. My generation did not live through the second world war and its aftermath and it did not learn those lessons in a way that we have not forgotten. In fact, we never learned them in the first place. We need to learn those lessons again, because in my view the struggle will now come to the fore and we all need to play our part in winning it.

Mrs. Gillian Shephard (South-West Norfolk) (Con)

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate, and I regret that I cannot remain for the whole of it. As chairman of Conservative Friends of Israel, I very much support him.

The hon. Gentleman mentions learning lessons, but has he looked at the way in which the French Government have chosen to deal with the greater number of outbreaks of anti-Semitic attacks in France? We could perhaps draw lessons from that. There have been more attacks, some of which have been more violent, and there have been attacks in the entertainment industry as well as physical attacks on Jewish subjects. However, the President of France, backed by his whole Cabinet and the Chief Rabbi, has led an enormous number of initiatives in the French media rejecting anti-Semitism. Those initiatives are repeated, repeated and repeated. We do not take the same approach, and I wonder whether that is because of political correctness. Does the hon. Gentleman have a view?

James Purnell

I applaud what President Chirac did. I think that the problem in France is slightly different; the number of attacks has been greater and more serious. I know from speaking to Jewish friends of mine in France that members of the Jewish community feel uncomfortable about remaining in France. The French political world has also slightly swept the problem under the carpet for a long time and, because of the French commitment to equal citizenship under the republic, there has been a general reluctance, compared to Britain, to talk about religious or racial differences. Parties of all colours in this country have been addressing the issue for a long time.

The reaction in France is commendable, but it is a reaction to a particular, very serious, problem in France. What has been done in this country—holocaust memorial day and the Holocaust Educational Trust are clear examples—shows that the issue has been dealt with at a political level over a longer period. However, I would be happy for the Government to come forward with any further initiatives. I am not arguing for any particular policy initiatives today. I merely want to raise the issue and to say to all opinion leaders that it is our responsibility to show leadership on it.

Mrs. Shephard

I absolutely accept the hon. Gentleman's argument that the position in France, and in each country in the world where anti-Semitism exists, is different. In France, that is partly because of quite recent historical events. However. it is interesting to note the even-handed treatment by the written press of the middle east question and the removal from their arguments of anti-Semitic approaches. I wonder whether that is because of the extremely strong line taken by the French Government in recent months. Perhaps, like me, the hon. Gentleman will hope to hear the Minister's response and her view of the French Government's approach.

James Purnell

I am, of course, looking forward to hearing from the Minister. I would also be delighted to swap the French written press, in some ways, for the English written press. If the right hon. Lady has any suggestions for a way in which we might achieve that, I would also be all ears, as would many of our colleagues.

Had I heard myself making this argument two years ago, before I became the chair of Labour Friends of Israel, I might have dismissed it as paranoid. I might have thought that it was special pleading. However, my experience as the chair of Labour Friends of Israel has brought home to me the way that the Jewish community feels about the attacks and their existence. I could quote a large number of examples, but I want to refer to one in particular.

I made some comments recently in t he press following the comments made by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Dr. Tonge). I received a tenet from someone who had been a member of the Labour party in my area. She said that she had not known that I was Jewish and that had she known that I was Jewish, she would not have voted for me in the selection battle. She thought that it was completely outrageous that I had not made my ethnic background clear. After some horrible paragraphs, the letter finished with a large, underlined postscript saying, "Are you Jewish?" I ignored that and replied to her, but she wrote back, with the postscript again asking, "Are you Jewish?" The third letter said that, because I was refusing to answer her question, she would now vote for the Conservative party at the next election. I am sure that my Conservative opponent would be happy to reject her vote, as would a candidate from any party in this House. I was deeply shocked to find that attitude in my constituency and in the Labour party, and the extraordinary thing is that it is something that members of the Jewish community encounter on a regular basis.

I am also shocked to find that when I say that I am chair of Labour Friends of Israel, many people say, "Well, I'm not a friend of Israel". We have to ask ourselves how many other countries one would say that about. To how many other democracies would someone have such a visceral reaction? It illustrates an important point. Like any strong virus, anti-Semitism has survived by adapting to its circumstances and mutating. Modern anti-Semitism is no longer an overt hatred of Jews—people know that that is taboo and that they cannot get away with it. Instead, as has been said, modern anti-Semitism has found a home in overt, extreme and unreasonable attacks on Israel and in extreme anti-Zionism.

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) (Con)

I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for securing this debate. It is welcome and timely. To echo the point of my right hon. Friend the Member for South-West Norfolk (Mrs. Shephard), I refer to once hearing Bishop Trevor Huddleston say that he gave thanks to God for the Jewish community in our country. What he meant is that although the Jewish community is a small one, its contribution to our national life has been stupendous, whether it has been in this place or each field of scientific, medical or judicial activity. It is incumbent on us to say that occasionally, because it is true. The Jewish community is a special part of the whole community in the United Kingdom.

James Purnell

I echo what the hon. Gentleman said, and I am sure that all hon. Members would do the same. It is appropriate that he said it.

I must say that I have been stunned by the viciousness of some of the attacks on Israel in debates on the middle east and by the unbalanced tenor of many of those debates. Most blatant is the analogy that is increasingly made between what is happening in Israel and what happened in Nazi Germany. That analogy has gained ground in some left-wing circles, particularly among certain academics. I find it unbelievable to hear people saying that the Israeli army is the Zionist SS, to read about Jewish academics being thrown off editorial boards or refused interviews for jobs purely because they are Jewish and for those decisions to be justified by an attack on Israel by people saying, for example:

Israel has gone beyond just war crimes…many of us would like to talk about it as some kind of Holocaust".

We have to pause, listen to those words and think about the analogy that is being made between what happened in Nazi Germany, with the murder of millions of people and the deliberate and planned attempt to exterminate a whole race, and what is happening in the middle east. There is suffering on both sides in the middle east, and to compare in any way what happened in Nazi Germany to what is happening there defies belief. One has to question the motives of the people who do it.

Mr. Randall

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one problem is that the words "holocaust" and "genocide" have become undervalued as they have been used too often, perhaps sensationally, to describe various incidents around the world? We tend to forget what actually happened during the years of the Nazi holocaust.

James Purnell

That is a very good point and one that I had not thought about. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making it. It is also worth saying that the comparisons between Nazi Germany and today's situation are simply wrong. The novelist Howard Jacobson put it very well when he wrote:

Examine what is meant by 'reminiscent of the Nazis' and you find no extermination camps, no master-race eugenics programmes, no extirpation of an entire culture, no final solution".

Some on the extreme left have allowed themselves to pick up some strange bedfellows in their vitriolic criticisms of Israel. There were some terrifying pictures of individuals at the anti-war protests who were dressed up as suicide bombers, holding banners with the star of David, an equals sign and a swastika. The apparent embrace of such symbols by the anti-war left is astounding. Jewish friends who went on anti-war marches told me that they were shocked to the core to see some of the symbols and to hear some of the chants.

We must understand what such comparisons do. They seek to undermine the moral force of the argument for a Jewish state. They seek to say that what the Nazis did to the Jews, the Israelis are now doing to the Palestinians. They seek to say that Israel and the Jewish people do not deserve their own state. They then somehow lead on to the idea that it is acceptable to kill innocent Israeli civilians, that that can be explained, that we can blunt our moral outrage at suicide terror and that it has become a legitimate tool of political debate.

Ned Temko, the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, put it very well when he said that when there is a suicide terror attack against whatever nationality, whether it is Muslim or Jew, there can be no buts: suicide terror has to be condemned. There can be no buts. There can be no following sentence in which we say that of course we condemn this act of suicide terror, but that "xyz" has to be understood.

Mrs. Ellman

In view of the very important observations that my hon. Friend has just made, does he think that the time has come for those involved in the anti-war coalition to dissociate themselves from the supporters of Hamas and the Muslim Association of Britain?

James Purnell

That time came a while ago. I certainly agree that now would be a good time for that to happen. Although it is true for all parties, this is a point on which the left needs to search its conscience. We pride ourselves on standing up against intolerance, ignorance, prejudice and racism, but some on the extreme left are now fostering precisely those terrible instincts. They have to ask themselves who they are sharing platforms with and whether they are crossing the line from valid criticism to distorted prejudice. I believe that that violent anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.

We need to be careful about this. We should never allow ourselves to be accused of using anti-Semitism to prevent debate about the middle east. It is perfectly fair to disagree with policies of an individual Israeli Government. It becomes illegitimate when it turns into criticism of Israel itself and a denial of Israel's right to exist. One can disagree with Israeli Governments without being anti-Semitic. I find it hard to see how one can be anti-Zionist without being anti-Semitic. We all argue passionately for the rights of people around the world to self-determination. Why should we single out Israel as being the one country that is not allowed to have self-determination and, particularly in the light of the holocaust, why should we deny its people the right to live secure within its borders?

Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)

I agree with a great deal of what my hon. Friend says about the scourge of anti-Semitism. If I manage to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will say a little more about that. I am worried by his comment that anti-Zionism must therefore be anti-Semitism. I take the view that Israel has the right to exist and that there should be two states. However, there is Jewish opinion that disagrees with a state of Israel. Presumably that kind of anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.

James Purnell

I use the term Zionism in a specific sense—Israel's right to its own state if it wants that. I believe that, following the holocaust and the example of the 20th century, the case for that is incontrovertible. I worry whenever anyone denies that. I heard a national magazine editor saying in private the other day that we had made a mistake by creating the state of Israel. Such arguments worry me.

A recent collection on this matter contains a very good piece by Jonathan Freedland, which goes through all the arguments. I found it very persuasive. It is hard to see why we should have supported South Africans' right to self-determination and to run their own country, and supported those rights elsewhere in the world, but not have given the same support to Jewish people in Israel.

Anti-Semitism is not a problem that the Jewish community can solve. It is a problem that it suffers and one that the rest of us should solve. Of course anti-Semitism has not yet reached the level that it reached in the 1930s. However, that is precisely why it is up to us to deal with it today. If we can deal with it at the beginning, it will not be able to get out of the bottle and become as deadly as it did in the previous century.

I ask only one thing of today's debate. As I have said, I do not have any particular policy prescriptions or desires. I wanted only to raise a flag against the renewed menace of anti-Semitism, to pledge that we shall do all that we can to prevent anti-Semitism from scarring our society today and to ask for moderation and balance in debates about the middle east. I shudder when people get cheers for attacking the state of Israel. I hate it when people talk as if Israel brings suicide terror on itself by its policies. I hate it when people ignore the hundreds of people from that small country who have been killed in this terrible conflict.

Of course there is suffering on both sides. Of course the Palestinians' plight is terrible. Everyone should recognise that. However, it is incumbent on all of us who take part in these debates to try to ensure that we do not exacerbate the differences of the middle east; we should instead do all that we can to bring both sides together, argue for moderation and present a balanced picture of the debate in the middle east. In this of all places we can secure a balanced debate and stand up against anti-Semitism. As opinion formers and leaders we have that opportunity and we should take it.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Edward O'Hara)

Order. I remind right hon. and hon. Members that the winding-up speeches must start not later than 10.30.

10.3 am

Mr. Stephen Byers (Tyneside, North) (Lab)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) on securing this timely debate on anti-Semitism. As he said, he chairs Labour Friends of Israel and he has been highly effective in that capacity. The fact that he has secured the debate shows how he pursues the issues on behalf of not only that group in the House, but the Jewish community in the United Kingdom.

I am keen to take part in this morning's debate in my capacity as chair of the parliamentary committee against anti-Semitism. I was approached last autumn about whether I was prepared to take on that role. I gave it some thought and looked into the present situation. Rather like my hon. Friend, I was unaware of the particular problems being experienced and of the increase in anti-Semitic attacks occurring in the United Kingdom. However, once I had looked into the matter, I had no doubt that it needed to be addressed as a priority. That is why I agreed to chair the parliamentary committee against anti-Semitism, which represents all parties in this House and in the other place.

I want to make only a few brief comments so as to enable hon. Friends whom I know want to take part in the debate to make their contributions. At the beginning of such a debate, it is important to stress that all forms of hatred and discrimination must be confronted and challenged. Although we are debating anti-Semitism, that does not mean that it is the only form of prejudice that exists in our society. Islamophobia is increasing. I know many good, decent Muslims who feel tainted by the views of a minority of radical, fanatical fundamentalists and are concerned about how the debate is developing. Hindus and Sikhs find that there is a continued lack of understanding of their beliefs and religion. Discrimination on the ground of colour still exists and must be confronted. It is worth putting the debate in that context.

It is important to debate anti-Semitism today because verbal and physical attacks are increasing and because of the development of an intellectual argument in favour of anti-Semitism. I shall focus most of my remarks on that latter aspect. I shall comment first, however, on visits that I made recently as chairman of the parliamentary committee to Bury and Manchester in the north-west and to Leeds in Yorkshire. The purpose of those visits was to talk to leaders of the Jewish community, schoolchildren with a range of beliefs and university students to find out their views on what is happening in their communities and areas.

Interestingly, there was a real sense of cohesion in the Jewish community in those parts of the UK. The community is strong and it takes great pride in the role that it has played over the years in developing civic life in those areas. The community has also played a very important part in the cultural life, the academic community and the business world of those areas.

Despite its strength, the community also has real concerns. One person said to me, "Things were really bad during the 1970s, but they are a lot worse now." A sixth-former—a bright, able young girl—said to me that she is unsure about going to university because she is worried about the safety and security of the environment into which she would be moving. A 15-year-old—a little lad with glasses—said that bullying and verbal abuse are parts of his daily experience that he almost takes for granted. The bullying and name-calling occur not because he is not a strong-looking individual, but because he is Jewish. It is not acceptable to me that someone in the UK at the beginning of the 21st century has to be brought up in such an environment. We must say to people in those communities that we in Parliament understand their concerns and recognise that those attacks are increasing.

My main concern, however, is not that anti-Semitism is resurgent, but that in some circles it is becoming respectable. It is being portrayed almost as anti-Semitism with a social conscience, because it is based on support for human rights and on concern for the Palestinian people.

I want to make it clear that criticising the Government of Israel is not anti-Semitic. Some of the strongest criticisms that I have heard of Prime Minister Sharon have been made by Jews, but there is a danger that the legitimate criticism that can be made of any Government could be misused against the Government of Israel. It should not be used as a cloak of respectability for anti-Semitic views. All too often, the line between making legitimate criticism and comment and demonising and dehumanising Jews is being crossed, and double standards are being applied. That is dangerous territory, because some intellectual commentators are demanding that Jews denounce the Israeli Government's actions and policies to earn a commitment to fight with them against anti-Semitism. That is unacceptable.

I repeat that criticism of the Government of Israel and their policies is not anti-Semitic, but it can become so when it involves the application of double standards, holding all Jews responsible for the Israeli Government's actions, or demonising Jews. Clearly, it is anti-Semitic if it provides an excuse for anti-Jewish hatred.

No one should be asked to take a loyalty or morality oath as a precondition of protection against racism, but that is what some people ask Jews to do. No citizen in this country should feel that their equality before the law depends on their embrace of political views that we happen to approve of. That is totalitarian logic that undermines the very freedoms that form the basis of our society and our country, yet it is what modern-day anti-Semites are demanding.

Anti-Semitic acts are being justified by commentators who accuse Jews of being the cause of their own suffering. That logic borders on an apology for hatred. Worse, it is a thinly veiled threat that if Jews fail to oblige, people will not stand by them in their hour of need. Instead of sympathising with victims, anti-Semites exploit the Palestinian cause to side with the people responsible for terrible acts of terrorism. Around the world, it is only Jews, and Israel, that earn that particular treatment.

We need to be robust in confronting anti-Semitic views wherever they occur. Anti-Semitism is not rational. The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, said that it is a virus that mutates. It will not be defeated unless it is treated as an act of senseless hatred that has no logic, reason or justification and which is based on myths and prejudice. That is the basis on which it should be tackled, but we must ask ourselves why that age-old hatred is resurging now. It is because people with anti-Semitic views feel strengthened.

The prejudice of those people—suppressed out of guilt for over 50 years—is coming forward and finding its way back into the mainstream of political thinking and comment in civilised circles. When we see that happening, or hear or read such comments, we all have a responsibility not to accept it in a spirit of tolerance. It would often be the British way of dealing with such things to say, "Well, that is a fair view which is being expressed," but it is not a fair view. It is prejudice, and it needs to be confronted as such.

The debate gives us all a timely opportunity to recognise that we must be eternally vigilant. It also provides this mother of Parliaments with the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to exposing, confronting and fighting anti-Semitism in whatever form it may take and from whatever quarter it may come. Of course, we do this for the Jewish population in the United Kingdom, but also to defend the principles and values on which our country is based.

10.15 am
Linda Perham (Ilford, North) (Lab)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) on securing the debate. It was a privilege to visit Israel in July as part of the Labour Friends of Israel delegation, which he led.

My previous visit to Israel was in 1998, when the outlook on our return was pessimistic; that was before the intifada in September 2000, after which the number of anti-Semitic attacks in this country and elsewhere increased. I speak as secretary of the British Israel Group, a vice-chair of Labour Friends of Israel and as Member of Parliament for a London borough that contains 15,000 Jews. That community is deeply worried by the rise of anti-Semitism in the form of physical attacks and in the media; they are concerned about prejudice in television accounts of the middle east. My constituents constantly raise the issue of anti-Semitism at my surgeries and at events and gatherings that I attend, such as the Jewish Association of Cultural Societies. I am going to one such event on Thursday, when I am sure that the issue will again be raised.

I also take part in question-and-answer sessions at the local Jewish centre, Sinclair house, which is based in my constituency. It is a thriving centre, which is very well attended. It was my privilege to accompany people from that centre and Jewish friends from the constituency to the rally for Israel in May 2002 in Trafalgar square. Thousands of people were present, including a handful of MPs, and there were signs saying, "Israel we support you". Unfortunately, on the other side of the road, there was a counter-demonstration of a few hundred people carrying signs saying things such as "Kill the Jews". Lord Greville Janner, who spoke at the rally, said, "We don't have signs saying 'Kill the Muslims' or 'Kill the Arabs', but they have signs saying 'Kill the Jews'". I took that point to heart.

In September, I accompanied Lord Janner and Lord Parry Mitchell on a visit to the opening of a Jewish school in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan, which is a 93 per cent. Muslim country. However, we found a great tolerance of all religions. We also visited the Qaba region further from the capital where the synagogue and the mosque were next to each other and where the rural community tolerated different religions. I hope we can foster that sense of peaceful co-existence and tolerance in this country by confronting anti-Semitism wherever it raises its head.

I agree with my hon. Friends that this debate is timely; anti-Semitism, which causes deep anxiety in my constituency, is something that hon. Members must challenge.

10.19 am
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon) (Lab)

I represent Hendon, which has one of the biggest Jewish communities in Britain. I am also a vice-chair of the Labour Friends of Israel and one of the officers of the body about which my right hon. Friend the Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) spoke.

In the short time available, I want to focus on some of the anti-Semitic activities of fundamentalist organisations. Rather than describe them all, I shall concentrate on the activities of al-Muhajiroun and its leader, Omar Bakri Mohammed, and its sister organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir. I first took an interest in their activities five or six years ago, but particularly after I witnessed an anti-Semitic demonstration that they had organised outside Brent town hall in May 2000. They were picketing a celebration of Israel's independence day, and their chants included "Dirty Jews we want your blood", "All Jews burn in hell", "The Muslim will fight the Jew—we will kill the Jew" and so on. Two demonstrators were arrested but released without charge.

However, al-Muhajiroun has a much longer history of anti-Semitism. In June 1998, one of the group's activists, Avais Khan, told a rally in Trafalgar square that

the Holocaust was a fabrication. How wicked, how evil the Jews are. They don't even deserve the death of the dog. In September 2000, the group produced a leaflet referring to "Jewish Murderers". At a demonstration in January 2000, its members chanted "Gas the Jews". In May 2000, the group issued a leaflet stating:

O Jew, hide in your bunkers, because the Mujahideen are coming so be ready to surrender or die like a dog.

The group's leader is Omar Bakri Mohammed. In October 2000, he said that Jews who actively supported Israel did so at their peril:

If they are going to raise funds for Israel, they are going to put themselves in the conflict and become legitimate targets for Muslims wherever they are". On 13 October 2000, al-Muhajiroun put out a leaflet saying:

The hour will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and the Muslims kill them". On 20 October, in Derby, the group organised a demonstration with leaflets saying "Kill the Jews". So it goes on. There are many examples of the group's anti-Semitic activity. Has any al-Muhajiroun leader or activist been prosecuted? Absolutely not. I regard that as a pusillanimous response from our forces of law and order. How can the organisation continue to promulgate its message of hatred against the Jewish community with such impunity?

After 11 September, things got even worse, and the group started issuing statements praising the attackers. Soon after 11 September, Omar Bakri was quoted as saying:

When I first heard about it, there was…delight about such an attack. On the very night of 11 September, posters were put up urging Muslims to kill the Jews; Omar Bakri's mobile phone number was at the bottom The year after, the group organised a demonstration in Trafalgar square—the so-called magnificent 17 demonstration—to praise the suicide bombers. The London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, banned the demonstration. He was the only person who was prepared to take any action against the group, but it took no notice and held the demonstration anyway. Anjem Chaudhary and, I think, one or two others who were responsible for organising the demonstration were prosecuted but let off with a very minor penalty.

Other hon. Members have referred to al-Muhajiroun's activities on university campuses. For years, the group and its sister movement, Hizb ut-Tahrir, have contributed to a climate of fear for Jewish students and other minorities on British campuses. In October 2000, a poster appeared on campuses throughout Britain stating:

The last hour will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and the Muslims kill the Jews. I am pleased to say that, after that, the National Union of Students took action to ban al-Muhajiroun from student unions for distributing anti-Semitic material. That is an important step, but the group nevertheless continues to organise around universities and, I regret to say, some sixth-form colleges.

There are many more examples of what al-Muhajiroun has been up to, but I shall mention just two. In January 2003, I was debating on television with Omar Bakri Mohammed. He told the audience that I said what I did only because I was Jewish and therefore "biased by default". I have no hesitation in saying that I am not Jewish, unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell). None the less, those comments demonstrate the extent of the anti-Semitic behaviour of al-Muhajiroun and Omar Bakri Mohammed, who automatically assume that anybody who criticises them must be Jewish and, no doubt, that everybody would otherwise agree with them.

Omar Bakri Mohammed is undoubtedly a controversial figure. In April 2003, he was under attack for receiving state benefits. He said:

Ask the Muslim people where they would prefer their taxes to be spent—on me, or homosexuals, lesbians or Jews". Again, that reveals his anti-Semitic behaviour.

There is a more sinister side to the organisation. Omar Bakri Mohammed is not the buffoon that some people believe him to be. He comes from a wealthy background in Syria. He was a Hizb ut-Tahrir activist in Damascus who fled to Beirut and then to Saudi Arabia, where he was wanted for illegal Hizb ut-Tahrir activity. He fled to the United Kingdom in 1985 and, in 1991, he called for John Major, the then Prime Minister, to be assassinated. Despite that, he was given indefinite leave to remain in 1993. Ten years later, the threat was repeated. In 2001, al-Muhajiroun activist Abdul Rehmon Saleem called for the assassination of Prime Minister Blair. The organisation actively supports terrorism, and it is about time that we dealt with it.

In the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat, on 30 May 2000, Mohammed boasted of the extent to which young British Muslims were being recruited for military training overseas. They were sent to fight in the trouble spots of the world but only, he said, when they were fully trained—not just militarily but ideologically. On the BBC Radio 4 "Today" programme in June 2000, Abu Yaya, who turned out to be a mujaheddin activist, talked about the weapons training that he had had overseas. He had learned to use a Kalashnikov, to ambush, to make bombs and even to use artillery.

It was not just idle boasting. The Mike's bar bombers in Israel in 2003—two Britons, Asif Muhammed Hanif and Omar Khan Sharif—were associates of Omar Bakri. He openly claimed on the BBC that the two men had come to him for instruction, and in The Daily Telegraph, he stated that Sharif was a martyr, who had died in the cause of Muslim lands and Muslim people. He said,

I knew Sharif very well and he used to attend regularly at my sessions. He was my brother and I am very proud of him and any Muslim who will do the same. It goes on. Hassan Butt, another al-Muhajiroun activist, said in May 2003 that "close to 50" British volunteers had approached him for advice on emulating the suicide attack in Israel. Asked whether that meant suicide missions in Britain, he replied,

Yes, absolutely. When they're needed and when they're required…if they want to and they believe Islamically that it's allowed, then fair enough. He went on to say that

it would not surprise me if a suicide bomb did take place in Britain. It would not surprise me at all.

Those are very forward-looking quotes, bearing in mind last night's arrests in Manchester of people who, I have little doubt, will be tracked back to al-Muhajiroun, Omar Bakri Mohammed and supporters of sharia and Abu Hamza. They show clearly how young British Muslim society has been affected and why action has to be taken. The organisation's boast is that its objective is to see the black flag of Islam flying over Downing street, a claim that is repeated time and again.

We have powers under section 76 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 to remove Omar Bakri Mohammed's indefinite leave to remain. I urge the Home Secretary to use them, so that Mohammed can be removed from our society. The time has undoubtedly come for al-Muhajiroun to be proscribed under the terrorism legislation as an active organisation promoting and supporting terrorism, not just overseas but in the United Kingdom.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Because of Back Benchers' great interest in the debate, it has been agreed that the winding-up speeches will start at not later than 10.40 am. I am sure that hon. Members will co-operate.

10.29 am
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab)

My preparation for the debate began yesterday morning when I received an unsolicited letter from a constituent, who enclosed printed copy about the "Jewish-controlled media" and the "Jewish media spin doctors" and wrote that the Prime Minister is in the pocket of Jewry. It is worthy of the attention of the Chamber because it is clear that the individual who sent it would claim to be on the left. I shall restrict my comments to the issue of anti-Semitism on the left, which does not receive enough attention.

I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) was rather too gentle in his comments on those who are prepared to talk about cabals of Jewish advisers to the Prime Minister. I recall that Senator Jesse Helms's campaign during the North Carolina senate elections of 1984 was entirely based on a poster with a picture of his Democrat opponent surrounded by black faces and the words "Know him by his friends".

Such insidious racism is not new, even in my political generation. In the early 1980s, anyone in the student movement in this country who had the temerity to say that Israel had the right to exist would be isolated and howled down as a racist. That was a time when Jewish societies were repeatedly banned in student unions across the country. My recollection of those days is vivid. Comrades and colleagues on the left were happy to tell me that they would not be prepared in any circumstances to support me in an election just because I was prepared to articulate a two-state solution to the problem in the middle east. They were categorical about that, but polite on all other matters. That was not a minority interest, but a significant factor among people on the left, who were and are important political players. The subterfuge that such people used was Zionism. They seemed to think that quoting the term "Zionism" made everything okay and meant that they were attacking not Jewish people, but Zionists and the concept of Zionism, but that was a subterfuge.

That is not to say, however, that the people whose arguments and beliefs were virulently anti-Zionist were racist or anti-Semitic, because some were not. Their arguments were well thought out and they understood the differences. Equally, however, other people's arguments were not thought out, and they were happy to lump things together. Such people used the subterfuge of anti-Zionism to act and think in a way that was anti-Semitic, hence letters such as the one that I mentioned. Such people have employed a straightforward concept: that there are conspiracies—smaller conspiracies, not a world conspiracy—involving a group that has managed to infiltrate the higher echelons of power in the United States, Britain and other countries and is thereby exercising an undue influence. That is the basic tenet of such individuals' beliefs, which caricature an entire people.

It is of course nonsense to suggest that the rather communistic early kibbutzniks were ideologically close to some of the more extreme right-wing settler groups of the last 30 or 40 3ears. One would not suggest, for instance, that Christianity was an amorphous mass that could be criticised as one. It would clearly be nonsense to say that Billy Graham and the Southern Baptist Christian evangelicals—some of whom are, in my experience, rather anti-Semitic—are exactly the same as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Dom Helder Camara or the left-wing Christian ideologues. The vitriol contained in attacks on the term "Zionism" masks a much deeper underlying anti-Semitism that exists in the minds of some people.

I am not a great supporter of the actions of the state of Israel. I have visited the country, but I have also visited the west bank with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. I therefore take a neutral stance on the matter, and few voters in my constituency are anything other than lumpen Anglo-Saxons. No votes are at stake in relation to anything that I may say on the subject. However, the concept of self-determination cannot be divided. The fact is that the self-determination of a people will lead to conflict; and the word for such conflicts is politics. Those who mask under their anti-Zionism a much deeper anti-Semitism fail to appreciate and understand the difference between the political dynamic and the self-determination of a people. We must remember that it is determination not of "I" or of "others" but of "self". In our debates, we need to tackle that question head on.

Finally, I suspect that, in many conferences or meetings of the left, a debate on anti-Semitism would have many speakers talking about the middle east. I rest my case on that point, as it highlights the problem that exists in some people's minds.

10.36 am
Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)

I am grateful to those on the Front Benches for making time to allow me to speak.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) on securing this debate. I speak as an individual Member and as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on Palestine. I place on record that the group stands no truck with anti-Semitism. Indeed, I am proud to be the co-sponsor and co-author of early-day motion 123 on combating anti-Semitism, which stands in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Linda Perham).

We need to reject racism in whatever form it takes. There is an Islamic community centre in my constituency; it was doing no one any harm, but it was recently burnt out. What scared me about that was not that racists were responsible, but that otherwise perfectly rational people should have come up to me afterwards and said, "Yes, but if they weren't here, it wouldn't happen to them." That logic underlies anti-Semitism, as much as it does Islamophobia.

In the short time available to me, I want to say something about the relationship between our debates on Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and the situation in the middle east. It is true that some people criticise Israel, but some use that criticism as a cloak for anti-Semitism. We need to distance ourselves from such people and condemn their action. However, on the other side of the argument is the fact that criticism of Israel is also too easily conflated with allegations of anti-Semitism. We need to be equally careful about that.

In an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, I mentioned Israel's right to exist. I make clear that I believe in the two-state solution—a secure Israel alongside an independent Palestine. However, there are different views on the solution to the middle east conflict.

An eminent Israeli academic called Jeff Halper has just written a book called "Obstacles for Peace" in which he says that the extent of the occupation and the matrix of Israeli control in the west bank is such that one could not have two states. He suggests that one solution would be to have a single state, in which all citizens—Jews, non-Jews, Christians, Muslims and people of no religion—could live together with equal rights. Would that be the end of Israel? It probably would. Would it be the end of Palestine? Yes, it definitely would. Does it mean that the author is a Jewish anti-Semite? No, it does not. The idea that someone like him could talk about throwing all Jews into the sea is nonsense. If we are to tackle racism properly in this country, we need to differentiate between people's motivations and what they actually say, and what it is convenient to believe they are saying in order to establish our position.

There is racism on both sides of the argument in the middle east. We need to reject it on both sides. Is anti-Semitism a problem in our communities? Yes, it is. Is Islamophobia a problem in our communities? Yes, it is. Is anti-Arabism a problem in our communities? Yes, it is. Are those that suffer from one type of racism sometimes susceptible to employing racism against others? Sadly, yes, they are. That is why, in this place, whatever our perspective on the middle east conflict, Israel and the rights of the Palestinians, we must be utterly consistent and uncompromising in our rejection of racism, from whatever direction it comes.

10.40 am
Mr. Alistair Carmichael (Orkney and Shetland) (LD)

I am keen, since we have already curtailed our time, to leave as much time as possible for the Minister to reply, so a lot of what I might have said will remain unsaid.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) not only on winning the raffle and securing the debate, but on the bulk of what he said and, more important in a debate such as this, on the way in which he said it. There were one or two points in his speech with which I did not agree: his reference to the equation between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism jarred in my mind, but we could have that debate in this reasoned atmosphere. I much preferred his original definition of anti-Semitism as the hatred, fear, targeting or attack of Jewish people simply because they are Jewish. If we keep that as a definition, we can find much more common ground.

The hon. Member's debate is timely for two reasons. First, as he pointed out, there has been a rise in anti-Semitism. For so long since the second world war, this country has accepted a consensus that anti-Semitism is absolutely abhorrent. With the passage of time and other political influences, many of which are not well motivated, that consensus is in danger of breaking down. Debates such as this are exceptionally important. Secondly, to put it into its current political context, there will be election campaigns throughout much of England and Wales in the next few months, which will see a record number of candidates from the British National party. The BNP feeds on anti-Semitism and targets Jews and other minorities within society in a way that I, as a Liberal Democrat, find absolutely abhorrent. At a time when such activity has become an increasingly poisonous feature of our politics, it is important that those of us in the mainstream political debate are prepared to stand up and defend that consensus.

If I have any criticism of the debate, it is that it has been long on analysis and short on solutions. The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) referred to a demonstration whose tone was violently anti-Semitic, and said that two arrests were made, but that nobody was charged. We must consider that point seriously. I should be interested to hear from the Minister what the Home Office's thinking is about the need for legislation for hate crimes. We already have that north of the border, after my colleague in the Scottish Executive, Donald Gorrie, introduced a Bill—it is now an Act—to deal with sectarian violence and hatred, which is sadly endemic in parts of west central Scotland. If we identify anti-Semitism as a problem of that scale, as we have done today, surely the time has come for the Government to start to think about other actions.

One of the interesting pieces of research that I came across during my preparation for this debate was a report published at the end of last month by the European monitoring centre on racism and xenophobia, which pointed out that anti-Semitism is rising in Britain, Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands. That report used data provided by the Community Security Trust, which showed that there were 350 reported anti-Semitic incidents in 2002. That is a 13 per cent. increase on the 2001 total—a dramatic statistic. The report noted, however, that London's Metropolitan Police Service already records hate crimes such as those committed against the Jewish community, but that is not the case in Manchester and Leeds. Will the Minister confirm today that other police forces for which she has responsibility will carry out such monitoring? We all believe—indeed, we have almost a gut feeling—that anti-Semitism is wrong, and that there must be objective analysis of the scale of the problem in our society, which it is well within the Government's scope to do.

This has been an exceptionally useful and timely debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde on securing the debate, and all hon. Members who have spoken in it. I hope that as well as analysing the problem, the Government will start to act to deal with it.

10.46 am
Mr. James Paice (South-East Cambridgeshire) (Con)

I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) on securing the debate and on the very well developed way in which he presented his case. I also congratulate other hon. Members who have spoken. I was particularly impressed and interested by the powerful contribution made by the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North (Mr. Byers) on this very serious issue.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde made the percipient remark that he would have considered many comments to be over-sensitive—I believe that he used the phrase "bordering on paranoia"—before he became the current chairman of Labour Friends of Israel. It was very interesting to hear him say that, since he has become more involved, he now realises that things are not as he might first have thought. He says that as a Jewish person. I am not a Jew, but I believe that it is totally irrelevant whether one is a Jew, black or a member of any other race or creed. We must treat people as individuals, regardless of their attributes.

No doubt, anti-Semitism is the oldest form of racism at least in the known history of the western world. That in no way makes it more acceptable; indeed, in many ways that makes it even more evil. The fact that it has not been eradicated before makes it even harder to eradicate now. I will not repeat the figures, which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde cited, for the increase in the number of hate crimes that have been committed. I shall, however, stress a point that has already been made. I was brought up to associate anti-Semitism with Nazism and the extreme right, but it is increasingly becoming a feature of the left and is being linked, in particular, with some sections of Muslim society. Interestingly, the European Union monitoring centre report made the statement, which it qualifies by saying that it is not easy to generalise, that a further source of anti-Semitism in some countries was young Muslims of north African or Asian extraction. Traditionally, anti-Semitic groups on the extreme right played a part in stirring opinion. That underlines the fact that there is a problem at both ends of the political spectrum.

Several hon. Members made a point that goes to the heart of the issue: we should not confuse criticism of the actions of this or any other Israeli Government with a form of anti-Semitism. As hon. Members have said, there is no doubt that many people criticise the actions of the current Israeli Government as a way of criticising all Jews. That is absurd. I hope that hon. Members will accept that it is just as absurd for the Israeli Government to suggest that all their critics are automatically anti-Semites. That is certainly not the case and, as several hon. Members have said, some of the strongest critics of the Israeli Government are Jews. It is just as absurd as President Mugabe suggesting that any criticism of his regime is automatically racist—it is not. It is patently absurd to make that allegation, and the two are close analogies.

We must be tolerant of other religions and of other races and creeds. It is easy to find reasons to object to other people—there are objectionable people in the world from all backgrounds. That is not related to religion, creed or colour; it is a natural part of human existence. The intolerance of racism and religious discrimination has been the largest cause of conflict over the centuries and is so today.

I conclude by proffering the solution, although it is not a detailed policy, that anti-Semitism must be considered as abhorrent and given the same profile as racism against black people or discrimination against people of different sexual orientations. In those cases, it has become accepted that we do not discriminate and that such discrimination is abhorrent. There is a belief, as the right hon. Member for Tyneside, North touched on, that anti-Semitism is somehow more of an intellectual position and more acceptable than criticism of someone because they are black, but that is wrong. It must be considered as being just as evil and abhorrent as all other forms of racism and religious discrimination. If we do that, we will begin to address what is a fundamental problem. The intolerance that accompanies anti-Semitism, to which several hon. Members have referred, is not only wrong but is extremely dangerous for the peace of the world.

10.52 am
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Fiona Mactaggart)

I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if in eight minutes I cannot respond to all the important points raised. That would not be possible but I want to echo some of those that were made. The first is the comment made on all sides about the important contribution that the Jewish community has made to British society. As the Minister responsible for charities, I am constantly reminded of the generous contribution that the Jewish community makes to charitable life. It is a coincidence that this afternoon the Home Secretary and I will meet the Board of Deputies of British Jews as part of the regular dialogue with that community and others about their role in society.

I shall also concentrate on the profound scar that all forms of racism, and specifically anti-Semitism, place on society. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) on arranging the debate because he is right to highlight the growth in anti-Semitism and the risks to people. That can be done without generating unnecessary fear, but we must recognise that it is an important issue facing us all and with which the Government have a responsibility to deal robustly.

The European monitoring centre on racism and xenophobia report revealed that the United Kingdom was one of five EU states that have experienced a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in 2002–03. Its figures corroborate those of the Community Security Trust and the Metropolitan police, which also show a growth in race attacks. My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) asked about the monitoring of those incidents, and I can tell him that, together with the Institute of Jewish Policy Research, the Metropolitan police is conducting research into such incidents to get a more accurate feel for their nature and to develop a more effective response to them. That is something that we have considered at various points in this debate, and the response can be made partly by effectively targeted actions and partly by effective legislation and prosecuting criminal acts such as incitement to racial hatred.

Generally, we have tough and effective legislation in the UK, including the legal framework against race discrimination. Specifically, the additional penalties for criminal offences such as incitement to racial hatred and racially and religiously aggravated assault and criminal damage have been used effectively to tackle some of the problems. I was pleased that the Crown Prosecution Service recently gave a public commitment to prosecute racist and religious crimes fairly, firmly and robustly. The aim of that statement was not just to encourage prosecutors to take on such prosecutions, but to send a clear message to perpetrators that they will not get away with threatening, violent or abusive behaviour towards members of racial or religious groups.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hendon will feel tempted to ask, "But what about the examples that I raised?" and he was right to highlight the evil acts of al-Muhajiroun in many cases. I hope that he will be reassured by the fact that there have been a number of successful prosecutions of people who share its views. Abdullah al-Faisal was sentenced to nine years in prison for soliciting murder and inciting race hatred against Jews and Hindus. We closely monitor and will continue to monitor the activities of al-Muhajiroun, its web broadcasts and its organisations in universities and other places that encourage youngsters to support its views. I recognise the continuum that my hon. Friend identified as running between some of that group's statements and the more violent terrorist activities among young people. That is one reason why the Home Office has put an extra £15 million into focusing on terrorist activity. It is important that we deal with it effectively.

I want to use the final minutes to deal with the most difficult issue on which my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde and many other hon. Members focused, which is the important question of how anti-Semitism works. It is clear that criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic in itself—we are all agreed on that. There is a place for legitimate democratic debate about domestic or international affairs, including Israel and the middle east, but it is completely unacceptable if such criticism manifests itself in a discriminatory, threatening, harassing or violent form that is directed at people because they are Jews.

That is the important point. People become a victim in such cases because of their race or religion, and that is why we have put additional penalties on offences. Race hatred has a terrorising effect on the whole community, and it is important to recognise that that is the reason for having additional penalties.

The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Carmichael) was right to say that the British National party will make its arguments in coming elections. Such groups will say that they are being picked on, but their activities terrorise classes of people. If people who criticise Israel fall into the trap of stretching their language to add weight to the table and suggest that all Jews are wrong, that is unacceptable and contributes to that terrorising effect.

Back to