British ministers emphasize condemnation of anti-Semitism

Cameron: Disagreement with Israeli policy should never be confused with any weakening of our commitment to the Jewish state.

September 10, 2014 23:20
3 minute read.
The Big-Ben, London

The Big-Ben, London. (photo credit: REUTERS)

LONDON – In an unprecedented display of coordinated government messaging on condemnation of anti-Semitism, no less than five senior cabinet ministers have given similar statements in a 24-hour period.

Home Secretary Theresa May told the Conservative Friends of Israel’s summer reception in Parliament that she found it “shameful” that the prevention of anti-Semitism both in the UK and across Europe still had to be addressed.

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Having just met a number of government MPs each of whom had sizable Jewish constituencies, she said she was “appalled” by the concerns expressed by the MPs. May had also read recent reports from the protective organization Community Security Trust which indicated a steep rise in anti-Semitic attacks.

“Accounts of Jewish people being verbally abused on the streets, placards displaying loathsome threats, bricks being thrown through the windows of synagogues are like any form of hate crime – abhorrent and unacceptable,” she said, adding she had also noted that in a straw poll conducted by the Jewish Chronicle, 63 percent of Jewish people in North London were questioning their future in the UK amid the rise of anti-Semitic attacks.

“I’m clear that everyone in this country should be able to live their lives free from racial and religious hatred and harassment.

No one should live in fear because of their beliefs or who they are,“ she said.

May then outlined action the government had taken, including funding to organizations and schools to help prevent hate crimes and the establishment of a working group to tackle anti-Semitism, which brought together community representatives and experts from across government and the police. Both the operational and legislative responses were under constant review.

“There is absolutely no place in our country for anti-Semitism, whatever form it takes” she concluded.

Government Chief Whip Michael Gove, meanwhile, speaking at the Holocaust Educational Trust’s annual dinner, referred to the virus of anti-Semitism spreading across Europe. While it was important to distinguish between explicitly anti-Semitic attacks and protests over Israel’s Gaza policy, some of the latter had become anti-Semitic.

He voiced strong condemnation of devaluing the unique significance of the Holocaust.

“We should never allow darkness to encroach again, we must – all of us – stand firm for our precious freedoms and stand alongside our Jewish neighbors, now more than ever!“ Prime Minister David Cameron wrote a letter to participants in the UK chief rabbis annual pre-High Holy Days conference held during the week. He acknowledged that many in Jewish communities were feeling “anxious” at the moment, but he wanted to make clear “it is more important than ever that Britain says loudly and clearly that there can never be any excuse for anti-Semitism.”

Cameron reiterated the government’s commitment to do all it could in tackling the problem, including by providing funds to aid the reporting of, and improve the operation responses to, anti-Semitism.

“We are working with our police and universities to stop the spreading of divisive messages on our university campuses and we have excluded more foreign preachers of hate on the basis of our strategy for preventing extremism than ever before,” he wrote.

While Britain was a tolerant country, he said, no disagreements on international politics or policies should ever be allowed to justify racism, prejudice or extremism in any form.

But he could not avoid a dig at the latest controversial Israeli government announcement on settlement expansion.

“When the Israeli government acts in ways we cannot support… we have to say so,” he wrote, but “that should never and must never be confused with any kind of weakening [of] our commitment to Israel” and must not “be allowed to become an excuse for those who want to promote anti-Semitism or extremism.”

Having reiterated his and his administration’s strong commitment to Israel, he concluded with an anecdote. A Jewish friend had once asked him whether it would always be safe for his children and grandchildren to live in Britain.

“The answer to that question will always be ‘yes,’ and I hope in the years to come we will reach a point where the question will not even need to be asked.”

A similar message was conveyed by Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, who also addressed the rabbinical conference, while at the same time in the House of Commons, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond told MPs that despite the settlements issue, the government remained solidly behind Israel.

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