Fighting worldwide anti-Semitism

This Saturday evening, some 50 Jewish members of parliament from most parts of the world gathered in Jerusalem to discuss the gruesome growth of anti-Semitism. We shall consider and report on the grim realities and share ideas on how to battle against this return of Jewhatred in our decent world. As is true of most participants, much of my family was murdered during the Nazi Holocaust. From 1946-1948 I served in the British Army of the Rhine, mainly working as a War Crimes investigator. Together with Jewish displaced persons I wept by the mass graves at Bergen-Belsen. Together with other young soldiers I arrested murderers, not only of Jews and Gypsies but of escaped British soldiers. I believed that Nazism and anti-Semitism died with the victims. Alas, I was wrong. Last week Britain's chief rabbi referred to a "tsunami of anti-Semitism." Exaggeration, perhaps - but a reflection of our deep concerns. Some months ago I visited France and met many of its Jewish leaders. Without a doubt, anti-Jewish feeling is reviving in that land, not least and most sadly because it now includes some 8.6 million Muslim citizens. I visited a Jewish school in a Paris suburb that anti-Semitic vandals had set on fire. I talked to a class of 25 lads aged 13 and 14. Most had on baseball caps because they were afraid to wear kippot out in the streets. I asked them, "How many of you have been called 'sale juif' - dirty Jew - in the streets?" Every hand went up. I then asked: "How many of you have been physically attacked by thugs who called you 'sale juif'? All but two. Then: "How many of you believe that because of this anti-Semitism you and your families will soon have to leave Paris?" To my horror, all but two of them. I WAS recently asked by the Jewish community of Copenhagen to visit Denmark. They were suffering from a new and high level of anti-Semitism - in a country which saved almost its entire Jewish community during the war, including members of my own family. They told us that many of the attacks on individuals and buildings were connected with tensions in the Middle East. We met two Muslim members of their parliament, who explained that they had been isolated from their own community because of their connection with the nation's politics. They and some coreligionists were committed to interfaith projects, but the situation was bleak - not least because the Danish authorities were not allowing the Muslims to build mosques in their cities. Together with parliamentary colleagues, I visited the Netherlands and Belgium. Jewish leaders again told us of their deep concerns at the rise of anti-Semitic incidents. In Britain, the Community Security Trust (CST) reported over 500 anti-Semitic incidents during 2004. Most were veiled under the cloak of anti-Israel hatred. As a member of the House of Lords and a proud supporter of the Jewish state, I have met few openly anti-Semitic attacks. But while you cannot always see anti-Semitism, you can usually smell it. I had the great honor of introducing the former archbishop of Canterbury and head of the Anglican Church, Lord George Carey, into the House of Lords. While this generous gesture to a Jewish leader was mainly met with delight and appreciation, a Tory peer was overheard asking: "Who's that leading in our archbishop?" "Oh, only some Jew," his neighbor replied. I am proud that the UK Parliamentary Committee Against anti-Semitism has now set up a powerful committee of investigation to assess the scope of this scourge. Its members are all senior and respected non-Jewish members of parliament. They will start taking evidence in a few weeks' time. So our International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians (ICJP) Jerusalem Conference could not have been held at a more appropriate moment in our history. Brought together by and under the combined auspices of the Knesset and the World Jewish Congress, we are spending some three days turning and churning over our experiences and seeking ways in which we can - both separately and wherever possibly together - deal with these grim universal realities. GUEST SPEAKERS include the distinguished Muslim mayor of Manchester, Mohammed Afsal Khan, and many Israeli political leaders including and Binyamin Netanyahu, Amir Peretz and Shimon Peres. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was scheduled to speak but could not because of his tragic illness. But the main importance of the gathering is to enable participants to meet, discuss and share experience and tactics, hopes and fears. We have different continents and political parties, but so did victims of the Nazis. "Never Again" was a slogan of the past - it has now reemerged as a joint determination for our people's future. The writer was a member of the House of Commons from 1970 to 1997, and since then has been a member of the House of Lords. He is a former president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and is chairing this week's Jerusalem ICJP conference.