John Mann is a friend and I was proud to have contributed to the APPG report on Anti-Semitism (which John chairs) published in 2015. This speech is powerful and shocking. How have we come to this in three years?
Mae John Mann yn ffrind a dwi’n falch fy mod wedi cyfrannu i adroddiad y Grwp Aml-Bleidiol ar Wrth Semitiaeth dan ei Gadeiryddiaeth yn 2015. Mae hon yn araith gref. Sut yn union mae pethau wedi dirywio gymaint mewn tair blynedd?
Watch / Gwylio: https://goo.gl/8BnNv5.
John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab):
When my family helped to form the Labour party in Leeds in 1906, they suffered terribly because of that. The Jewish community in Leeds stood alongside them and supported them. That is why 13 years ago I took on the role of chairing the all-party group against anti-Semitism. I did not expect today, when Labour Members stand in solidarity with our Jewish colleagues and with the Jewish community, not just no solidarity but to be targeted by an organisation called Momentum, which has happened to all of us who stood in solidarity. But worse than that, there is explicit targeting of Jewish members of the parliamentary Labour party because they are Jewish. That is what is going on at the moment.
When I took on this voluntary cross-party role, I did not expect my wife to be sent, by a Labour Marxist anti-Semite, a dead bird through the post. I did not expect my son, after an Islamist death threat, to open the door, when he was in the house on his own as a schoolboy, to the bomb squad. I did not expect my wife, in the last few weeks, from a leftist anti-Semite in response to the demonstration, to be threatened with rape. I did not expect my daughter similarly to have to be rung up in the last few weeks by special branch to check out her movements in this country. No, I did not expect any of that.
I will tell you the principles we have operated on, from the very first speech I made on this 13 years ago in this Chamber: every party in this House should look after its own backyard first. I have said that repeatedly on hundreds of occasions since. I have specifically, in private letters to every party in this House, repeatedly challenged anti-Semitism. For years, action was taken, and it was painful action. I am not sure that people in all parties welcomed getting the letters and the discussions that they had with me, but that was the principle that we have operated on, and we have worked cross-party.
I recall that Jewish people used to say when I held meetings, “Is it true that there is a growth in anti-Semitism?” We identified 13 years ago the three forms of anti-Semitism: Islamist anti-Semitism, traditional right anti-Semitism, and the anti-Semitism of the new left. That was all documented and has all been discussed in here. It is not new, and those who say that it is a smear to raise this issue need to publicly apologise and to publicly understand what they are doing, what they are saying and the dangers. It does not end with me and my family. It does not end with Jewish Members of Parliament here. Where this stuff ends is with what happened in Copenhagen, in Brussels and in France repeatedly, including four weeks ago: people murdered because they are Jewish. That is where this ends, and we know where history takes that. That is the reality now.
Stephen Doughty (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab):
My hon. Friend is making an incredibly powerful speech, which I wholly associate myself with. Does he share the deep shame that I, and I think many people within the Labour party, feel that incidents have been repeatedly reported—over and over and over again—and yet action has quite often not been taken?
It is constant. This weekend in my constituency and last night in my constituency—it is constant. There is explicit anti-Semitism, and then there is the bigger group—the excusers of anti-Semitism, the people who say, “This is something to do with who the leader of the Labour party is and challenging him.” No, it is not—in the 13 years I have been doing this—and what Jewish people say to me now is different from what they said 13 years ago, when they asked, “Is it true that there is growth in anti-Semitism?” Five years ago, Jewish people would come up to me and say, “We are concerned that there is a rise in anti-Semitism.” I am stopped in the street everywhere I go now by Jewish people saying to me, very discreetly, “I am scared.” Young people and old people say, “I am scared.” We see what happened in France, in Belgium and in Copenhagen and we understand why people are scared.
People—young Jewish members—are scared to go to a Labour party meeting with me, because they are fearful that they will be intimidated and threatened and that their identity will be challenged. Any Jewish person is entitled to say that they are, to define themselves as, an anti-Zionist, or a non-Zionist, and I have no right to challenge them. Any Jewish person, as the vast majority do, is entitled to say, “I am a Zionist,” and I have no right to deny them that. Those that do are racists. Just a change in language—in the use of the word “Zionist” as a pejorative insult—by the Labour party would alter the dialogue in this country in a very big way.
We all have a choice in what we do. Stand in solidarity with the Jewish Members of Parliament under attack today. That is the role of parliamentarians.
Ruth Smeeth delivering a brave and harrowing speech on her experiences of anti-Semitism. Truly shocking.
Ruth Smeeth yn areithio’n gryf ac ysgytwol ynghylch ei phrofiad o wrth semitiaeth. Di galon iawn.
Watch / Gwylio: https://goo.gl/HsZJTz.
Ruth Smeeth (Stoke-on-Trent North) (Lab):
I am devastated that we are discussing this issue in this place. We should never have had to reach a point at which we are discussing one of the oldest hatreds and how it is back in our political discourse as a norm. However, I am proud to be supported by so many of my friends and colleagues on both sides of the House. Specifically, I stand here in awe of the bravery and strength of my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman). It is their dedication and commitment that inspire and ensure that we stand united against the politics of hate and scapegoating.
Today I find myself in the bizarre position of feeling obliged to state for the record that my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests is in fact accurate and that I have not failed to report any additional employment. Specifically, Madam Deputy Speaker, I feel I must inform you that I am not a CIA spy. I am not a Mossad agent, nor am I an MI5 operative. I can assure people who are occasionally foolish enough to google me—although I would urge Members not to; it can be unpleasant reading—that I work not for the people of Tel Aviv, but for the people of Tunstall. Those are just some of the regular anti-Semitic tropes that have become normal in my world. Let me also make clear—just in case I need to say it—that I am not, and nor have I ever been, a lizard, trans-dimensional or otherwise.
What I am, Madam Deputy Speaker, is a proud trade unionist, a Labour party activist for over 30 years, and a lifelong anti-racist. I also happen to be a British Jew. In three decades of political activism, there has never come a time when those four parts of my identity have produced any form of conflict—until now.
I used to run HOPE not hate, with the wonderful Nick Lowles. I was the Jewish community’s anti-British National party campaign co-ordinator. I first stood at a demo against the National Front when I was 12. I have spent my life campaigning against the politics of hate and extremism. I have witnessed anti-Semitism and racism from the far right—after all, that is what those people do—and, honestly, I had become desensitised to it.
Nick Boles (Grantham and Stamford) (Con):
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I just wanted the hon. Lady to speak for a minute longer.
I thank the hon. Gentleman.
Over the past two years, however, I have experienced something genuinely painful: attacks on my identity from within my own Labour family. I have been the target of a campaign of abuse, attempted bullying and intimidation from people who would dare to tell me that people like me have no place in the party of which I have been a member for over 20 years, and which I am proud to represent on these Benches. My mum was a senior trade union official; my grandad was a blacklisted steelworker who became a miner. I was born into our movement as surely as I was born into my faith. It is a movement that I have worked for, campaigned for and fought for during my entire adult life, so it was truly heart-breaking to find myself in Parliament Square just over three weeks ago, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish community against the poison of anti-Semitism that is engulfing parts of my own party and wider political discourse.
If the House will indulge me, I would like to read out a small sample of what I have received on social media, but before doing so, I have to thank the dedicated team at the CST who have protected me, shielded me from as much of this abuse as possible, and worked with the police on the occasions when abuse became threats. As others have said, they should not be necessary, but personally I would be lost without them. They have also worked their way through the thousands of pieces of anti-Semitic abuse I have received to provide the following greatest hits, although I must warn the House that my fan-base has shown scant regard for appropriate parliamentary language, so I apologise in advance:
“Hang yourself you vile treacherous Zionist Tory filth. You are a cancer of humanity.”
“Ruth Smeeth is a Zionist—she has no shame—and trades on the murder of Jews by Hitler—whom the Zionists betrayed.”
“Ruth Smeeth must surely be travelling 1st class to Tel Aviv with all that slush. After all, she’s complicit in trying to bring Corbyn down.”
“First job for Jeremy Corbyn tomorrow—expel the Zionist BICOM smear hag bitch Ruth Smeeth from the Party.”
“This Ruth Smeeth bitch is Britainophobic, we need to cleanse our nation of these types.”
“#JC4PM Deselect Ruth Smeeth ASAP. Poke the pig—get all Zionist child killer scum out of Labour.”
“You are a spy! You are evil, satanic! Leave! #Labour #Corbyn.”
“Ruth you are a Zionist plant, I’m ashamed you are in Labour. Better suited to the murderous Knesset! #I Support Ken.”
“Your fellow traitor Tony Blair abolished hanging for treason. Your kind need to leave before we bring it back #Smeeth Is Filth.”
Chris Elmore (Ogmore) (Lab):
On behalf of all Members of the House, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend—we are enormously proud of her and everything she does for her constituents—and my hon. Friends the Members for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger) and for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman).
I thank my hon. Friend.
To move on to my final piece of abuse:
“The gallows would be a fine and fitting place for this dyke piece of Yid shit to swing from.”
This is merely a snapshot, and the comments are those that I would feel comfortable—if that is the right word—to say in this place. It is a glimpse into the abuse that now seems par for the course for any Jew who has the audacity to participate in this political world.
But this is not the worst of it. There have always been racists and anti-Semites in our country, lurking on the fringes of our society—both left and right—and I dare say there always will be. What is so heartbreaking is the concerted effort in some quarters to downplay the problem. For every comment like those we have just heard, we can find 10 people ready to dismiss it—to cry “Smear”; to say that we are “weaponising” anti-Semitism.
Weaponising anti-Semitism! My family came to this country fleeing the pogroms in the 19th century. Of our relatives who stayed in Europe, none survived. We know what anti-Semitism is; we know where it leads. How dare these people suggest that we would trifle with something so dangerous, so toxic and so formative to our lives and those of our families. How dare they seek to dismiss something so heinous and reduce it to the realm of political point scoring. How dare they, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I am speaking not just for me, but for the young Jewish people I meet across the country who are beginning to fear they do not have a place. These are young people who are braver, tougher and better than I could ever be—the kind of young people who make us feel that our future is in safe hands, but right now they do not feel safe.
Mrs Anne-Marie Trevelyan (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (Con):
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I have run out of time; I am sorry.
There is something more fundamental at stake here than any party’s policy platform or electoral performance: the right of Jewish people to participate in the politics of our country as equals. Last month we heard a plea: enough is enough. I stand here today to say that we will not be bullied out of political engagement, that we are going nowhere, and that we will stand and keep fighting until the evils of anti-Semitism are removed from our society.