Opinion: Action needed to protect Jewish friends

Barnet and Camden AM, Andrew Dismore, has noticed negative effects of Brexit.

Barnet and Camden AM, Andrew Dismore, has noticed negative effects of Brexit. - Credit: Archant

This week, Camden councillors came together to debate and pass a motion on antisemitism in the wake of the vile graffiti plastered on all of Hampstead’s walls a month ago.

This was not the first time we've seen hate directed at Hampstead's Jewish residents, but the scale was unprecedented in the UK in recent decades - and it is right that we symbolically stand together against this existential threat to our Jewish friends, family, and neighbours.

For thousands of years, Jews had to face persecution before, they often walked alone - but now, every decent person in Britain walks by their side.

Amidst this darkness, as we come up to Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27, my mind turned from Hampstead to events in two cities that my mother's family called home for generations: Alexandria and Beirut.

When my mother left the Middle East half a century ago, Egypt was home to 70,000 Jews and Lebanon home to 7,000. Now, there are just a few dozen Jewish people in each country.

Both cities were famous melting points, but their millennia-old Jewish communities - along with some Arabs, like my family - were forced out by man's inhumanity to man.

Despite this exodus, in the last month, synagogues have reopened in both cities for the first time in years: spurred on by a desire to symbolise reconciliation, openness, and tolerance.

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Yet symbols alone are not enough. Symbols alone won't bring back the Jewish population of Egypt or Lebanon, and symbols alone won't undo the harm done by attempts to intimidate our Jewish community here.

Now don't get me wrong - symbols are valuable, and I am grateful that Camden councillors unanimously passed its motion as such a symbol.

Nevertheless, the Jewish community needs real actions, not just words. So what actions should we be taking?

First, like with any crime with specific needs, it needs specific resources to stop it. The police acted incredibly promptly to respond to the graffiti, and my colleague Cllr Stephen Stark has done much to ensure they work closely with synagogues. Despite this, the constant threat requires the constant vigilance of the wonderful Community Security Trust (CST) too.

When Michael Gove first gave funding to the CST to protect Jewish schools in 2010, he was attacked in the Guardian for doing so - but Gove was right. I've written this month to the chancellor and home secretary to ask for them for more funding still.

Second, the next generation needs to learn where hate leads. The Holocaust Education Trust's Lessons from Auschwitz programme allows young Britons to see for themselves some of the horrors that happened in the last century because of the world's oldest hate.

But currently, just one school child in 200 visits Auschwitz -

and clearly, given rising antisemitism, the lessons of the Holocaust and the hate that led to it has gone unlearned by far too many.

Finally, there should be no quarter given to people that spew the hateful conspiracy theories that Hampstead residents woke up to last month, and no ability for hate groups to claim official sanction.

One such group was allowed to hold a meeting in a Camden Council-owned building and then allowed to make a speech in a Camden Council meeting last year, despite councillors knowing that the meeting would be used to promote antisemitism.

We have to stop pretending there is room in our public discourse for people with hateful views, and we have to take much stronger action to keep our Jewish community safe. Because the only way to stop a repeat of last month's incident is through actions, not words.