Opinion: We must do more to quell antisemitism

PUBLISHED: 11:30 30 January 2020

Catherine West MP, Hornsey and Wood Green, is actively fighting against antisemitism.

Catherine West MP, Hornsey and Wood Green, is actively fighting against antisemitism.

Chris McAndrew (Creative Commons licence CC BY 3.0)

I had only been an MP for a few months back in 2015 when I joined the Holocaust Educational Trust and sixth formers from local schools to visit Auschwitz Birkenau, a harrowing and deeply moving experience where man’s inhumanity to man is laid bare.

There are no words that can come close to describing the chill of those death camps. Nothing prepares you for the sheer scale of the operation to kill innocent Jews in a vile, systematic and calculated way and the degradation and dehumanisation of the conditions starving prisoners were forced to live in as they waited their fate.

As I commemorated this year's Holocaust Memorial Day with events in Haringey, in parliament and across the country, I thought back often to my visit to Auschwitz. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the camp's liberation and the Holocaust Memorial Trust's #StandTogether campaign invites us to stand with the victims, share their names and remember their lives. In doing so, it powerfully reminds us that each person was an individual with their own hopes, families and friends, who had their lives destroyed through hatred and division.

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The Holocaust didn't start in the gas chambers, it began in the rhetoric of hate. Rhetoric that sought deliberately to divide "Aryan" Germans from their Jewish neighbours, using stereotypes and prejudices to dehumanise and stoke fear. The #StandTogether campaign reminds us we must challenge that rhetoric wherever we see it.

It is a message that feels particularly timely as we are increasingly seeing dangerous division in our society and a worrying rise in racism and antisemitism even in our own diverse community. Just days into this new year a 13-year-old received vile antisemitic abuse on a north London bus and another teenager from Muswell Hill was sentenced for an antisemitic attack that saw a Jewish man's hair set on fire. The far-right is on the rise both across Europe and in the US following Trump's election. Here in the UK reported hate crime has doubled over the past five years and even within the Labour movement, a proud anti-racist movement, it is clear that we have failed to do enough to eradicate antisemitism. I am pleased that all five candidates standing to be Labour's next Leader have publicly acknowledged that it is a serious and still not adequately resolved matter, and I'm working together with Hope not Hate and David Lammy MP to organise an educational event locally.

Haringey has a strong record of standing up against racism and welcoming people from all around the world. Haringey Welcome, an organisation I proudly support, works to promote dignity and respect for all migrants and refugees and back in 1977 it was the people of Haringey who stood strong against the National Front's attempts to march from Duckett's Common in the "Battle of Wood Green".

Fast forward 43 years and we must continue to stand together against hatred wherever it rears its head. Be it in our classrooms, our communities, our workplaces, our parliament.

The horrors of Auschwitz are the most powerful reminder of where hatred and division can lead, and this Holocaust Memorial Day I urge you all to support the Holocaust Memorial Trust's campaign

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