MPs slam universities over race-hate

Antisemitism on campus and the internet were the main targets during a debate on antisemitism in the main chamber of the House of Commons last week.

MPs from all sides of the House took the chance to express their views and comment on the government’s performance in acting on the recommendations of the Parliamentary All-Party Antisemitism report.

An international conference on antisemitism, supported by the Foreign Office, is to be held in London in February next year.

The conference will be the first event organised by an international parliamentary coalition dedicated to fighting antisemitism, it was announced by Labour MP John Mann, chair of the parliamentary All-Party Antisemitism group, during the debate. The coalition comprises Mr Mann, Professor Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian justice minister; Gert Weisskirchen from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe; United States Congressman Chris Smith; and Israeli minister Isaac Herzog.

Paul Goodman (Con, Wycombe), who praised the initiative of holding the Commons debate, pointed out that antisemitism had adapted to new technology and called on the government to sign the Council of Europe’s convention on cyber-crime.

He also joined criticism of the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills for dragging its heels over a proposal from the Community Security Trust that it should set up a sub-group on antisemitism in higher education. “When will ministers take a decision on that?” he demanded.

John Spellar (Warley, Labour) backed him, saying: “I should like to highlight the excellent work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which means that students arrive on campus much more aware of the dangers. However, is there not a considerable responsibility on university authorities to take more action? The issue is not just about crime, but about that telling phrase, which I remember from my Northern Ireland days, ‘the chill factor’ — that is, not necessarily crime, but making people feel that they are unwanted. Do university authorities not have a greater role to play in making their campuses welcoming to people, so that we can have genuine academic freedom?”

Communities minister Parmjit Dhanda, leading for the government, agreed: “My Rt Hon friend is absolutely right. The powers are already there in legislation, but it must be incumbent on individual universities to take this issue and those powers seriously.”

He said that was the reason for guidance published earlier this year by Bill Rammell, minister for lifelong learning, who also met Jewish students to see how the work could be taken further. But Mr Dhanda admitted: “Although a great deal of work has been done, I appreciate that there is much more to do.”

Noting that he had seen the graffiti in Hackney last week calling for jihad against Israel, Mr Dhanda said: “This is not representative of the views of the vast majority of Muslims in this country who are equally appalled by such graffiti.”

Mark Pritchard (Con, The Wrekin) suggested that a history of Jews in the United Kingdom should be included when the government draws up its statement of British values as an example of tolerance in Britain.

He asked whether someone could be anti-Israeli but not antisemitic and vice-versa — something that affected media bias. He called again for the publication of the Balen report on the BBC’s reporting on Israel, and also called on other faiths to speak out more on antisemitism.

Barbara Keeley (Lab, Worsley) believed that the overall rise in incidents recorded by the CST was because there was better monitoring, as well as more prosecutions, in Greater Manchester, where her constituency is.


What MPs said in last week’s debate on antisemitism

Parmjit Dhanda, Minister for Communities and Local Government:
“We have made significant progress on many of the commitments that we made in response to the inquiry. However, we recognise that there is no room for complacency. The number of antisemitic incidents in the UK remains far too high. The Community Security Trust recorded 547 incidents in 2007. Although that represents an eight per cent fall over the previous year, it is still the second-worst figure on record.”

Paul Goodman (Con, Wycombe):
“Like a virus, antisemitism is peculiarly mutative, adaptable and resilient… Antisemitic hatred is now available online at the click of a mouse.”

Tom Brake (LibDem, Carshalton & Wallington):
“Even in leafy, trouble-free Surrey, there have been incidents of swastikas daubed on vehicles, pavements and signposts. Just as worrying, if not more so, are the allegations involving teachers in certain schools being antisemitic.”

John Mann (Labour, Bassetlaw):
“In my view, the Home Office has been the most decisive in taking action. An example is its agreeing to change the hate-crime reporting system in every police authority in England and Wales, which will have benefits not only for the Jewish community but for all communities affected by hate crime.”

    Last updated: 10:00am, May 27 2008