It is my privilege to support the important activities of HOPE not hate, an organisation that works tirelessly to build inclusive, shared communities across the UK, while challenging hate and mistrust in British political discourse and elsewhere. Its political arm has involved thousands of volunteers in combatting the politics of hate and the deceitful tropes employed by its purveyors.
In this context, it is vital to expose false claims about faith groups or organisations like HOPE not hate, which seek to build bridges across, rather than walls between, communities and offer an optimistic alternative to toxic, divisive narratives.
Truth is a core value in Judaism. Truth-telling - even when the truth is painful and results in personal loss or embarrassment – is a basic biblical obligation. The obligation to be truthful is formulated in the negative – ‘distance yourself from anything false’ (Exodus 23:7), articulating, uniquely, the importance of keeping away from anything that even approaches falsehood. And in a classic rabbinic maxim, ‘the seal of God is truth’ (Talmud Shabbat 55a). The great emphasis on truth in Jewish sources suggests that truth-telling and the civil discourse that accompanies it are existential to creating and maintaining functional, mutually beneficial and nurturing societies. Fake news – or lies as it used to be called – undermines relationships, sows mistrust and wrecks entire communities.
These are some of the reasons why the claims of former UKIP leader Nigel Farage about HOPE not hate must not go unchallenged. HOPE not hate is a peaceful organisation, committed to dialogue and relationship-building, yet in December of last year, Mr Farage characterised it as a group which “masquerade[s] as being lovely and peaceful, but actually pursue[s] violent and undemocratic means.”
Falsehoods like this may seem trivial, but experience teaches that each lie contributes to a distortion of reality that can have a catastrophic impact on individuals and groups. The danger is that if one keeps repeating smears often enough, they take hold in the public consciousness, gradually becoming part of a ‘new truth’.
In this case, Mr Farage’s claims risk undermining the reputation of HOPE not hate and jeopardise the vital role it plays in tackling extremism across the UK in its work with local authorities, schools, prisons and probation services.
This is why I support the libel action against Mr Farage. Beyond the importance of setting the record straight about the work of HOPE not hate, it conveys an important and timely message about the seminal role of truth in public discourse. It highlights a pressing need to return to respectful, issues-based politics and above all, it exposes the irreversible damage to society caused by self-serving falsehood.
Rabbi Dr Harvey Belovski is rabbi of Golders Green Synagogue, CEO of University Jewish Chaplaincy and a charity board member of HOPE not hate