The notion that antisemitism solely concerns Jews is as dangerous as it is wrong. That is why I called last week’s urgent debate in the House of Lords.
History teaches us that hatred knows no bounds. When prejudice – any prejudice – rears its head, no society can afford to stay in its comfort zone, because when one community comes under threat, it is only a matter of when, not if, the next group will be targeted.
The British Indian community is no stranger to prejudice and persecution. We faced many challenges as immigrants trying to integrate into British society, and I will never forget that when my family arrived in the UK from Uganda, having fled Idi Amin’s brutal dictatorship, the Jewish community welcomed us with open arms.
They were at the forefront in helping Ugandan Asians to settle into our new lives here in Britain, and in many ways, taught us what it means to be British.
Over the years, our communities grew to know each other and still live side by side. We developed a strong bond based on the many values our two cultures share; attaching great importance to education, enterprise, faith and family and united in our unswerving loyalty to the country that granted us freedom, equality and protection before the law.
But my Jewish friends increasingly tell me they fear for their children’s safety at schools and synagogues.
They say they are wary of openly identifying as Jewish and are beginning to question their future in Britain. And yet, instead of eliciting support and compassion, the Jewish community’s concerns have prompted some quarters to accuse them of overreacting; of being hysterical and shrill. Those people would do well to sit up and listen.
Many people associate antisemitism with far-right thuggery, overt displays of hostility and violence. Modern antisemitism, however, has evolved. It has found subtle expression through the anti-Zionist movement of the left which is obsessed with demonising and delegitimising the world’s only Jewish state.
Not enough people understand the extent to which anti-Zionism and antisemitism are connected. As I said in my speech during the debate, many anti-Zionists deny Israel’s right to exist on anti-colonial and humanitarian grounds.
On the surface their arguments might seem reasonable. But, on this premise should we not also question the legitimacy of the USA, Australia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the modern countries of the Middle East, including Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq which were arbitrarily carved out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire? Should we refute the legitimacy of practically the whole of Europe, whose borders were shaped, destroyed and redrawn through centuries of war?
There are many Hindu, Christian and Muslim states around the world but only one Jewish state. Why is Israel singled out for criticism with so much intensity and loathing?
The answer is: there is a deeper hostility driving the anti-Zionist agenda. It is not about concern for Palestinian human rights. It is not a reaction to the perceived injustice of Israeli policies. It is about hating Jews.
Anti-Zionists may not readily admit it, but then, as former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks observed during last week’s debate, antisemites never think of themselves as antisemitic.
I often tell members of my own community to look up Zionism or Israel on social media to see for themselves the level of hatred against Jews, be it through vicious myths of their power and influence, conspiracy theories blaming them for all the world’s ills or denying the Holocaust.
These tropes are not new but they are now inextricably linked to Israel, a country portrayed as the incarnation of evil; a global villain propped up by its scheming Jewish accomplices around the world. It would be laughable if it weren't so dangerous.
The extent to which these appalling lies are finding enthusiastic audiences on both the far left and the far right should alarm every decent person.
We have to be clear that antisemitism goes right to the heart of our British values, raising serious questions about who we are as a country and a society at a time of immense uncertainty. I was heartened to witness many non-Jews speak out against antisemitism in the House of Lords, but more voices need to rise to the fore.
The Jewish community can count on the support of the British Hindu community, just as you supported us in our hour of need. We are proud to do so.
Lord Popat is a Conservative peer who called a debate on antisemitism in the House of Lords last week, where Jewish peers including Lord Sacks and Lord Sugar spoke.