Conference take-away? We’re on their radar

The Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem events all had an unmentioned — but noticeable — Jewish theme

October 08, 2020 10:56

Even the community’s most seasoned politicos might have been forgiven for not noticing the party conferences taking place these last few weeks.

For the first time, the conferences – and their fringe events – took place online, losing much of their usual fanfare. Also missing were the encounters with politicians and pundits holding forth on great matters of state – or just singing karaoke – in the auditoriums and bars of Brighton, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.

This year, for the first time, the Board of Deputies decided to host events at party conferences — Labour, the Liberal Democrat and Conservative — to bring the conversations to you in your own homes. And thousands of you joined us.

Each conference event had an unmentioned — but noticeable — theme as far as the Jewish community was concerned.

For Labour, it was rebuilding from the ground up. Last year, it would have been almost unthinkable for us to hold a Labour conference event. But with the party “under new management”, it is making progress at rooting out the antisemitism which had been allowed to fester – albeit still with a long way to go. This was something that Keir Starmer reflected in his main conference speech, while Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy, Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds and Jewish former MP Ruth Smeeth spoke frankly about the issue at our fringe event.

When the Liberal Democrats realised their leader’s speech was scheduled for Yom Kippur, they contacted us and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel to apologise for the clash, but — importantly — were most agreeable when we proposed a further online event in which new Leader Ed Davey took questions on issues including antisemitism and Israel.

The Conservative event was notable for its diversity. As well as Victoria Atkins, Under-Secretary of State for Safeguarding at the Home Office, the panel included Jewish, Muslim and Hindu Parliamentarians — Robert Halfon MP, Saqib Bhatti MP and Lord Popat — united in their determination to combat prejudice on social media.

While online life can be a blessing — how else would we have managed to communicate so effectively during a global pandemic? — racism and bigotry has proliferated in the same digital sphere. All our events covered the subject of how to combat online hate. Panellists spoke movingly about what they themselves had faced and many expressed support for the three actions the Board believes are key to confronting the scourge of antisemitism online: Ensuring any regulator appointed to oversee social media companies adopts the IHRA definition of antisemitism; ensuring social media companies appoint a UK team to moderate UK users; and heavy fines for social media companies which fail to comply with the requirements.

This conference season may have been different, but we were proud to do our bit to ensure that the community’s key issues remained on the political radar.

Gillian Merron is the Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews

October 08, 2020 10:56

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