The new government must stand up to bigotry

The Jewish community is allergic to the politics of the extremes


Sir Keir Starmer with Phil Rosenberg (Photo by Robert Latham)

July 05, 2024 11:21

For the first time in 14 years, the United Kingdom has a Labour government. My congratulations go to Prime Minister Keir Starmer, not only for masterminding a resounding victory, but also for making Labour electable after the pain of the Corbyn years.

Since day one of his leadership of the Labour Party, Sir Keir committed himself to expunging antisemitism from the Labour Party. Among other things, writing to my predecessor on his first day in office to reiterate his ‘commitment to stamping out antisemitism within the Party’.

Having first got to know Keir when I was serving as a local councillor in Camden, where he is an MP, I have not been surprised at the strength, determination and political courage he has shown in tackling these problems.

He has certainly had significant success in this mission, to the point that so many Jewish voters were prepared to vote Labour in key constituencies like Finchley and Golders Green, Hendon, Bury South and East Renfrewshire, among others. We are delighted to welcome a number of new, proudly Jewish MPs to the House of Commons benches, including one of our Deputies, Peter Prinsley, the new Labour MP for Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket.

However, beneath the victory of a strong, stable and centrist government, many in our community will be concerned about the emergence of strains of divisive populism. The Jewish community tends to be allergic to the politics of the extremes. A key task of the new government, and our society, is to stand up to the forces of bigotry and strengthen the forces of cohesion. The Board of Deputies will certainly play our part in this effort.

The new Prime Minister has a number of urgent priorities as he announces his Cabinet and begins the first steps of his first few months in office. We also have an urgent imperative to engage with the new administration on the issues which the UK Jewish community consider vital, all of which were addressed in the Jewish Manifesto we released ahead of the election.

Of these, antisemitism is the number one priority. Since October 7 our community has been on high alert as hate crimes against Jews sky-rocketed. We expect that the Government will take a strong stand against terrorism, hatred and extremism.

We are also looking to the government to stand firm on Israel’s right to defend itself, whilst protecting civilians. The Manifesto contains a significantly expanded section on antisemitism, and the clarion call to secure the release of the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, two key focal points for our community. We expect the government to reassure us on these points too.

As soon as the new ministerial portfolios are announced we will begin to work with ministers to ensure that relations with Israel remain strong and that the UK continues to work hard to ensure Israel is able to defend itself against the common threats of Iran and its proxies. We want the government to do everything it can to achieve freedom for those hostages still held in captivity by Hamas and for the UK to do its bit to expand peace in the region including the Abraham Accords and that elusive two-state solution with the Palestinians.

A key priority will be to achieve the proscription of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - which promotes terror and appears to have been behind violent attacks in this country - as well as the terrorist organisation the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which openly boasted about their part in the October 7 attacks.

We will also be asking the new government to protect Jews on campus. Our universities have become a toxic battleground and Jewish students and staff have been become targets - this must stop. We will also be backing the Union of Jewish Students’ pleas for a review of the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Act, whose provisions risk leading to highly problematic consequences.

We also want the new government to boost education, training, and interfaith outreach to tackle antisemitism and promote good relations, understanding, and cooperation between all the UK’s faith communities. And we need the government to defend Jewish religious freedoms, including, kosher meat, faith schools, religious clothing, circumcision and end of life requirements.

Of course, the Jewish community is passionate about the way our country develops in the next five years. We want our leaders to promote a more just and sustainable future, supporting efforts to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, poverty, racism, discrimination, inequality, and climate change.

We have built excellent contacts with respective Conservative governments since 2010, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank Rishi Sunak and friends across the Conservative Party for the many welcome things they have done for our community in government over the last 14 years, whether adopting the IHRA definition of antisemitism, funding security for our communal buildings, proscribing Hamas and Hezbollah, standing as a steadfast ally to Israel, or advancing plans for a new Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre beside Parliament. We will not forget these kindnesses and will be working to build on them.

It is essential that the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and other parties are supportive of our issues, and we will maintain strong links with them to this end.

As Jews, we want to be part of the national discussion, whilst doing our utmost to promote the needs and concerns of our community. We look forward to meeting Prime Minister Keir Starmer in the near future and outlining our community’s hopes and expectations, while offering our own help wherever possible.

We wish the government every success as we step into this new era for our country.

Phil Rosenberg is the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews

July 05, 2024 11:21

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