You might think the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust would have become less important — that we have never been more aware of the dangers of racism and discrimination.
Yet I will argue tonight that it is now more important than ever; that it is needed more than it has been before because the scourge of antisemitism, which is always with us, is changing.
We need to meet it now on a broader front. It is growing not just more dangerous but more insidious. And if you accept that, you will accept that HET’s work is far from done.
When I was growing up, the obvious antisemites were the knuckle draggers in the National Front in this country, what was left of the KKK in America, and Holocaust deniers like Jean-Marie Le Pen. These people and their kind are still around but they are more marginal than they have been and they are less significant than they were.
What has surprised me, for I think it was entirely unpredictable, was that the new development is the rise of antisemitism on the far left. And that is more dangerous than the knuckle-dragging right.
I don’t say for a moment that the far right is no longer a problem. We have seen the neo-Nazi nutters in Charlottesville in America and it is clearly a problem when the President of the United States, the greatest democracy in the world, cannot bring himself, unequivocally, to condemn these neo-Nazi nutters in Charlottesville. That shames the US, a country I love.
What has happened is remarkable. I know that reading history is not Mr Trump’s strong point (indeed I am not sure that reading is his strong point) but you do think that somebody in the White House would have told him what the bad guys were called in the Second World War.
I don’t say that the antisemitism of the left is entirely new. Those who know the history of Soviet Russia will know that there is a strain of antisemitism that has always run through parts of the British intellectual left. But it is more prevalent, it is on the rise, and it is given far too easy a pass. It gets away with it in the way that the antisemitism of the far right is not allowed to get away with it.
Serious academic studies illustrate what I mean. Academics at the University of Oslo concluded that in Europe, the main rise of antisemitism was now, as you would expect, from Islamists — but also from the left.
It is not just academic studies; it is also obvious from casual observation.
At the Labour Conference, in a fringe meeting — but official enough to be on the official programme — the chair of the meeting asked: “We demand the right to debate ‘Holocaust: Yes or No’”.
What did he mean, “Holocaust: Yes or No?”: “Yes or No, it happened?”; “Yes or No, it’s a good or bad thing?”; “Yes or No, we should have another go at it?”
Why ask “Yes or No?” at a mainstream political party about the Holocaust? Yet he did. And the people involved are still members of the Labour Party.
We have the former Labour mayor of London intentionally linking Zionism in Germany in the 1930s with the Nazis, based on the ramblings of an obscure Trotskyite historian. We know what he was doing; there can be no bigger insult than to link Zionism with Nazi Germany or the Jews with Nazi Germany. We know what he was doing, it is clear as night follows day. But he is still regarded as a respectable politician in this country.
So why is this happening?
I think there are a number of reasons. The far left and the far right live and breathe conspiracy theories and if you deal in conspiracy theories, sooner or later the Jews come into the frame. That is how it works. And conspiracy theories have been given a fresh life and a fresh reach in the world of fake news in the social media.
It was Mark Twain who said that “the truth has barely got its boots on before a lie is halfway round the world” — and that is what is happening today.
Now it’s obviously not just antisemitism, but this is the atmosphere in which antisemitism survives and prospers. It means that never before has there been a greater importance for robust independent well-financed journalism to deal with these conspiracy theories and the fake news that so quickly take root.
I think another reason why we are in this strange world is that there is a reluctance on the left to criticise radical Islam. I don’t mean Islam; I mean Islamism. There is a reluctance and if you are not prepared to criticise the main source of antisemitism in the world today, then you may have trouble realising just how serious it is.
And then, of course, there is on the left, as there is on the hard right, a dislike of Israel. Not just a dislike of Israel, a hatred of Israel. And when the hatred turns beyond normal criticism of foreign policy and a state’s conduct -— which we are all free to do and which every country must be subject to — when it turns to hatred, you and I know that when hatred is in the vanguard, antisemitism flourishes.
It has been used as a cover for antisemitism because, since the Holocaust, antisemitism is no longer respectable. It was in the 1930s and it was in the 1920s; the Holocaust obviously changed that. But anti-Zionism on the left is respectable and is quite often used as a cover.
Finally — and in a way most dangerous of all because it encompasses many countries and many parts of the world, and includes the far left and the far right — is the rise of authoritarianism, from the Kremlin to Caracas, across the Maghreb, into the Levant and beyond to the Gulf.
In Europe there is a rise of authoritarian parties while mainstream parties struggle to maintain their position. And when authoritarianism is on the rise, intolerance is on the rise.
The failure of the Arab Spring, one of the great failures of modern times, resulted in greater authoritarianism than before. That brings its own dangers from the far left and the far right.
I do not argue that democracy on its own is enough to repel antisemitism: look at France today or even the growth in attacks on our synagogues in this country. But democracy is a necessary first condition if we are to deal with it.
Where democracy is in retreat, antisemitism will generally be on the rise. The antiseptic, the daylight of democracy, keeps it in check, puts it on the defensive, makes it accountable, makes it possible to deal with. Whereas in authoritarian societies that is not the case — indeed it may well be encouraged by the authorities.
So there is a congruence of forces at work that make the work of the HET needed more than ever. Because the job of HET is to remind us, by reminding us of the Holocaust, where antisemitism ends up. It ends up in the concentration camps of Eastern Europe.
I know that it’s not the only genocide in world history. All are a stain on mankind. But other genocides had some kind of rational grotesqueness to them — about territory, invasion, resources, revenge or often just mindless barbaric fury. That was not the case with the Holocaust, which I think, not just in scale but in operation and even in motivation, makes it unique.
The Nazis discovered that there was still one Jewish couple living in the north of Norway. They sent the SS to get that one family. They did not even kill the family when they got to Norway; they brought them back so they could experience the full horrors of the Holocaust. That is not mindless barbaric fury: that is something else. It happened in the best educated nation on earth — that put its education and its resources to the industrialisation of mass murder.
HET reminds us where antisemitism leads. The more we know about it, the more we will make sure it will never happen again.
We have an obligation to make sure that future generations know what happened in the Holocaust because I have enough faith in mankind to believe that if future generations know, they will say in every land, on every continent, in every race and every creed, with one voice: “Never ever again, never ever again”.