Britain would be a lesser country without Jews, Sir Eric Pickles has said in an attack on the “casual acceptance” of antisemitic tropes in the UK.
Sir Eric, the government’s special envoy for post-Holocaust issues, made the comments in response to a study published in September by Jewish Policy Research which found that about 30 per cent of the adult British population showed “antisemitic attitudes at different intensities”.
In an interview with the Jerusalem Post on Thursday, he said: “We need to address the casual acceptance of some of the old (antisemitic) tropes. I feel strongly about this because Judaism is a fundamental part of the British identity.
“If we were to see, as France has seen, Jews starting to leave the country, we would be diminished – we wouldn’t be Britain anymore. It’s about what makes Britain tick – and without Jewish people, Britain would not tick properly.”
The report, titled Antisemitism in contemporary Great Britain, also found that about three per cent of people hold multiple antisemitic attitudes, but are not confident about expressing them.
It also suggested that a “much larger number of people” believe negative stereotypes and ideas about Jews, although they do not realise that doing so could be seen as antisemitic.
Although he acknowledged a “wave of antisemitism taking place in Europe”, Sir Eric said that it would be an exaggeration to say Jews are unsafe in Britain.
He added: “We’re not a million miles away from what happened on the continent, and we have to ensure that our population is safe.”
Sir Eric, who served as the Communities Secretary in David Cameron’s first government, visited Israel for the sixth Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism, held in Jerusalem from Sunday until Wednesday.
The former MP for Brentwood and Ongar, in Essex, is a prominent member of the Conservative Friends of Israel group, and has acted as its parliamentary chairman.