Westminster Column - Holocaust Memorial Day and anti-Semitism

27th January 2017

Today (Friday) is Holocaust Memorial Day, marked annually on January 27th, the day in 1945 that Allied Forces liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau. Last week as part of the commemorations, I signed the Holocaust Book of Remembrance in the House of Commons. 

After I was first elected your MP, I was invited by the Holocaust Memorial Trust on an educational visit to Auschwitz with two sixth form students from Bridgnorth.  Although it was profoundly harrowing, the stark realisation of man’s brutality to man, when seen with your own eyes, is a bleak but poignant reminder of why we must educate the next generation. So I have recently once more encouraged local sixth form Headteachers to consider applying for two of their students to visit Auschwitz this spring.

Maintaining awareness is particularly needed as the Holocaust moves from living history to history. As we lose those who can talk of their direct experience of this nadir of human decency in Europe, we must ensure this defining episode of 20th Century European history is not forgotten. 

This remains directly relevant, as a film apparently denying the holocaust is being released today and we have seen a worrying rise in anti-Semitism in Britain. Evidence from the Community Security Trust suggests there was an 11% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, compared with 2015.

It also appears some student unions have allowed anti-Semitism to flourish. The current President of the National Union of Students made worrying comments about Birmingham University, saying it was “something of a Zionist outpost”. 

A Labour review of the Oxford University Labour Association concluded “behaviour and language that would once have been intolerable is now tolerated”, and there had been “some incidents” of anti-Semitic behaviour towards Jewish students. The Oxford University Jewish Society said the party’s review raised “serious doubts regarding Labour’s sincerity in tackling anti-Semitism within its ranks.”

These incidents are not something we can afford to whitewash or ignore. Any discrimination or intimidation based on religion or race is deplorable and it must not be tolerated. I am pleased the British Government has become the first in the world to adopt formally the definition of anti-Semitism as set by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. 

The Department for Communities and Local Government continues to host the Anti-Semitism Working Group. This brings community representatives together with officials from across government to ensure a coordinated response to emerging challenges.

We all owe it to those whose lives were destroyed by the Holocaust to stand up to anti-Semitism in our society today, and ensure it can never again shame Europe, as it did in the last Century.

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