We reproduce below the full speech by Luciana Berger MP from yesterday’s Commons debate on anti-semitism.
Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I beg the indulgence of the House to tell my story, which I hope will go some way to explain how anti-Semitism can manifest itself in our country.
I come from a family that is drawn from many corners of the Jewish diaspora: I am of Dutch, Polish, Russian, Lithuanian and Turkish heritage, and I am a mix of both the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions. My Dutch family was traced back to the Jews who were expelled from Spain in the 15th century, and in Britain we found our home. While we are small in number, the Jewish community has proudly been a part of British society and has made many great contributions to all aspects of civic life for hundreds of years.
I grew up in multicultural north-west London and went to a Christian school. I had friends of all faiths and none. I had never seen anti-Semitism as a child, but I knew from my own family history what anti-Semitism was. During a debate in 1938, Commander Robert Tatton Bower MP told my great uncle, the hon. Member for Seaham, across the Floor of the House to “go back to Poland”. The most pernicious and haunting examples came from the holocaust. On my mum’s side alone, we know that more than 100 members of her family, aged from four to 83, were sent by the Nazis to their death in the gas chambers of Treblinka, Sobibór, Mauthausen, Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz, for no other reason than that they were Jewish.
I was 19 when I received my first piece of hate mail—it described me as a dirty Zionist pig—and so started my 18-year experience of contending with anti-Semitism. As a university student and activist, I was attacked from all quarters from the far right to the far left. I had members of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an anti-Semitic and homophobic organisation follow me and camp outside my house. I received countless anti-Semitic emails and letters condemning my work as the convenor of the National Union of Students anti-racism campaign. When I was selected as a Labour council candidate in 2009, people publicly challenged how I could possibly represent anyone from the Bengali community because of my faith, and since my selection and election as the Member of Parliament for Liverpool, Wavertree, I have received a torrent of anti-Semitic abuse.
In total, four people have been convicted since 2013 for the anti-Semitic abuse and harassment they have directed towards me. Three of those were imprisoned; they were of a far right persuasion, including a member of the now proscribed National Action organisation. In the wake of one of those convictions, a far right website in the United States initiated the #filthyjewbitch campaign, which the police said resulted in me receiving over 2,500 violent, pornographic and extreme anti-Semitic messages in just one day alone. There is currently one more person on remand, having made threats to my life because of my faith.
I am fortunate—I have said it publicly, and I will say it in this House—that I have a platform, as an MP, that affords me the opportunity to speak out, and I happen to be pretty resilient.
Jess Phillips (Birmingham, Yardley)
I just want to say on behalf of the House that we are all very glad that my hon. Friend is brave enough to tell her story. For lots of people, it feels difficult to stand up and voice their story. I hope she is able to agree that one day it will all have been worth it to change something.
Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, and I will never stop speaking out about all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism.
I say that I have spoken out, but it is important to say that I have been able to speak out because I am resilient, but at a later moment my mental health may mean I am not in a place where I have the opportunity to speak out. I am grateful to my family, friends and team of staff, and my constituents and supporters, who serve as a welcome antidote to the bile that gets hurled in my direction. I will not be cowed in using the full force of the law that we have in this country to hold people to account. Having heard victim impact statements read out in court of people who have not been able to speak out—people so negatively impacted that they are now unable to work or to maintain relationships, and who have had their mental health affected—I know that just one instance of racism can have a devastating impact on an individual’s life.
I make no apology for holding my own party to a higher standard. Anti-racism is one of our central values, and there was a time not long ago when the left actively confronted anti-Semitism. The work done by the previous Labour Government to move the equality goalposts in this country was one of the reasons why I joined the Labour party in the first place. One anti-Semitic member of the Labour party is one member too many.
Yet, as I said in Parliament Square outside this place—it pains me to say this as the proud parliamentary chair of the Jewish Labour Movement—in 2018, anti-Semitism is now more commonplace, more conspicuous and more corrosive within the Labour party. That is why I have no words for the people purporting to be both members and supporters of our party and using the hashtag JCforPM who have attacked me in recent weeks for my comments, for speaking at the rally against anti-Semitism, and for questioning the remarks of those endorsing the anti-Semitic mural. They say I should be de-selected, and they have called it all a smear.
Catherine McKinnell (Newcastle upon Tyne North)
May I take this opportunity to put on the record my huge respect for my hon. Friend’s dignity in the face of all this, and to pledge my solidarity with her?
Luciana Berger (Liverpool, Wavertree)
I thank my hon. Friend for her solidarity, and I am grateful to colleagues who have stood by my side and by the side of many others.
There are people who have accused me of having two masters. They have said that I am Tel Aviv’s servant, and called me a paid-up Israeli operative. Essentially, this is anti-Semitism of the worst kind, suggesting that I am a traitor to our country. They have called me Judas, a Zionazi and an absolute parasite, and they have told me to get out of this country and go back to Israel.
I am grateful to the Community Security Trust and to the police for their work to keep me and my family safe, and for all that they do for the British Jewish community to keep our Jewish schools and our places of worship safe, but they should not have to do that. When it comes to what needs to be done about it, I know that many colleagues will be putting forward very practical suggestions of what can be done to contend with this very serious issue, but the hurt and anguish of the Jewish community must be understood and must be taken seriously. This is not the time for games or divisive engagement.
For the Government, there is a massive priority to conclude their work urgently, better to protect everyone in this country online from the comments that are made on a daily basis, and just in response to this debate. I urge the Secretary of State to see some of the comments that are already on Twitter, since we have started this engagement.
And my party. My party urgently needs to address this issue publicly and consistently, and we need to expel from our ranks those people who hold these views, including Ken Livingstone.
We have a duty to the next generation. Denial is not an option. Prevarication is not an option. Being a bystander who turns the other way is not an option. The time for action is now. Enough really is enough.
I want to conclude with the eloquent words of the former Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, who said that “an assault upon Jews is an assault upon difference, and a world that has no room for difference has no room for humanity itself”.