Sajid's opening remarks as he lead this years' Holocaust Memorial Debate, as can be found on Hansard: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2023-01-26/debates/70BC5F54-2219-…
Sajid Javid (Con), Bromsgrove.
I beg to move,
That this House has considered Holocaust Memorial Day.
I thank the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) and my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) for co-sponsoring the debate. I pay tribute to the incredible people at the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, the Holocaust Educational Trust and many others for the work that they are doing this week and all year round.
I am extremely honoured to be leading this debate. Usually, my lengthy speeches from the Back Benches are reserved for when I resign from the Government, so this is a welcome change. I could not think of a more important issue on which to speak and I am pleased to see so many hon. Members on both sides of the House here today. Tomorrow will mark the 78th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau—a place of evil, atrocity and inhumanity; a place where more than 1 million men, women and children arrived but never left. More than 6 million Jews and others lost their lives during the holocaust, and countless more would carry the burden of their persecution.
Genocide is a dark stain on the conscience of humanity, and the hatred that drives it is a disease of the heart. After the holocaust, we vowed, “Never again,” but the killing fields of Cambodia, the butchery of Rwanda, the deathly silence of Srebrenica and the suffering of Darfur show that the disease of hatred lives on. Although those dark stains can never be washed out, it is our duty to shine a light on them in this House.
It is also an honour for me to be the first Muslim to lead this debate from the Back Benches. My late friend, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, once said,
“The test of faith is whether I can make space for difference. Can I recognise God’s image in someone who is not in my image, whose language, faith, ideal, are different from mine? If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his.”
At a time when I worry about communities becoming increasingly insular, and when too many young men and women are drawn to divisive voices, our responsibility is to spread the message of understanding and compassion between communities. That responsibility has never been greater.
The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is ordinary people, but I will first mention a group of extraordinary people—the survivors of the holocaust.
I have been privileged to know many of them during my time in Parliament, as have many other hon. Members on both sides of the House. When I was Chancellor, I invited 12 survivors to have dinner in 11 Downing Street; it was an evening that I will never forget. That night, my family was joined by the late, great Zigi Shipper, who was full of energy, enthusiasm and optimism. As we were showing him out, I recall that he pointed at me and, turning to my wife, said, “What are you doing with that rogue when you could be with me instead?” May his memory be a blessing.
Zigi saw the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau first hand, but as the theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us, we should not forget that the crimes of that place were committed by, and to, ordinary people. As the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust has said:
“Genocide is facilitated by ordinary people. Ordinary people turn a blind eye, believe propaganda, join murderous regimes”,
and ordinary people are persecuted
“simply because they…belong to a particular group”.
Intervention: Alex Sobel (Lab/Co-op), Leeds North West.
I would like to speak about one ordinary person—my great-grandfather David, who was in Lviv, Ukraine during the war. To survive, he needed a job, and to get a job, he needed a life number. He worked in a hairdresser’s, but he had to bribe the hairdresser and he did not have enough money to bribe them. His valuable belongings were hidden in a safe house and the person who owned the safe house would not give them up, so he could not afford the bribes. He lost his job, he lost his life number, and he was sent to Belzec extermination camp and killed. He was an ordinary person doing ordinary things, but betrayed by ordinary people.
Sajid Javid (Con), Bromsgrove.
I thank the hon. Member for everything that he has done and continues to do to fight hatred in our communities, and for sharing that about his dear family with the House. He makes the point so well.
In this debate, we should also reflect on our role as policymakers, because we know the familiar, sickening pattern of atrocities all too well. We are right to reaffirm our commitment to “never again”, but we as parliamentarians must also do more to prepare the political foundations and the policy framework to prevent the next atrocity. Our commitment to the truth must also be reinforced at home, including in how we counter misinformation and conspiracy theories. In the UK, we have seen a rise in anti-vaccine protesters carrying signs reading “vaccine holocaust” and wearing the star of David, and I must say that it angers me that any Member of this House would seek to connect the holocaust with UK public health policy.
To tackle persecution, our voices and actions are needed now more than ever. Research from the Community Security Trust shows that in the first half of 2022 alone, 782 incidents of anti-Jewish hate were recorded in the UK. As so often, that hatred is fuelled by the online world.
Intervention: Christine Jardine (LD), Edinburgh West.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech on an important day, which reminds us what ordinary people are capable of—good and bad. He talks about antisemitic attacks. Recently, I visited a Jewish school in London where 10-year-old children told us stories about the antisemitism that they had faced. Does he share my concern that we are still overlooking the potential for that sort of problem to exist and grow in our society?
Sajid Javid (Con), Bromsgrove.
Yes. I thank the hon. Lady for what she has said and I very much share her concern, as will hon. Members on both sides of the House. She rightly talks about young children, but a recent independent report that was done for the National Union of Students also found antisemitism, so it is an issue across society for people of all ages. She is absolutely right to raise that.
The hon. Lady and others will agree about the role of the online world in spreading hate. Recent research shows that every day in the UK, more than 1,300 explicitly antisemitic tweets are posted—some to Members of this House. It is no wonder that many British Jews are becoming increasingly frustrated at hearing words of condemnation alone when it seems that the perpetrators of that hate too often do not receive the punishment that fits the crime.
The fact that the Community Security Trust needs to exist should be a cause of deep sadness—although, when I was Home Secretary, of course I was pleased to secure multi-year funding for it. When Jews in this country have the freedom to pray behind high walls and security guards, can we call that freedom at all?
Intervention: Dr Matthew Offord (Con), Hendon.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the speech he is making. However, in some ways he has provoked in me a condemnation of the Crown Prosecution Service, because many of my constituents were threatened by protesters who drove all the way down from Bradford with signs saying that they were going to rape and kill Jews, but the CPS decided it would not prosecute, for reasons unknown to me or, indeed, the Home Secretary. Does he agree that these kinds of actions send out a terrible message, and that if these perpetrators are not brought to justice, people will continue to act in such a fashion?
Sajid Javid (Con), Bromsgrove.
Yes. My hon. Friend gives an excellent example of exactly why more needs to be done. I think that includes the entire criminal justice system, and he is right to share his example of the CPS. I do very much agree with him.
Another thing that certainly helps to reduce antisemitism and hatred of all types is education, which is crucial in the effort to tackle persecution and hatred. For example, the Anne Frank Trust reached something like 46,000 schoolchildren last year alone. The Holocaust Educational Trust does fantastic and excellent work with visits for schoolchildren from across the UK to the Auschwitz Museum.
As a Communities Secretary who fought hard for the establishment of a national holocaust memorial, I was personally delighted with the news from my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister yesterday about the new holocaust memorial, which will have cross-party support. It has been a long road, but that memorial will make an immense difference.
I want to end with the words of Anne Frank. She wrote:
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
The world is a complex and often unjust place, but if we can embody the spirit behind those words and work towards the common good, then the steady ship of progress will never veer far from its course. So let us stand together and reaffirm our commitment to fight for the common good, to shine a light on evil wherever it is found and to never, never forget the victims of persecution.