At today’s Holocaust Memorial Day debate in the House of Lords, a number of LFI peers spoke about antisemitism, Israel, and LFI.
LFI’s chair in the House of Lords, Baroness Ramsay, reflected on the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas since 7 October, and particularly the recent revelations around employees of UNRWA having taken part in the 7 October attacks.
She said: “This year of all years, these words have never sounded so hollow but, at the same time, so important—hollow because the evil of anti-Semitism is creeping out of its hiding places again. As always, it takes many forms, but as a daughter of a Jewish mother, with family in Israel, I can hear, see and smell anti-Semitism whenever it appears. The late former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, said that: “In the Middle Ages Jews were hated for their religion. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century they were hated for their race. Today they are hated for their nation state, Israel”, and that “anti-Zionism is the new antisemitism”.
I am surprised at the surprise evinced by so many about UNRWA’s close relationship with Hamas. Many have known about it for years. One has only to read the schoolbooks in the UNRWA schools. Israel is rarely mentioned by name; it is called the Jewish Zionist occupier or some such. There have been many Nazi-like caricatures of Jews in these books. Just yesterday, a report went into the UN about 3,000 UNRWA teachers on some chat group who celebrated 7 October. Of course, there are decent and honest people—Palestinians as well as foreigners—working in Gaza health and education ministries, in the hospitals and the schools, with the best of motives. But the iron hand of Hamas is absolute in Gaza. There have been increasing questions about UNRWA’s role in perpetuating rather than resolving the Palestine refugee problem. This is not the place nor the time to go into more details about this subject, but I hope we can soon have an opportunity in this House to discuss all that.”
LFI parliamentary supporter Baroness Anderson also spoke in the debate, including speaking movingly about taking part in an LFI solidarity delegation to Israel in January this year:
“In recent months, I have thought often of the parliamentarians who chose to travel to the camps to bear witness, who determined that reading testimony and watching Pathé News was not enough and who decided that they needed to be able personally to share their experiences of hell with our Parliament, the Government and future generations. It was in this spirit that I chose to go to Israel last month with Labour Friends of Israel on a solidarity mission to visit the site of yet another pogrom, to meet the survivors and hostage families, to see for myself the devastation and to be able to bear witness for the next generation.
The history of the Jewish community has been filled with too many chapters of pain and death. We are a very resilient community, but the human cost we have paid for our very existence is far too high. My generation was meant to read about the persecution of Jews in history books. Pogroms, death, torture, systematic killing and anti-Jewish propaganda were for my grandparents’ generation. I was meant to live in an enlightened world where humanity and human rights are protected and cherished. I honestly believed that I would never be speaking about a modern-day pogrom, yet that is what happened on 7 October in southern Israel.
I am still struggling to process everything I saw. I could spend the next hour telling your Lordships’ House about the horrors I saw and the survivors I met. I will not do so, but I want to share one story: the experiences of a young woman I met only weeks ago. In Tel Aviv, the survivors of the massacre at the Nova music festival have claimed a space and filled it with the remnants of the festival. A young woman who had survived the massacre joined us as we saw the burned-out cars, the festival toilets riddled with gun holes and the drinks fridges in which people hid from terrorists. She told us of the horrors that had happened in each part of the festival: of the young disabled girl who was burned alive with her father; of the people killed while hiding in toilets; of the running, the rapes, the shooting and the brutality.
They have recreated the lost property area of the festival. It is reminiscent of visiting Kanada at Auschwitz. Every item left behind in the lost property is now evidence of someone who died and has not been able to return to claim it. On screens throughout the venue, there were recordings of the party taken before the massacre—young people dancing and enjoying themselves before hell was unleashed. The images of their laughter and joy are burned into my memory, because so few of them survived. Nova was a trance music festival. I did not even know what it was, but apparently Israel leads the world in trance music DJs. As we toured the exhibition, we listened to their music. I had to stop when one of the songs was a trance version of the Hatikvah, as I stood in the remnants of a massacre.
Our guide told us not just of her personal trauma on 7 October, and how her life was saved because her boyfriend made them flee five minutes before everyone else, but of what happened to her in the hours and days that followed. She spoke of watching on a video call her best friend running for her life, desperately trying to get away from the terrorists, and the moment of complete horror when she heard a shot and the call ended. She told me about how she struggled to get hold of her friends as the day progressed and her fear of not knowing who was alive and who was dead, as she hid in a house on the edge of the festival not knowing whether the terrorists were going to find them next.
Our guide explained that, in the days that followed, she had to choose which funerals to go to. She had lost 20 friends; her boyfriend had lost 45. There were too many funerals, and she could not attend them all. She could not say goodbye. Her story is one of thousands that happened on 7 October. Already, however, people are trying to downplay the attacks to distort the facts and claim lies and smears. It is our job to make sure people know what really happened.”
Baroness Merron spoke about the importance of bearing witness to both the Holocaust and the 7 October attacks:
“I, too, want to speak today about the power of bearing witness, which is exactly what we are doing in this debate. I have felt this very strongly in meetings I have been at in Parliament in respect of the atrocities committed on 7 October in Israel by Hamas terrorists, who still hold hostages whose fate is unknown. I, like other noble Lords, have seen footage collected from body cameras and CCTV of the horrific massacre that killed more than 1,200 innocent Israeli citizens and foreign workers, the largest number of Jews killed since the Holocaust. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, was right to talk about the glee with which the terrorists conducted themselves. It was that that shocked me the most, along with the images I saw, which I do not feel I want to speak about again.
I have heard the pain of families speaking of their loved ones among the 240 Jews who were kidnapped and taken to Gaza and of those who were attacked, murdered, raped or traumatised. The devastation continues to be felt by the Jewish community here, which remains in continuing shock while 130 hostages remain in Gaza. This week, I heard of the sexual violence perpetrated on Jewish women in the disturbing testimonies of those who rescued bodies or conducted forensics and prepared the mutilated bodies for burial. In all of this, I feel helpless, as so many of us do, but there is one thing I know I can do: I can be a witness, I can remember and I can speak up. I can speak up both for those who died and for those who are living.”
LFI parliamentary supporter Lord Young of Norwood Green reflected on his experience visiting Israel with LFI:
“I once went to Israel as part of a delegation from Labour Friends of Israel, in a historic year when Israel withdrew from Gaza. It was an interesting delegation because somebody who accompanied me was Rachel Reeves. I knew nothing about her until I encountered her on that trip. I told her what I did and asked her what she did, and she said, in her south London accent, that she was a Bank of England economist. I had to confess that if I had had 10 guesses at her occupation, I probably would not have got it—but she has demonstrated that she was a damn good Bank of England economist.
The trip was interesting because we went to the Knesset, met with Israeli politicians and had a good tour around; we went to Tel Aviv and close to the borders of Lebanon. Looking back, probably the most important thing that happened was that we went to Ramallah and met with Palestinian politicians from Fatah. They were very cynical about Israel withdrawing from Gaza. I said to them, “If I was in your position, if I’m honest, I would be pretty cynical about Israel’s motives”. But I said, “Look, it’s what you’ve been campaigning for. It’s what you’ve been asking for. This is a golden opportunity”. I do not know whether people remember what happened, but I will tell noble Lords, in case they have forgotten. Hamas fought with Fatah. They literally fought to the death; they were killing each other. Israel left behind a lot of flourishing industry. It was a great opportunity for Palestinians to do something positive—an opportunity that was squandered, once again.
That was not the first occasion when Palestinians have squandered opportunities. For another lesson from history, cast your mind back to President Clinton and the accords, when Yasser Arafat had the opportunity for most of the West Bank to be given back to Palestinians. He did not have the courage and he walked away. I cannot remember the exact words, but Clinton said something like, “You’ll live to regret this”. How true that was.
Israel has had many great leaders: Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan and Yitzhak Rabin, who was tragically assassinated. Unfortunately, as many of my noble friends and colleagues have said, Netanyahu is not of that calibre. He does not seem to espouse a two-state solution. I suspect that if there was another election now, he would not be in power. I do not think that those kind of attitudes help the Israeli cause.”
You can read the full debate here.