This week the House of Lords will discuss the upward trend in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK. For 2010, the Community Security Trust recorded 639 incidents, the second-highest annual total since records began in 1984.
This follows a record high of 926 in 2009, mainly due to extreme reactions to the Gaza conflict at the beginning of the year. Note that the protests were aimed at Jews, not Israelis.
My key concerns must be addressed by the government and at grass roots, if we are to try and reduce the number of incidents and end this, the oldest of hatreds.
First, we must address the phenomenon of hate speech on our university campuses. As a former don, I need no introduction to the fundamentals of academic freedom. If there is anywhere that constructive dialogue about politics and peace should take place, it is on campus.
Yet there is from time to time an atmosphere of hate speech, which is a denial of freedom, and against the law. There have been incidents at the London University colleges, inter alia, involving violence and calling Jewish students Nazis.
The University and College Union has repeatedly tried to establish a boycott of Israeli academics, not anti-Semitic in intent but seeming so in impact. The universities need to bring up to date and implement the Code of Practice on Freedom of Speech, as required under the Education Act (No.2) 1986, to ensure that debates take place in a calmer atmosphere and within the law.
Manchester University and Oxford Universitys recently revised guidelines are examples of good practice, whereas the recent Universities UK report on freedom of speech has been characterised as weak.
Second, we must recognise that there is hate material readily available on the internet, especially on online comment boards of newspapers. Some of them revive the old anti-Semitic tropes about conspiracies and Jews running the world.
Third, we must protect our children from imbibing this material when they are impressionable. There have been well-substantiated reports of vicious race and religious hatred material imported from abroad being made available in faith schools and out-of-school faith classes.
Thankfully, government responses to anti-Semitism have been constructive. Systems are being implemented to empower victims, police data is now in better order and Jewish schools more secure.
I welcome the efforts of the Coexistence Trust, of which I am a trustee, to foster good relations between Muslim and Jewish students. Parliamentary colleagues in the APPG against Anti-Semitism will continue to push for more to be done.
Baroness Deech was a fellow and law tutor at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. She was raised to the peerage in 2005.