WATCH: Rabbi Lord Sacks at the House of Lords Debate on anti-Semitism
My Lords I am grateful to Lord Popat for initiating this debate, and I want to explain why. The greatest danger any civilisation faces is when it suffers from collective amnesia. We forget how small beginnings lead to truly terrible endings. A thousand years of Jewish history in Europe added certain words to the human vocabulary: forced conversion, inquisition, expulsion, ghetto, pogrom, Holocaust. Once hate goes unchecked, the road to tragedy is short.
My Lords, it pains me to speak about antisemitism, the world’s oldest hatred. But I cannot keep silent. One of the enduring facts of history is that most antisemites do not think of themselves as antisemites. We don’t hate Jews, they said in the Middle Ages, just their religion. We don’t hate Jews, they said in the nineteenth century, just their race. We don’t hate Jews, they say now, just their nation state.
Antisemitism is the hardest of all hatreds to defeat because, like a virus, it mutates, but one thing stays the same. Jews, whether as a religion or a race or as the State of Israel, are made the scapegoat for problems for which all sides are responsible. That is how the road to tragedy begins.
Antisemitism, or any hate, become dangerous when three things happen. First: when it moves from the fringes of politics to a mainstream party and its leadership. Second: when the party sees that its popularity with the general public is not harmed thereby. And three: when those who stand up and protest are vilified and abused for doing so. All three factors exist in Britain now. I never thought I would see this in my lifetime. That is why I cannot stay silent. For it is not only Jews who are at risk. So too is our humanity.