Last week, under the auspices of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Against Antisemitism we travelled to Rome in order to visit the Vatican City. Our approach in the APPG has always been that non-Jews should lead the fight against anti-Jewish hatred.
Whatever the organisation, political party or union, this model is symptomatic of how we should operate. So it will come as no surprise that we have always considered it vitally important to work in close partnership with the Catholic community, sharing knowledge and teachings about how we respond to antisemitism.
Our visit reinforced our mantra; antisemitism is not solely a Jewish issue. We take this fight on hand-in-hand with Christian and other faith communities. The meetings we held enabled us to share recommendations for action based on our mutual experiences and this exchange of best practice and solidarity will, we hope, strengthen us in our fight against antisemitism.
Of course in any public, religious or other institution in order to be effective it must first address the situation in it’s own backyard. A key message conveyed by all we met was that Pope Francis’ priority is to first deal with antisemitism in his own house, within the Catholic Church, and the steps through which this would happen were detailed for us including the roles of the Department for Religious Relations and Council for Christian Unity. We commend the Holy Father for his approach.
In the world of politics, we believe it fundamentally important for MPs to address antisemitism first and foremost within their own political parties. This has always been our approach and although it might not make the papers our quiet letters and calls for action have yielded significant results.
It has always been the case that a responsible discourse and parameters for reasoned debate are set by public figures in key leadership roles. During the meetings with representatives of the church and others, we openly discussed the various complexities and layers of antisemitism and the difficulty in applying a one size fits all; generalist approach to anti-Jewish hatred. The importance of distinguishing between ‘modern antisemitism’, ‘historical Christian anti-Judaism’ and ‘anti-Zionism’ is becoming increasingly important and it was interesting to hear the’ historical Christian’ perspective on how these layers have evolved as a result of political developments in Israel.
The thought and reflection spent on appropriate discourse is welcome and encouraging. In an age where most debate can be limited to 140 characters, depth of thought, particularity and sensitivity of language is most welcome.
In the United Kingdom, incidences of antisemitism are monitored by our police and the Community Security Trust (CST) and the resultant published statistics are what we tend to use as our yardstick for measuring anti-Jewish hatred.
It was encouraging to hear that from the point of view of those in the Holy See, antisemitism in Western Europe constitutes a mentality and as such is more challenging to measure by number of incidents. There is a notion that issues surrounding antisemitism in Rome are deeper-rooted and perhaps based on the underlying history of communities. Work to reach out to Jewish communities and to seek to better confront antisemitic mindsets should not be underestimated.
Whilst there is significant work being done on antisemitism in the Vatican, alongside the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), there is as always more that could and should be done.
The Vatican has yet to appoint an antisemitism envoy or to formally adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism. All of IHRA’s 31 Member Countries voted for this and of course it was Britain who took the initiative and was one of the first countries in the world to formally adopt the definition itself. Having these structures and definitions embedded would act as a driving force in setting the tone for other member states of the OSCE and we challenged government representatives at the Holy See to do put these measures in place.
In essence, the leadership from The Holy Father and The Vatican is both impressive and appreciated. The Holy See provides the framework and message for churches around the world to follow. Our meetings gave us reason to have faith in the future.
John Mann is Labour MP for Bassetlaw and Nusrat Ghani is Conservative MP for Wealden