Prime Minister Theresa May lambasted anti-Semites and misogynists at an inaugural conference on anti-Semitism against women at Speaker’s house in Parliament on Monday night.
Shortly after addressing MPs to gain support for her Brexit deal, Mrs May spoke passionately to delegates at Sara’s Conference.
“Antisemitism is racism, and any equality movement that indulges or ignores it is not worthy of the name,” she said.
Mrs May has participated in numerous events to celebrate women and women’s rights this year, including marking the centenary of British women winning the vote.
“The joy of those occasions has been tempered by the resurgence of two age-old hatreds that many had dared to hope were becoming a thing of the past,” she explained.
“Claire Kober (former Haringey council leader) stepped down after facing a torrent of personal abuse in which, as she said, ‘the only thing worse than the sexism was the anti-Semitism’.
Mrs May told the large gathering that journalist Karen Glaser recalled that when her mother came to Britain she stopped feeling scared of being Jewish, but 50 years later was frightened again.
She also noted that “deeply disturbing” research had illustrated Jewish women politicians were likely to attract attention of far-Right hate groups but it was not a surprise to those “on the receiving end”.
Mrs May’s comments were indirectly aimed at the Labour Party over much-publicised anti-Semitic incidents.
“These attitudes are not limited to the far Right,” she explained. “As is so often the case with anti-Semitism, bigotry directed at Jewish women also comes from those who would never consider themselves to be racist, including within the women’s rights movement itself.
“Some Jewish women have been told that they’re not real feminists unless they publicly disavow Israel’s right to exist or been thrown off pride marches for flying rainbow flags that feature the Star of David. And as one British Jew put it earlier this year, ‘Going on a women’s rights march can be a tricky affair when you find yourself marching alongside people carrying banners merging the Israeli flag with a swastika’.”
Mrs May pointed out that the government was removing “all hiding places for anti-Semitism”.
The Prime Minister’s government is the first to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition with all its examples.
She further noted government’s support for the National Holocaust Memorial next to Parliament and £1.7 million for school programmes marking the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.
“We are continuing to support the Holocaust Educational Trust, not just backing its Lessons From Auschwitz programme but extending it to cover universities,” she explained. “The first students and university leaders to take part in the new scheme travelled to Poland just last week.”
Mrs May concluded: “Freedom of thought and freedom of speech have never meant freedom to abuse and freedom to threaten. Anti-Semitism and misogyny have no place in this country. Hatred can be defeated. Hatred must be defeated.
“Thank you for refusing to tolerate anti-Semitism and misogyny. Thank you for lending your voices to the growing chorus that will drown out the fury of the racists and the sexists. And, when I look around this room and see so many brave, dedicated men and women, I know that hatred will be defeated.”
Labour MPs Luciana Berger and Ruth Smeeth, and Scottish National Party MP Dr Lisa Cameron co-chaired the conference.
Ms Berger told delegates, “It is unacceptable that Jewish women are being prevented from participating in public spaces through fear or threat.”
Former Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said anti-Semitism and misogyny was an attempt to attempt to silence political voices and stop change.
She added, “It should appal us that today we see the rise of anti-Semitism across the world, something we should be seeing shrink into the darkest corners.
“If we are honest, we know we aren’t yet doing enough and that the warning signs have been there for some time, we want to come together to do more.”
Recalling the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, she commented, “We know from events across the world where words can lead, where hatred can lead if we don’t challenge it.”
Tracy-Ann Oberman recalled visiting Yad Vashem with her parents as it was a day that shaped her life.
“It made me realise that you have to stand up to persecution wherever you see it,” she said.
Following abuse aimed at Ms Berger and Ms Smeeth, she became a target after supporting them on Twitter.
“I have been called a ‘Zionist whore’, a ‘Rothschild’, an ‘Israeli operative paid huge sums of money to bring down Jeremy Corbyn single-handedly’, that I’m a ‘Palestinian baby murderer’, a ‘Nazi’, and that ‘the Holocaust was a hoax or that it is exaggerated for political gain’,” she explained.
Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said: “Jewish women have been disproportionately targeted by the racists and I’m very pleased that this misogyny has also been acknowledged and is being confronted.”
“I am proud to be British, and proud to be a Jewish woman. My identity, nor that of any other Jewish woman, should never be a barrier to full engagement in public life. Together with colleagues, we are sending a strong signal that antisemitism against women will not be tolerated.”
An Antisemitism Policy Trust and Community Security Trust report found that female Jewish politicians were 15 per cent more likely to be targeted by far-right online site Stormfront than male Jewish politicians.
Project researcher Seth Stephens-Davidowitz concluded that women with political power were particularly subject to anti-Semitic abuse.
Sara Khan, the commissioner for countering extremism, commented: “Jews, in particular, Jewish women in public life, are being named, targeted and dehumanised on far-right extremist websites.
“This is taking place at a time of rising recorded anti-Semitic incidents and when female Jewish politicians in our own country have publicly highlighted the threats of violence they continue to receive.
“It is unacceptable that far-right websites are able to propagate wholesale extremist propaganda and hatred.”
Danny Stone, Antisemitism Policy Trust chief executive said that the level of anti-Semitic abuse, gendered threats and other invectives directed against women, particularly online, was frightening and unacceptable.
He added that the conference was addressing an understanding of the issues to ensure women facing anti-Semitism know they are not alone in the struggle.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, Sarah Brown, Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt MP, Speaker of the House John Bercow, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick, Minister for Women and Equalities Penny Mordaunt MP and Board of Deputies chief executive Gillian Merron were among attendees.