In a show of unity, Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum celebrated Chanukah in the Houses of Parliament at a reception organised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
Over 150 people gathered to hear Post-Holocaust Envoy Rt Hon Lord Pickles, Shadow Secretary of State for Education Angela Rayner MP, and Liberal Democrat Leader Rt Hon Sir Vince Cable MP address MPs, peers, Jewish community leaders and representatives of other faiths. Also in attendance were the Ambassadors of Israel, Morocco and Germany. The Reception was sponsored by Lord Palmer of Child’s Hill, Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Jews.
President of the Board of Deputies Marie van der Zyl slated the Labour Party leadership, saying: “Until we see action, we will continue to press for justice for our community. … Labour must kick out the racists from the party, no ifs, no buts, and it must do so without further delay”. She also reminded guests that despite the challenges of the past year, it had also seen many positives: “the Jewish community in the UK is flourishing, our Jewish schools continue to top the league tables, … we are building bridges with different communities to tackle prejudice and promote peace.”
Standing in for the Foreign Secretary, who was attending the Prime Minister’s G20 statement in the House of Commons, Lord Pickles said “the Jewish culture, the Jewish way of life, Jewish standards are a fundamental part of the British identity. Without that, Britain is diminished. … It’s not just a question of standing firm with our Jewish friends, it’s standing together as British people, for British people, to ensure that British people have a right to express their religion in public without fear, without looking over their shoulders, and to celebrate that.” He ended by quipping, “Happy Chanukah, where’s my doughnut!”
The Foreign Secretary himself later tweeted a Happy Chanukah message, referencing the Board of Deputies reception.
Very sorry to miss the @BoardofDeputies Chanukah event due to debates in Parliament. I want to wish the Jewish community in the UK and around the world a Chanukah Sameach – a very Happy Chanukah! חנוכה שמח!
🍩 🕯 🕯🕯🕯🕎🕯🕯🕯🕯 🍩
— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) December 3, 2018
Shadow Secretary of State Angela Rayner said: “This year we have seen the horrifying consequences of that culture of conspiracy theory and outright bigotry about Israel and Jewish people generally. That must be confronted in wider society but we cannot rest as a party until we have rooted out antisemitism within our own ranks.” In a clear allusion to disgraced former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, she added: “I want us to be clear that those who distort history by likening Hitler to Zionism are no longer welcome”. The Shadow Education Secretary endorsed Jewish schools, saying that they “play a vital role”. Making particular mention of the challenges facing Strictly Orthodox (Charedi) schools, Ms Rayner said, “When the Department [for Education] talks about British values then it should be clear religious tolerance is one of our British values”.
Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Vince Cable said: “I know there is deep concern here about the way in which antisemitism has resurfaced or surfaced in a particularly pernicious way in the last year or two, and it’s something we must all condemn and distance ourselves from which I am very anxious to do.”
Also addressing the Reception was the Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev, who said: “I am confident that diaspora communities will overcome the ugly antisemitism they face today. I know that when I see the numerous friends and allies we have in this struggle, many of whom are with us now in this moment. I know that also because of the resilience demonstrated by the community and specifically by the Board during these very challenging times.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis then sung the Chanukah prayers and lit the Chanukah candles.
Clore Tikva School from Redbridge led the reception in singing the traditional songs Ma’oz Tsur, Hanerot Halalu, and a medley of Chanukah songs.