Front-bencher Andrew Gwynne is one of several Labour MPs whose visit to Israel as part of a Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) delegation this week has attracted outrage in the wake of the slaughter of over sixty Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza – and the serious wounding of thousands more – by Israeli soldiers earlier this month.
Gwynne has responded to criticism by posting a lengthy explanation of the reasons for his decision to participate in the visit on his Facebook page, along with a series of images of his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. It is reproduced below in full without further comment:
On 17th April, I was tasked with opening for the Labour Frontbench in the anti-Semitism debate in the Commons. It was one of the hardest contributions I’ve ever had to make in Parliament.
I was supported in the Commons by Jeremy Corbyn, who sat next to me throughout my speech, where I had to spell out clearly that Anti-Semitism is wrong; it’s racism and it has no place in modern society and certainly no place in progressive left-of-centre politics where we have a long and proud history of campaigning for social justice and against all kinds of discrimination.
The very next morning I was interviewed alongside a Holocaust survivor on the Today programme. She begged me, at the first opportunity, to visit Yad Vashem – the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem – as a signal to the British Jewish community that the Labour Party fully understands the issue. I agreed, and this Whitsun Recess has been my opportunity to make good on my word.
For those who do not know it, Yad Vashem tells the story of the Jewish people living in Europe during the inter-war years. Ordinary people; men, women and children, absolutely no different to you or I, living pretty ordinary lives in ordinary towns and villages.
Film images of them going about their daily business are projected onto a stark concrete wall. A poignant reminder that these people were no different to any of us. The same hopes and dreams, the same fears and worries in life.
Through a tunnel of history you’re led towards some of the most horrific events of the 20th Century. First, the propagation of anti-Semitic views into the daily narrative. Largely unchallenged, it leads to a warped political ideology and coincides with the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Book burning, violence and terror, ghettoisation and eventually the tragedy of ‘the final solution’ where over 7 million Jews were exterminated.
There are points of hope: good people who helped those in need are recognised for their deeds. But the eternal mark of shame is that the world largely turned their backs on the Holocaust (despite the Allies and others knowing it was happening) throughout most of the Second World War.
For me, it is the strongest of reminders of the capacity for human beings to perform the most evil acts to fellow human beings, and it all starts with people not challenging hatred and bigotry – in whatever form, and wherever it exists.
Anti-Semitism is wrong. It needs tackling. That it still exists in 2018 is incomprehensible. Jeremy Corbyn has made it publicly clear: no act of anti-Semitism is done in his name, or that of the Labour Party, and he is right to do so.
That I’ve honoured my commitment to come to Yad Vashem at the earliest opportunity, as Labour’s Shadow Communities Secretary, I hope will be recognised for the right intentions. I want progressive Jews, who share Labour’s values for equality of opportunity and social justice to feel at home in our party. I want the next Labour Government to be their Labour Government too. This is a small step towards regaining that trust.
I’ll post about the rest of my visit to the area, including the Palestinian Territories where I’ve had meetings with Ministers and others; and on my observations on the current dreadful situation in Gaza, and prospects for getting the peace process back on track in a separate post to come.
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