Sajid Javid’s speech at the Union of Jewish Students’ Annual Conference 2014
Shalom Aleichem [Hebrew for “Peace be with you”]. Thank you for coming, and thank you for inviting me along today. It’s always great to see young people getting engaged with the political process. …
As I’m sure you’re all aware, there’s an increasingly vocal campaign for a full-scale cultural boycott of Israel. It’s a campaign I have no time for … It was wrong when Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s Behzti came under siege from members of the Sikh community. It was wrong when Christian groups tried to drive Jerry Springer The Musical off the stage. And it’s wrong when Jewish artists are targeted simply because of their connection to Israel. A century ago William Howard Taft called anti-Semitism a “Noxious weed”.
A century later, I don’t want to see that weed taking root in any aspect of British life. That’s why I will always be proud to stand up and resist calls for boycotts of Israel. I know that such calls are nothing more than a smokescreen for the oldest hatred. That’s why I am proud to see the government taking real action against anti-Semites who want to gain a foothold in Britain’s universities. We’re denying a platform to extremists who would abuse our freedoms in order to sow the seeds of division.
And that’s why I’m proud of the work we’re doing with the Holocaust Educational Trust. We’re paying for two teenagers from every British school to visit Auschwitz, letting them see for themselves the horrors of the Shoah. I had the privilege of joining a group of children from my constituency when they visited two years ago. I’ve read a great deal about the atrocities of the Nazi regime. And I was extremely moved by the permanent Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum.
But nothing can prepare you for the experience of actually being there. The Prime Minister found that for himself when he visited this week. I’m sure everyone who goes to Auschwitz is touched by what they see in different ways. For me, I will never forget the sight of a case filled with thousands upon thousands of shoes taken from those who were murdered. Mixed in among them there were countless tiny pairs that had clearly been stolen from the feet of children.
As a parent – and as a human being – it’s a sight that will live with me forever. As the Holocaust Educational Trust says, when we understand where prejudice leads, we can stop it in its tracks. …
I’m proud to be the child of immigrants. It’s who I am. It’s what I am. The same was true of Yehudi Menuhin. He was born an American and died a British citizen.
But for his whole life he was, of course, Jewish through and through. I know that his name, Yehudi, is the Hebrew word for “Jew”. But what I didn’t know until recently was the story of how he came to be called that. You see, not long before Menuhin was born his parents were out house-hunting together.
I think it might have been in New York. They thought they’d found the perfect place. But as they were leaving, the landlady, unaware of their background, cheerily told them that: “You’ll be glad to know I don’t take Jews!” His parents were rightly appalled, though sadly not surprised. But they were proud people. They didn’t want to hide in the shadows. To deny who they were. To simply ignore the bigotry of others. So there and then, they decided that their unborn child would be given a name that declared his race and religion to the world.
That’s why, a few months later, they called their first and only son “Yehudi” – “The Jew”. And as he grew up and toured the globe, probably the greatest violinist of all time, his name proclaimed not just who he was, but what he was. It shouted it from posters, album covers and programmes around the world. Celebrating his heritage, not hiding it. Just as his parents intended. [Etc, etc] (Sajid Javid’s speech at the Union of Jewish Students’ Annual Conference, 14th December 2014)