On Thursday 18th January, Mike Gapes MP spoke in the House of Commons during the Holocaust Memorial Day debate. The speech can be viewed here.
"My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), in his absolutely powerful and moving speech, made reference to films. There is another—Steven Spielberg’s fantastic work “Shoah” in which survivors living at the time all gave their testimony, speaking in their own words for the record. Hopefully, those words will be there for generations to come.
Twenty-one years ago, I introduced a private Member’s Bill on holocaust denial. It was a precursor to a private Member’s Bill on Holocaust Memorial Day promoted by my former hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, who came in in 1997. We did not get the Bill on denial, but we did get the Bill on memorial. I received an incredible amount of anti-Semitic abuse. For two years after, I received specially printed Christmas cards with the most vile images. The assumption was that I was Jewish. Actually, I am not; I grew up in Ilford and the mum of one of my best friends at school always thought that I was Jewish because I was always round there, but I am not.
Interestingly, after the election in 1997, I decided that I was going to do more about these issues. Then a group was established locally which campaigned against me because I supported a two-state position in the middle east. The group, which called itself the Association of Ilford Muslims—I do not have the time now, but I refer Members to my Westminster Hall debate that I held in June 2001—put out leaflets saying that I was no friend of the Muslims, I was a true friend of Israel, and I represented Tel Aviv South, not Ilford South. Subsequently, the Muslim Political Action Committee UK was set up. It has peddled on the internet and through social media anti-Semitic material, which it dresses up as anti-Zionism. It has targeted people in election campaigns, including in Rochdale, Oldham, Birmingham, Blackburn, in my constituency and elsewhere to try to get rid of people it regards as pro-Zionist MPs—mainly Labour MPs, but Conservatives as well. That has been the power of their message. It is insidious, and it is in our politics.
I am very pleased to say that next Friday in Ilford we are going to have all communities, as we always do—Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews—
Lyn Brown: May I just ask my hon. Friend for the venue?
Mike Gapes: Valentines Park in Ilford, at the holocaust memorial garden, which was established on the initiative of the former council leader—still a Conservative councillor—Alan Weinberg. We will have our annual service there, and there will be young people from many different schools, including, as in recent years, young people from a Muslim school—the Al-Noor school. We have many different people from different faiths speaking, because that is Ilford today. A century ago, Ilford had a very large Jewish community, but now we have all the different faiths, and they come together.
It is important to recognise that the poison that was put out against me all those years ago did not succeed. I am still here. More importantly, the community has rejected extremists of that kind, but they are still there. They are out on Twitter. They are out on Facebook.
Ruth Smeeth:My hon. Friend makes a powerful case for how much has changed locally. This debate is all about the power of education, and that has a huge impact in my constituency and across the country, which is why the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust is so important.
Mike Gapes: I absolutely agree. I had not been to Auschwitz before 2013, when I went with a group of young people from schools in the south of England—there were not people from my constituency on the day that I was available. Every year, young people from many of my local schools go there, and those young people come back and talk about their experience, and spread the message in our community.
In our modern, pluralistic, democratic society, we must never forget the events of the holocaust. We must also remember the more recent genocides in Rwanda and Cambodia and what happened to the Yazidis. As the Foreign Affairs Committee and the International Development Committee pointed out in their recent reports, we also need to highlight the plight of the Rohingya today. We must stand together as a community and fight these evils."