The Sara Conference: Women against Antisemitism against Women

28th November 2018

On 26th November a conference took place in Westminster, organised by the APPG, All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism. I only heard about it at the last minute and was too late to get security clearance for more than the opening breakfast launch. It was an epic hour.

Luciana Berger MP (Lab) introduced the breakfast speakers and said nothing we don’t know already about her terrible experiences of vile antisemitic and misogynistic abuse.  

Victoria Atkins MP (Con) is the Minister for Women. Her concern is that nobody should be deterred from a political career because of gender or faith. She promised her commitment to ending harassment and abuse.

Home Affairs Committee Chair Yvette Cooper MP (Lab) told us that “We must amplify the voices of amazing Jewish women from across the world who are changing it.” Yvette added that although antisemitism came from people who belonged to all political parties and none, she was ashamed about what’s going on in the Labour Party.

We heard from Nusrat Ghani, Conservative MP for Wealden in East Sussex, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department of Transport, and Assistant Govt. Whip. Nusrat is Pakistani in origin and the first woman in her family ever to hold a degree. The second time she was sworn in she took the oath in Urdu in honour of her mother. Nusrat is standing up against antisemitism and has made it plain in public that the Islamophobia in the Conservative party pales into insignificance when compared to the institutionalised antisemitism in Labour. She became exposed to antisemitism as vice chair of the APPG and she’s a staunch ally.

Tracy-Ann Oberman is a brilliant actor who told us how she began tweeting to defend Luciana Berger but then they turned on her. Tracy is formidable; she explained that the hatred she receives as a woman is exponentially worse than that aimed at people such as David Baddiel, a male fellow actor who also stands up as a Jew to challenge antisemitism. After listing some of the ways she’s being abused she told us that if you google ‘dirty Jew’ she comes out top. Later Tracy told me that as far as she’s concerned they can bring it on. I think we need to watch Tracy carefully and to pray for her safety because she seems fearless. With her talent, strength and fierceness she’s going places and they’ll be good ones, please G-d.

Claire Waxman is Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London’s Victim Commissioner, set up to make sure that all victims of crime get speedy access to help, according to their needs. Claire was herself the subject of sustained stalking and is clear that hate crime is up there with the rest. Speaking to her beforehand I questioned the word ‘victim’. Claire explained that there are victims and there are survivors; that people have the right to self- identify as either and it’s important to tease out the person’s self- perception. Nevertheless, as she wryly pointed out, she can’t change the name of her title.

An international perspective was given by Stefania Giannini of UNESCO. She spoke about the importance of education and said that measures are being taken by them to address antisemitism, misogyny and all racism from primary school up.

My part of the day ended with the last breakfast address from John Bercow MP, Speaker of the House of Commons, because we were in the state room of his office, known as the Speaker’s House. John was told by his father that whether or not he practised as such, he should never hide that he was a Jew; he has stood by this all his life. He pointed out that his own experience of subtle antisemitism was as nothing compared to that aimed at the women in the room, who included Luciana Berger, MP, Ruth Smeeth MP and Margaret Hodge MP.

At that point I put my arm around John Mann MP’s delightful daughter, who was standing next to me; she’s suffered more than someone her age should have, because John Mann MP and his whole family all stand up to antisemitism.  John was there looking very serious and ready to do what he does so well. I was gutted to miss his contribution and hope that the proceedings will be recorded for all of us to discover.

What is the Sara Conference? It is named not just for one of our biblical mothers but to reclaim this beautiful name.  In case you don’t know, Sarah was automatically added by the Nazis to the passport or identity papers of any Jewish woman whose name wasn’t sufficiently Jewish sounding.

Finally, what came over from all the speakers is that as a result of an unholy brew of misogyny and identity politics, the antisemitism currently being directed at us as women is far worse than that aimed at men, and thus it needs an alliance of strong women from all parts of society to work out how to stand up to it. And as John Bercow said, the men are going to be with us as well.

A brave enterprise started on Monday and I was privileged to witness it.

 

Judith Ornstein is a writer who campaigns against BDS and antisemitism in all political parties.  She is the driving force behind the documentary film and book comprising The Whitewashed Project, Antisemitism in the Labour Party www.whitewashed.co.uk