'Ludicrous' to leave Britain, says ex-Foreign Secretary

IT would be ludicrous for British Jews to leave the country due to antisemitism, Sir Malcolm Rifkind declared this week.

The former Conservative Foreign Secretary told the Council of Christians and Jews Leeds' annual public lecture on Wednesday: "There are lots of good reasons to make aliya, but that is not one of them."

The former MP, who was raised in Edinburgh, was responding an audience member who said she had been the victim of verbal antisemitism when leaving a synagogue. She asked Sir Malcolm if Jews would be better off leaving for Israel?

He said: "We are a country of 65 million. The idea that we, as Jews, change the country of our birth because, let's say, 0.01 per cent of the population shout vicious things or act in a reprehensible way would be a foolish overreaction.

"On that basis, many Israelis would say they could not live in Israel because of the things there which are unfair or unjust."

Many British Jews have expressed concern over the rising tide of antisemitism, while some have said they will leave the country should Jeremy Corbyn become Prime Minister.

Questioned as to whether Labour Jewish MPs should leave the party, Sir Malcolm quipped: "They should join the Conservative Party."

But, in a more serious tone, he said: "We have seen Labour MPs, whatever their background, fight back against their National Executive Committee, which is controlled by the party's hard-left, over the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

"You fight and you don't quit and, even if it takes a while, then so be it."

The 72-year-old, who last week told the Jewish Telegraph that Mr Corbyn's handling of the antisemitism crisis was "unnecessary, stupid and self-inflicted", also referred to this week's Home Office statistics, which showed that Jews are the second most targeted group for religious hate crime.

He said: "If, for example, you are shouted at coming out of a synagogue, then that may constitute a breach of the peace and action should be taken against the person responsible.

"There are, however, a lot of people who are not necessarily sinister, but who find that language has become so politically toxic that you have to watch every word, especially if you are active in public life.

"You have to find a balance.

"I am not disagreeing with hate crime legislation, as it does more good than bad, but I do get occasionally nervous when I see any society becoming too politically correct.

"What should happen is to make intolerance so unwelcome that people stop doing it because it makes them unpopular.

"Where I also get nervous is when people try to criminalise intolerance.

"Extreme examples deserve it, but stupidity does not deserve to be criminalised - it deserves to be re-educated."

Sir Malcolm, who served as Defence Secretary and Secretary of State for Scotland, hit out at America's president Donald Trump over the country's withdrawal of the Iran nuclear deal.

The landmark agreement was struck in 2015 and ended 12 years of deadlock over Tehran's nuclear programme.

The six major powers involved in the nuclear talks with Iran were in a group known as the P5+1: the United Nations' Security Council's five permanent members - China, France, Russia, the UK and America - and Germany.

Sir Malcolm said: "The agreement which Mr Trump tore up was about something specific, which was the enrichment of uranium and whether that was about developing nuclear capability, although the Iranians denied it.

"The agreement was not done on the wisp, with notes of discussions written on the back of an envelope - it took several years and, rarely, Russia and China both supported America, France and Britain.

"You are free to start arguing, as in getting changes made, but in a responsible world you don't unilaterally tear such a thing up.

"It was a mistake because now Trump will also have difficulty in persuading his friend, Kim Jong-il, to give up nuclear weapons when he himself has torn up the deal with Iran.

"It is a pretty dumb policy."

Sir Malcolm also recalled a trip, as Foreign Secretary, to Saudi Arabia in 1992, to meet its then ruler, King Fahd.

As he preferred to talk with dignitaries late at night, Sir Malcolm and Sir Alan Munro, the British ambassador to Saudi Arabia, met him at 1am.

Sir Malcolm said: "I do not know if he had been briefed about my Jewish background, but King Fahd started talking about religion.

"He said there were three great religions in the world in Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and said that, one day, 'there will be only one religion - but none of us know which it will be'.

"I found those extraordinary remarks, especially as the king of Saudi Arabia is the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques."

BRITAIN is a "good country" for Jews, according to Conservative MP Andrew Percy.

He made the comment at Reform Judaism's annual dinner in London this week, while in conversation with Labour MP Luciana Berger.

The latter told the audience: "Fighting antisemitism needs to be a fight for us all.

"It represents a very strong indication of challenges facing all of society."

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