Parliament’s website compares the oath of allegiance all Members of Parliament swear, with a declaration of loyalty to the state. But what happens when the state fails to reciprocate this declaration? When a Member of Parliament feels so unsafe that they are unable to execute their duties effectively? A dystopian fear?
Not a bit of it: that’s what has happened to Mike Freer. A tireless champion for Jewish and Israeli causes, he was as true a friend as any British Jew could hope to find as their parliamentary representative. Among his efforts to understand the Jewish community, Mike visited an abattoir to learn about shechita; was vice-chairman of the parliamentary group on British Jews and has been a recognisable face in shuls in his constituency – he even has his own kippah.
He was at the front of the line during the anti-Semitism demonstration against Jeremy Corbyn in 2018 and wrote a powerful comment in The Times on Parliament’s anti-Semitism debate in the same year.
In the piece, Mike said that the fact that the debate needed to be had at all was “utterly lamentable”. Those words, that sentiment, can be applied to Mike’s own decision to stand down in the face of an arson attack on his constituency office and clear threats to his own physical safety.
The fact that a Member of Parliament has been hounded out of office as a result of his support for the Jewish community he represents, and the Jewish State at large should be a cause for grave concern for our society.
It is a microcosm of what is at stake here: real freedom of expression. And while some may seek to beef up security for our MPs, which, it seems, is sadly necessary after a series of horrific attacks against parliamentarians, perhaps what really is needed is a two pronged strategy. Firstly education: in schools, universities, and yes, in the media by learning the art of disagreement or as the Archbishop of Canterbury said at new year “disagreeing deeply and not destructively”. Because this art form has been lost; and it has been replaced instead by shocking acts of violence and intimidation. And secondly the need for robust policing, intelligence sharing and prosecuting of extremists and their supporters.
The danger is that democracy is being eroded. Mike’s decision has shown that. It is high time to find that art once more: our freedom of expression depends on it.
- Amanda Bowman is vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews
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