Liz Truss has set out her plan to “protect British Jewry” but provoked anger after claiming “woke culture” in the civil service “strays into antisemitism”.
The Tory leadership frontrunner also published a statement on Friday announcing she would review whether schools are doing enough to educate about antisemitism, rid university campuses of antisemitism and work to secure a free trade agreement between the UK and Israel.
In her statement, Truss said: “So many Jewish values are Conservative values and British values too, for example seeing the importance of family and always taking steps to protect the family unit; and the value of hard work and self-starting and
setting up your own business.” The wording of her praise was roundly
condemned by the Jewish Council for Racial Equality for evoking stereotypes of Jews and for failing to convey the diversity of the community.
But it was her comments about the civil service – delivered from Manchester’s Hale Synagogue – that the “woke civil service culture that strays into antisemitism” that attracted more widespread criticism.
In a press release, released after her civil service comments, Truss said: “Every organisation has its culture, but it’s not fixed, it can be changed.
“That’s what ministerial leadership is about: it’s about making sure that the policies we represent, the values we stand for, are reflected in what we do. I’ve been very clear with our officials about the positions we take on Israel, and that will continue if I become prime minister.”
But she was challenged too by the FDA union, which represents civil servants, to present evidence of antisemitism to the relevant authorities. Dame Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP, tweeted: “Using antisemitism to peddle the right’s ‘anti-woke agenda’ is below the belt. The oldest form of racism is not a tool to use in
the divisive culture war nonsense.”
Also taking to Twitter, journalist Hugo Rifkind said the attack on “woke” culture and antisemitism in the same sentence was “baffling” and “grim”. He added: “Equating Jews with rightwing reactionary politics is what leftwing antisemites do. Am pretty colossally unkeen on Tories doing it, too.”
A JCORE statement criticised the “silence” of major Jewish bodies on the issue and other remarks from both candidates. “Attempts to conflate so-called ‘woke
culture’ with antisemitism are thoroughly disturbing. Seeking to draw this issue into broader culture wars at best cheapens serious efforts to tackle antisemitism, and at worst is dangerous and divisive.”
Also aiming at Sunak, it added: “If both candidates for prime minister are serious about representing ‘Jewish values’, we would compel them to instead reconsider their approach towards refugees and asylum seekers. This would reflect the command to ‘welcome the stranger’.”
Joe Millis, deputy for Bromley Reform Synagogue, said/; “The Board has one job regarding calling out antisemitism stereotypes in the UK and elsewhere or preventing the weaponisation of Jew in election campaigns as Truss did, without fear or favour, and it failed abysmally here.”
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