11 November 2021
Holocaust education is our only vaccine against hatred

Nadhim Zahawi visited Poland and Auschwitz-Birkenau and wrote a blog for Jewish News on his return.

I have just returned from an emotional and humbling visit to Poland, where I joined an international delegation to visit Auschwitz.

I stood before those awful gates; I bowed my head in sorrow at the scale of human suffering and came home with a steely resolve. I vowed that whatever else I accomplish in my job as education secretary, I will do my utmost to make sure we stamp out the scourge of antisemitism in our education settings once and for all.

Nadhim Zahawi MP visits Auschwitz concentration camp

The Holocaust remains one of the most significant events in human history.

And schools have a duty  to make sure the next generation never forgets what happened 76 years ago, so that each one can pledge anew, never again.

I am writing with some experience of what it is to live in fear. My family lived in Iraq and had to tiptoe around in a police state where torture and executions were all too common. If my parents had not packed our bags one night and taken flight to this country, who knows whether any of us would have survived.

One of the most inspiring speakers at the delegation was the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, Yisrael Meir Lau. We both echoed the wise adage that all that is necessary for evil to flourish is that good men do nothing.

But as Rabbi Lau said, silence should not have been an option then and it is not an option now. We must all be brave enough to speak up.

The scenes we witnessed in London this week when the Israeli ambassador was intimidated by protestors is unacceptable. It was harassment, not free speech, and it will have deeply shaken Jewish students and the wider community.

It is proof that antisemitism, racism and intolerance still exist and we simply cannot look away as this kind of prejudice and extremism go unchecked.

I expect all our schools, colleges and universities to challenge any kind of intolerant or bullying behaviour and take a strong stand not just against antisemitism but against all forms of discrimination.

My predecessor Gavin Williamson wrote to all our education settings last year reminding them of their responsibilities and urging them to crack down on antisemitism.

One of the things he requested was that universities should consider adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.

People might wonder what use is a definition, isn’t it just lip service? The answer is no, it isn’t. Antisemitism is not simply a matter of historical debate, but a real and present danger that exists today and sadly on our campuses. By signing up to a definition of what it is, a university sends a clear signal that it takes these issues seriously.

But even more importantly, it enables universities to spot antisemitism and intolerance when they occur and to do something about it quickly.

The Office for Students (OfS) has published a list of colleges and universities that have already adopted the definition and I am very pleased to say that considerable progress has been made since last year. A total of 216 higher education institutions in England, which includes 95 universities, have signed up.

If universities do not take action to meet expectations for preventing and tackling harassment during this academic year I may well ask the OfS to explore whether further action can be taken.

For school communities, our Educate Against Hate website gives teachers the kind of resources and support they need to challenge radical views and keep children safe, including from online extremist influences.

This is bolstered by a network of education officers, who are on hand to give support and guidance to education settings across the country to safeguard any young person who is in danger of becoming radicalised.

Sadly, the Holocaust did not end persecution. There are still too many vicious and bloodthirsty conflicts, where a generation mourns mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, who have been lost.

Earlier this week was the anniversary of Kristallnacht, when the Nazis destroyed 1,406 synagogues with many burned to the ground and thousands of Jews murdered.

Virtually no media outlets reported on it at the time. The world stayed silent. Let’s not stay silent. Education is the vaccine against antisemitism.