I’m grateful to Lloyd Dorfman for that very kind introduction and to Gerald Ronson and Dame Gail for inviting me to join you again this evening. It’s great to be back.
And it’s great to be able to show my support again for Community Security Trust and the brilliant work you do. On behalf of everyone here let me thank Richard Benson and all the staff and volunteers who work so hard together with the police and the wider community to protect the Jewish people and to make this charity as successful as it is today.
I believe CST is a model for all our communities in Britain. So much of what you do epitomises what I’m getting at when I talk about the Big Society. You don’t say “just leave it to the government, it’s not my responsibility”, you say “I want to play my part; I want to do my bit.”
Whether it’s standing up for your community which was the theme of last year’s dinner. Or social action, the theme of this year’s dinner, I find it incredibly impressive that, day in and day out not just a handful of people but three thousand CST volunteers work with the police, local and national government, and other religious and minority communities to fight hate crime and increase the safety and security of our communities.
It shames our country that our Jewish schools should need protection. But they do.
And security, of course, is why we are all here tonight. As we approach the festival of Purim I’m particularly mindful of the sickening way that the Jewish people have been targeted for centuries.
Anti-Semitism is abhorrent to me. There is never any excuse for it. And we must confront it together with the extremism from which it grows.
ACTIONS OF EXTREMISTS
Of course, the first line of defence is to protect ourselves against the actions of extremists. That means working ever more intensively with our international partners on tracing plots, on stopping them, on counter-surveillance and intelligence gathering. And it means improving physical security, something CST do so well.
That costs money. And tonight helps provide some of that money. So I want all of us to dig deep in our pockets and give as much as we can so that CST can continue this essential work. I include the government in that.
I want to be frank with you. It shames our country that our Jewish schools should need protection. But they do.
And it’s fantastic that CST provides it. But just as your community does so much to raise money so we should help too.
So I’m proud that Michael Gove has announced up to £2 million on security for schools this year and there will be more to come for all the years it’s needed in our country.
CAUSES OF EXTREMISM
But tonight I want to make an argument about how to fight extremism. First I want to be clear about its causes and where we should put our focus. For years the Jewish people have had to contend with the threat from far-right extremists.
And that threat remains very real.
But today one of the most immediate threats to the security of the Jewish people comes from the existence of a political ideology which I call Islamist extremism.
We must be clear what we mean by this term and distinguish it from Islam.
Islam is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people.
Islamist extremism is a warped extremist ideology that tries to set our societies against each other by radicalising young Muslims all across the world.
At its furthest end are those who back terrorism to promote their ultimate goal: an entire Islamist realm, governed by an interpretation of Sharia.
Move along the spectrum and you find people who reject violence, but who accept various parts of the extremist world view, including real hostility towards Western democracy and liberal values.
We should have no truck with any of this. So tonight I want to talk about how we stop people being drawn into it because I believe we have a unique opportunity to address two of the pathways into this extremism.
First at home, by understanding how young Muslim men can be drawn to extremism because of a failure to identity with our country we must seize the opportunity to build a stronger sense of shared national identity and confront extremism in all its forms and wherever it is found — from our streets and workplaces to our schools and university campuses.
And second abroad, by understanding that if repressive Arab regimes continue to deny people basic freedoms then yes there is a real risk that these people will be drawn to extremism. But if these freedoms can be achieved, this movement for change in North Africa need not be a threat to our security but rather the greatest opportunity for stability and peace in a generation.
Let me take each of these opportunities in turn.
BUILDING A STRONGER SENSE OF SHARED NATIONAL IDENTITY
Last month I spoke in some detail about what I see as being the failure of State multiculturalism in our society; the view that you should encourage different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream.
Let me say this has never been a problem for the Jewish community, who have been a model of how to integrate.
But some young Muslim men sometimes find it hard to identify with the traditional Islam practised at home by their parents, whose customs can seem staid when transplanted to modern Western countries.
And they can also find it hard to identify with Britain too, because we have allowed the collective weakening of our identity.
We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong.
And we’ve even passively tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values.
So when a white person holds objectionable views — racist views for instance, we condemn them.
But when equally unacceptable views or practices come from someone who isn’t white, we’ve been too cautious — frankly even fearful — to stand up to them.
This hands-off tolerance has only served to reinforce the sense that not enough is shared.
And the search for something to belong to and something to believe in leaves some young Muslims in particular prone to the poisonous narrative of separateness and victimhood that can lead to extremism.
Instead of ignoring this extremism we have to confront it in all its forms and wherever it is found.
That means banning preachers of hate from coming to our country, proscribing organisations that incite terrorism and stopping extremist groups from getting an audience on our university campuses.
I know there is a real concern in the community about what is going on inside Britain’s universities, about an insidious shift from legitimate debate to illegitimate intimidation.
So let me be very clear about where the boundary lies.
It is absolutely right that in Britain’s universities, students and faculty should be able to criticise Israel, just as they can criticise any country, or any government, or any politician.
But it is absolutely wrong that in any of our universities there should be an environment where students are scared to express their Judaism or their Zionism freely.
It is absolutely wrong that universities should allow speakers to spread messages of anti-Semitism and hate.
And it is absolutely wrong for any university authorities to duck their responsibilities to ensure a clear line between free speech which is a fundamental right, and intimidation, which is fundamentally wrong.
In the same way when the UK’s laws were used to try and arrest Israeli politicians who visit our country, without any real prospect of prosecution, this Government pledged to act: changing the law so people don’t fear coming here.
That’s what I said we would do on Universal Jurisdiction. That is what we have done. But we need to do more.
It needs to be absolutely clear across government that we do not tolerate extremism.
Some have argued that it’s right to engage with organisations that tolerate extremist views to coax young men who have both extremist views and want violence. That’s nonsense.
It would be like turning to an extremist movement like the BNP to fight a violent organisation like Combat 18.
We don’t do that for fascists. And we shouldn’t do it for other extremists. But seizing this opportunity is about more than confronting extremism, it’s also about building a positive identity of what it means to be living in this country and enabling people to feel that this national identity is also compatible with their religious or cultural identity.
Our Jewish communities do this brilliantly.
They understand that as well as being part of a community with a common faith they are also part of a wider community — that of our country.
The Prophet Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish community in Babylonia saying:
“Seek the welfare of the City to which I have exiled you, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its prosperity shall you prosper.”
And the Talmudic rabbis declared it a religious principle that Jews should observe the law of the land as binding.
The point is that it’s possible — and necessary — to have more than one loyalty in life.
To be a proud Jew, a committed Zionist and a loyal British citizen.
And to realise there is no contradiction between them.
You can love this country.
Take pride in its history.
Be moved by its values.
Even cry with its football fans every four years, and still be a proud Jew.
Jewish people play the National Anthem and the Hatikva, toast the Queen and the President of the State of Israel.
We’ve done it here tonight.
Proud to be British; and proud to be Jewish.
If we can get that same sense of national pride and togetherness in all our communities, we will all be safer as a result.
THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF DEMOCRACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST
The second opportunity comes with the response we offer to the events currently unfolding in North Africa.
Now I understand why at first this instability may seem a cause for concern for Israel.
And I do not for one moment under-estimate the responsibility to keep Israel safe, or the difficulty of it, or the importance of it.
Indeed, I want to be clear, we will always support Israel.
For example, when Iran flouts its international obligations Britain is and will remain at the forefront of the international community in ratcheting up the pressure with tough sanctions.
We will not stand by and allow Iran to cast a nuclear shadow over Israel or the wider region.
I understand how in the darkest of days every single one of Israel’s borders was hostile, every one of its neighbours was an enemy, and its young men and women had to defend every front.
But I fundamentally believe that what we are seeing now in North Africa need not be a new threat to Israel’s security. For decades autocratic Arab regimes have used the Palestinian cause to smother people’s hopes and aspirations.
Their message to their people has been: never mind the lack of democracy here, focus on the injustices being done to your Palestinian brothers and sisters.
Now young people are seeing through this and seeking their own economic and political rights and in the vast majority of cases doing so peacefully.
But while there’s an opportunity here, there’s also a risk. If these demands are denied the frustration and powerlessness people feel could open the way to them being cut off from society or worse drawn to more violent and extremist responses.
But for those of us who — like Israel — believe in and practice democracy this is a precious moment of opportunity for political and economic reform in the Arab world that could deliver greater stability and security for all.
Of course, it is not for us to dictate how each country should meet the aspirations of its people.
But we can not and must not remain silent in our belief that freedom and the rule of law are the best guarantee of human progress and economic success.
The building blocks of democracy, freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, the rules of law and the right to demonstrate peacefully, they are as much the rights of people in Tahrir Square as Trafalgar Square.
We should be clear too that now is not the time to park the Middle East peace process.
Rather we should use developments in the region to drive forward progress, not hold it up.
Some people try to judge Israel’s government by a higher code of conduct than they would apply to their own government.
We need to make it clear: when Gilad Shalit is imprisoned by Hamas, without access to the Red Cross or contact with his family for four years, this is something no government can ignore.
When rockets are being launched at Israeli citizens, and when children are in danger, Israel is within its rights to protect its people.
When over 100 rockets are fired into Israel from Gaza in one year, Israel is within its rights to search vessels bringing cargo into Gaza. But just as the Palestinian Authority has made significant steps to shoulder its responsibility, tackling violence from the West Bank Israel needs to engineer a real drive to help improve life for ordinary Palestinians.
That means more humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions to and from Gaza, without compromising the security of Israelis.
It means more support for economic development in the West Bank. And yes, it means meeting the Road Map obligation to halt illegal settlement activity as the Resolution Britain supported at the UN Security Council last month underlines.
I understand how difficult this is when you’ve been through all that Israel has endured. I have to sit down opposite Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness despite what the IRA did to many in this country and to some in my party.
But dialogue is the only path to peace. The alternative to compromise is that the moderates lose out.
If there is a vacuum in the peace process, Israel’s enemies will take advantage of it. As a friend of Israel, we want to see Israel driving the process, which means seizing the initiative. Doing so, is absolutely vital in securing this historic opportunity for peace and stability in the region.
Last year Dayan Ehrentreu presented me with the original copy of the Lexicon written by my great, great grandfather Emile Levita — a German-Jewish banker who came here to this country 150 years ago.
I was incredibly moved by his story. It made me appreciate all the more what the Jewish people have brought to our country. And it humbles me to stand among you and count myself as a friend.
With me you have a prime minister whose belief in Israel is indestructible. And you have a prime minister who wants to build a strong and productive relationship with Israel. And I have instructed our ambassador to make one of his top priorities the building of a new partnership between the high-tech economies of Israel and Britain.
I will always be a strong defender of the Jewish people. I will always be an advocate for the State of Israel.
And while I believe this is a country in which the Jewish community can live in confidence I will never rest while the Jewish community in Britain feels under threat.
A Jewish friend asked me the other day: “Will it be safe for my children and grandchildren to live here?”
The answer to that question will always be “yes”.
Because Britain’s Jewish community is strong, and proud, and flourishing.
And because CST will help keep it safe, working closely with a Government and police service that will do whatever it takes to protect it.
Let us resolve tonight that the next generation won’t even have to ask the question at all but just focus on building this great country as a home for your great community — together.