A very warm welcome to Downing Street. We have got representatives from right across Britain’s vibrant Jewish community here tonight, and you’re extraordinarily welcome.
I am not an expert on all the different parts of Chanukah, but the one thing I do understand is in a way what you’re commemorating is the fact that way back in time, when Antiochus IV was trying to snuff out Jewish religion and culture, you said that was wrong and you stood up for having that culture and that time.
And while the No10 menorah might not be the biggest in the world it is here with real passion and understanding, because when I think of the Jewish community in Britain I think of a community that has been unbelievably brilliant at integrating with our country and making an enormous contribution to it, while of course at the same time wanting to maintain important issues of religion and culture. You are in many ways the model of how to integrate successfully into a country, and the pledge I make as Prime Minister is those aspects of religion, such as Shechita, are always safe while I am your Prime Minister.
I understand there are about 26 different ways to spell Chanukah - but there really is only one meaning, which is dedication. And I just wanted to explain the three dedications that I would make tonight.
The first is the dedication to the Jewish community and its role in our country. I often talk about the Big Society, the fact that life is not just about the government and the individual. It is everything in between that matters. It’s what people give back to their communities. It’s how people contribute to a stronger society. And the Jewish community is a model of the Big Society. I think of Norwood, and the extraordinary things that organisation does for disabled children. I think of Jewish Care, and the amazing things that are done for the elderly. I think of all the ways that so many people in the Jewish community give back to their community, to their country. It is a very special part of what you do, and that is something we should dedicate to you again tonight.
I also think of what this government’s tried to do to help grow the Big Society by enabling communities to set up schools and colleges, and actually it’s a great credit to our country and to your community that there are so many successful Jewish schools in the private sector, but also in the state sector as well. And as I said in my speech yesterday at the Conservative Friends of Israel, actually the most successful non-selective state school in the whole country is a Jewish state school. So, congratulations for that.
The second dedication I make is to the state and people of Israel. Britain is a friend of Israel, a good, a candid, a trusted friend of Israel, and that is how, as long as I’m Prime Minister, it will always stay.
I know that it happened on the other side of the world, but I think the appalling events in Peshawar, where we saw 126 children murdered, I think is a reminder, whether we needed it, that there aren’t bad terrorists and less bad terrorists – there are terrorists. They kill. They maim. They want to create terror by doing appalling things. The only good terrorist is one who gives up their weapons and decides to pursue their aims through peaceful means. And you know that in Israel more, perhaps, than any other country in the world.
So let us be clear: there is no moral equivalence between an Israeli government that wants to defend its people and its territory against attack, and terrorists that want to kill as many people as they can with the weapons and the bombs and the missiles that they throw over Israel’s borders. And this country will always be a staunch friend of Israel.
The third dedication I want to make is to something very important we must do in our country and at this time and, indeed, all around the world, and that is to make sure that we continue to commemorate and educate people about what happened in the Holocaust. We’re very fortunate to have here tonight people who have survived the Holocaust. One of them, Ben Helfgott, the great British weightlifter.
The survivors of the Holocaust have done an extraordinary thing, which is to show such bravery and courage to revisit all the horror that they saw and witnessed and to take the message of what happened, and the dangers of when prejudice turns to persecution, turns to violence, turns to death, turns to murder. And they’ve taken that message around schools and colleges in our country for decades. And the tragedy is that those survivors are getting fewer in number, and one day there won’t be any left. And we have to think as a country and as a world; we have to think how are we going to go on educating people about what happened in the Holocaust.
And last week I had the huge honour but considerable shock of going myself to Auschwitz Birkenau. And as I said in a speech yesterday, it doesn’t matter how many books you’ve read or movies you’ve seen or documentaries you’ve watched, there’s just nothing that prepares you for the sight of those rooms with parents’ luggage and the children’s clothes, and the hair, and the prosthetic limbs, and the cooking pots, and when you walk into what was a gas chamber with, next door, a set of ovens, it shocks you beyond words. And you don’t process it straight away; you come back and you get on with other parts of your life and try to tell your family about what you’ve seen. But days later, I suspect weeks later, probably months later, you’re still thinking about what you’ve seen, and try to understand how people in our world could do that.
And when you see that it only redoubles the dedication I have that we must make sure as a country we do everything we can to properly commemorate and educate for the future what happened in the Holocaust. And I’m determined we’ll do that. Mick Davis and the Holocaust Commission have done a brilliant job to listen to everybody in the community and beyond the community to think about what we can do as a country to make sure that we mark the horrors of this event and learn for the future. I think it’s very, very important that we get this right, and I’m determined that we will.
Britain will go on making sure that these sites are able to be visited. We’ll go on making sure children from our schools can go and see them. And we will go on doing all the things we can, with the Anne Frank Trust, with others, to fight prejudice and discrimination and persecution in our country, and that includes on our campuses. And I’m delighted that the Union of Jewish Students is here tonight, and we’ll continue to work with you to stop Islamist extremist preachers coming onto campus and threatening the peace and stability of our country. I hope you’ve noticed that in recent days we’ve actually passed a new law that puts an obligation on every single public body in our country to stand up against extremism, persecution and prejudice; I think it’s vital that we do that.
I wanted to say a very happy Chanukah to all of you, and a very happy Christmas. Thank you very much indeed.