Home Estate Planning It’s not just MPs who face intimidation over their beliefs in the workplace

It’s not just MPs who face intimidation over their beliefs in the workplace

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From subtle prejudice to overt antisemitism, too many Jews are experiencing a hostile environment at work, writes Claudia Mendoza

The chaotic scenes witnessed in Parliament last week over the Gaza vote have been widely interpreted as a bout of parliamentary infighting over arcane matters of procedure, but that is not the whole story.

Setting aside the debate over whether the Speaker made the right decision, he made clear it was based on evidence of serious threats to MPs. The fact that MPs of all parties fear for their safety as a result of expressing their views on a matter of huge public importance should concern everyone who cares about our democracy.

This is far from an isolated incident. The MP for Finchley and Golders Green, Mike Freer, recently announced he was standing down due to repeated death threats which culminated in an arson attack on his constituency office. The supposed justification for these threats was his backing for Israel and his decision to stand with the British Jewish community against antisemitism.

It goes without saying that any form of hatred directed at elected representatives is totally wrong, whether because of their religion, race or sexuality.

The intimidation of our elected representatives in their workplace is unacceptable. Yet it is not a phenomenon exclusive to Parliament. In my role as CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council, I have spoken to many Jews who are facing a hostile environment at work, including at large corporate institutions. Their stories range from subtle prejudice to outright intimidation and discrimination, whether being forced to listen to antisemitic views go unchallenged or to sit next to colleagues who endorse antisemitic content online.

One company, I was told, had invited their employees to share their views on the conflict openly during an all-staff meeting. The result was an out-pouring of anti-Israel hatred, with barely a mention of the horrors the Jewish people faced on 7 October, never mind the hostages still held by Hamas.

Overt antisemitism has been on the rise too. In one case, a Jewish employee told me they were verbally abused by a colleague who said they had “killed my friends”. In another, a fellow worker folded up their keffiyeh, marched up to a Jewish employee and placed it pointedly in front of them.

This politicisation of the workplace, and the bullying or isolation of Jewish and Israeli employees, has left many Jews feeling extremely uncomfortable. Employees now feel free to bring their activism to work, because their employers refuse, or are simply too afraid, to challenge the mob.

What makes it harder to take are the double standards. Many Jews have complained about a lack of consistency and sensitivity following the 7 October attacks and the ensuing antisemitism. Perhaps the workplace is not the place to pass comment, except that when George Floyd was murdered or Ukraine was invaded, firms were falling over themselves to show solidarity. Condemnations were issued, social media posts promoted, seminars held and “values” expressed.

Yet when Hamas committed the worst terrorist atrocities against Jews since the Holocaust, many of the same companies stayed silent. Of course there have been honourable exceptions but the difference in much of the corporate world’s response spoke volumes. To borrow a phrase, Jews don’t count. While they may not feel physically threatened, all too often they face intimidation and their fears are minimised.

All this has contributed to a growing feeling among British Jews that they cannot be themselves at work, that they must actively hide their identity in order to get by. Abuse on social media and during weekly marches on our streets has, unfortunately, become par for the course for our community. But as this prejudice seeps into the workplace, supposedly the arena of professionalism, Jewish employees are feeling as if their concerns are not being heard, and that they are not being treated as others would be.

While I appreciate it can be challenging to get this right, firms cannot allow this prejudice against their Jewish employees in the workplace to continue to grow. The way forward is clear: urgently get their house in order, stand up for Jews in line with how they treat other minority groups, and put an immediate end to the ostracisation we have seen in recent months.

Claudia Mendoza is CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council

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