Jewish Labour MP Calls For Extra Local Funding To Calm Community Tensions
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Labour MP Charlotte Nichols has called on the government to provide additional funding for local communities and policing to help tackle tensions in the fallout of the Israel-Hamas conflict.
As warfare continues between Israel and Hamas, tensions have spilled over into communities in other areas of the world, including the UK.
On 12 October, the government announced £3m additional funding for the Community Security Trust (CST), an organisation which protects British Jews from antisemitic threats.
But Nichols, who is Jewish and represents Warrington North, told PoliticsHome she believes the government must go further than it currently has and commit extra funding for local authorities and police to ensure community cohesion and prevent a further rise in hate crimes against Jewish, Palestinian and Muslim communities.
“I was very pleased to see the additional funding that was announced for the Community Security Trust, but I think there is going to have to be additional investment within communities up and down the country around community cohesion to make sure that what's happening overseas isn't being used to divide communities here,” Nichols said.
“There is going to have to be additional funding for local government and obviously for policing within that.”
A number of authorities, including London’s Metropolitan Police, have reported a “massive increase” in antisemitic incidents since the conflict began earlier this month. Jewish institutions have been targeted by vandals and multiple Jewish schools in London closed for a day "in the interests of the safety of our precious children".
Palestinians, and wider Muslim communities, are also concerned about the risk of an increase in Islamophobic violence across the world. In Illinois in the US, a six-year-old Muslim boy was stabbed to death, with some in the local community explicitly blaming anti-Palestine rhetoric for the murder.
Nichols argued that giving more robust financial support to local initiatives, with “buy-in from local schools and colleges”, would help to reach a wider range of people.
The Labour MP, who was previously a shadow minister for women and equalities, also said it was important for government to communicate clearly with the police what their role should be.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman has urged British police to consider whether they should treat chanting phrases at protests, such as “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, as “racially aggravated” crimes.
“To all those who saw fit to promote genocide, glorify terrorism and mock the murder of Jewish people, including women and babies – the police are coming for you,” Braverman posted on X.
Nichols highlighted that this appeared to “contradict” other messages coming from the government that prisons were at full capacity.
“It's difficult when the government's been saying that people who are supporting acts of terror will be dealt with with the full force of the law at a time when prisons are full,” she said.
“The government's been saying that non-violent offences and sentences of under a year may very well not see time in prison at all: those two things obviously contradict each other somewhat.”
Nichols also called for the government to increase the international aid budget, which the government slashed from 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) to 0.5 per cent in 2020, as a “temporary measure” in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is not planned to return to 0.7 per cent until at least after 2027.
“The aid budget, which will, understandably, have already been prioritised towards the Ukraine conflict, will now also be getting prioritised towards working with partners in the region in the Middle East,” Nichols explained.
“What we can do there for diplomacy and for aid will of course mean huge issues with the rest of our foreign policy agendas and looking at the funding that we commit to things like Unitaid around malaria and HIV prevention in Africa, for example.
“It's difficult to see if we are committing support to the Middle East, that our overall amount of support will not have to increase: I think there's a very strong moral case that clearly it should.”
Former defence secretary Ben Wallace said earlier this year that “by the end of the decade, the world will be a more dangerous, unstable place and defence will be more critical to our lives”, with the likely prospect of threats from “rising China” and extremism in Africa.
In light of an increase in global conflicts, Nichols said the “sensible thing” would be to at least return aid spending to what it used to be, as well as setting out a commitment to retain the numbers of personnel posted overseas by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
“I think there's also a question around the government being very keen to cut down the size of the civil service, but actually, our people on the ground around the world in the Foreign Office have never been more important,” she sad.
“And similarly within the Home Office, particularly when it comes to the backlog of asylum applications.
“Within the context of what's happening at the moment, at the worst possible times, even if we're not increasing footprint within the Home Office and within our embassy and diplomatic operations around the world, we certainly can't be cutting them back. I would like to see a commitment around that as well.”
Last week, the government announced a £10m aid package to respond to the escalating humanitarian conflict in Gaza. There are concerns, however, over how it can prevent aid falling into the hands of the terrorist organisation Hamas.
Nichols said that this consideration was a “big part of the reason” why overseas teams within the FCDO would be so important going forwards.
As a member of the Jewish community, Nichols told PoliticsHome how this conflict has felt more “immediate and close” to her than ever before.
“I’ve got friends who I know within my community where it's their family that are among the hostages, so it's felt very heavy right from the get-go," she said.
“I'm very mindful of the fact that I'm one of a very small number of Jewish MPs and I have already seen in recent months a real uptick in antisemitic abuse, including recently a man coming up to me in the street, shouting in my face and saying that I'm anti-Muslim in some way just by virtue of being Jewish.
“That was a couple of weeks before [the conflict], so it's always an underlying current and I do worry that this is going to bring some of those things more out into the open, but I think that’s why it's important that when I've been talking about it, it has been from that starting point of common humanity.”
The town of Nichols' constituency, Warrington, was the site of a devastating bomb planted by the IRA in 1993, which killed two young children and injured another 54 people, causing widespread public anger at the time.
"I've been thinking a lot over the past couple of weeks about the Warrington bombing," Nichols said.
"It was children of civilians who were murdered and that ended up being possibly the decisive moment in the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and the peace that has been sustained since then.
"The level of horror and upset that innocent children had become victims was enormous, but similarly there can be compassion: the empathy and the moral leadership shown by the families... they were not talking about revenge or retaliation, they were talking about peace."
The parents of 12-year-old victim Tim Parry set up the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace, which went on to work with the NSPCC to "promote peace and understanding amongst all communities affected by conflict and violence".
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