UK: Liz Truss slammed after claiming 'woke' civil service culture 'strays into anti-Semitism'

UK: Liz Truss slammed after claiming 'woke' civil service culture 'strays into anti-Semitism'
Labour MP Charlotte Nichols, who is Jewish, accused Liz Truss of 'using the Jewish community as a spurious pretext for another baseless attack on the civil service'.
4 min read
13 August, 2022
Two trade union leaders said they believe Liz Truss's antisemitism allegation against the civil service is 'without foundation and offensive' [Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty-archive]

British prime ministerial hopeful Liz Truss has been criticised for claiming there is a "woke civil service culture" in the UK that "strays into antisemitism".

Truss, the Conservative MP for South West Norfolk and the UK's current foreign secretary and equalities minister, has vowed to tackle the alleged problem.

She also listed "the value of hard work and self-starting and setting up your own business" as an example of "Jewish values" in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle.

Union of Jewish Students (UJS) president Joel Rosen tweeted on Friday: "As UJS Sabs [sabbatical officers], we have spent hours educating SUs [students' unions] and university officials about antisemitic tropes."

He called Truss's "comments about setting up a business being a Jewish value" an "inaccurate and offensive portrayal of the Jewish community", urging her to "withdraw" them.

The FDA civil service trade union's assistant general secretary, Steven Littlewood, said civil servants are "absolutely astonished" to be "accused of institutional anti-Semitism".

"I've had Jewish members contact me saying that they feel really uncomfortable about being drawn into the middle of a political controversy and used to attack the civil service," he told Sky News.

According to The Guardian, Truss did not provide particular examples of anti-Semitism in the civil service in her press release. The New Arab has asked an aide to Truss to identify what she meant.

The Guardian said Truss's team subsequently referred to her Jewish Chronicle interview, where she said she'd had to "overrule" concerns at the Foreign Office about her "strong stand" on the UN Human Rights Council.

Truss said in the interview that she backed her "good friend" Yair Lapid, Israel's prime minister, at the council – a body she contended has "been used to peddle a particular agenda which frankly [has] strong elements of antisemitism".

Reacting to the example reportedly given to The Guardian, Em Hilton, co-founder of Jewish pro-Palestine organisation Na'amod and social justice group Jewish Solidarity Action, described Truss's remarks as "offensive".

She told The New Arab that they "only serve to reduce British Jews to a single-issue community – to further the dangerous idea that all we care about is Israel and antisemitism".

"At a time when hundreds of thousands of us are facing the cost-of-living crisis, climate disaster and growing right-wing authoritarianism promoted by her own party, her remarks are an appalling attempt to 'other' us and divide us from others who have also suffered from near 12 years of Tory rule," Hilton said.

"Her conflation of Jewish communal interests with the government's policies towards Israel only demonstrates how the Conservatives are happy to use Jews as a shield for their anti-Palestinian racism.

"This is particularly abhorrent given the growing dissent against Israeli occupation and human rights violations amongst British Jews."

Hilton said history shows anti-Semitism "thrives in times of inequality and unrest", adding that "anyone who chooses to be part of a political project that seeks to drive Britain into economic disaster and fuel culture wars that harm marginalised and minoritised communities is no friend of the Jews".

Labour MP Charlotte Nichols, who is Jewish, in a tweet accused Truss of "using the Jewish community as a spurious pretext for another baseless attack on the civil service".

FDA general secretary Dave Penman and Mike Clancy, his counterpart at the Prospect trade union, which also represents civil servants, sent Truss a letter saying they believe her allegation is "without foundation and offensive".

"If you are to make such serious allegations, you have a duty to ensure they are backed up with evidence," they said.

"We would therefore suggest that such evidence is made available as a matter of urgency to the Cabinet Secretary [the UK's top civil servant] for investigation."

In a separate, earlier statement, Penman said "many civil servants will find" Truss's anti-Semitism claim "both insulting and abhorrent".

The Jewish Labour Movement, which is affiliated with Labour, Britain's main opposition party, also hit out at Truss.

It tweeted: "We're not sure what the 'woke civil service culture that strays into antisemitism' is.

"But what we are sure is that this is a desperate and divisive attempt by Liz Truss to drag Jews into her campaign to win over the Conservative membership with nonsense buzzword pledges."