Former Member of Parliament Luciana Berger will speak about antisemitism and the high cost of speaking out on April 17th, 7pm at the Noah Liff Opera Center.
Luciana Berger, Former Member of Parliament to Speak in Person About Antisemtism in the UK and What it Cost to Her to Speak Out
What is the cost for standing up to antisemitism? For Luciana Berger, just 28 years old when she was first elected, it cost her a prominent role in England’s Parliament, and forced her to resign from her party. “During my time in Parliament, I saw seven people convicted in the UK for the sort of antisemitism and the death threats they directed towards me,” she says, “Five of them came from the far right and two came from the left.”
The attacks, says Berger, began at a high-profile music event where a man began calling out antisemitic threats. “You couldn’t make this up,” she says, “It was all the tropes, and it was at the end of the evening, and he said he ‘f-ing’ hated Jewish people.” The result was a conviction, community service, and jail time for tweets he posted that rose to the level of hate speech in the UK. But what followed, says Berger, was an online escalation between a hate group in the United States and on in the UK. “The British police said at its peak over a three-day period, I received 2,500 messages across all various social media platforms that included the hashtags #filthyjewbitch.” Berger says the incident led Twitter to begin investigating best practices and admitted they had never seen anything like this.
Berger says it was a particularly dark period for her. “You couldn’t really discuss this with family and friends because it was so bad. I made the decision to join public life, they did not.” And the attacks kept coming. She was the target of continuing social media posts, including some that were pornographic and violent. All this while seven months pregnant.
Perhaps the toughest time was dealing with antisemitism from inside her own party. “To experience it form my own party was the worst,” she says. She landed on the front page of the UK Times in the wake of an investigation into antisemitism within Labour. “There was a dossier of cases put together where it found the party should have reported incidents to the police because they met the criminal threshold, and the Labour party hadn’t told me or the police about physical threats against me from a member of my own party.” She also received a hand delivered letter from supposed supporters filled with threats of violence.
It was then that Berger left Labour, headed at the time by Jeremy Corbyn, whom she accuses of not doing enough to address the antisemism in the party. She recently rejoined Labour under new leader Keir Starmer but has no immediate plans to re-enter the world of politics in the same way. “There are many ways people can contribute to our national public life. We’ll see what the future holds in terms of what I might do next,” she says.
Today, Berger stays busy being a mother to two young children, which she says is her top priority. Professionally she runs a small communications firm in the UK, focusing on nonprofits, and doing some crisis communications and public affairs. As a volunteer she chairs the UK Maternal Mental Health Alliance, which represents all organizations that work in the area of perinatal mental health. She is vice-president of the Youth Leadership Council in the UK, where she is involved in youth mental health projects for the community. She is vice-president of the British Association of Counselors and Psychotherapists, sits on the advisory boards of the Union of Jewish Students, and the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute. And she chairs the ESG Committee of a US Corporation and is one of a few female ESG chairs in the world.
Berger hopes to inspire a younger generation of women to speak out about antisemitism and will speak about her experiences in Nashville on April 17th, as a guest of The Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville. The event is open to the public, and is being held at the Noah Liff Opera Center. For information or to register, contact Carolyn Hecklin Hyatt at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.jewishnashville.org/shinealight.
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