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Liz Truss criticised for saying 'wokeism' in UK civil service 'strays into antisemitism'

The frontrunner to become the UK's next prime minister is accused of 'using the Jewish community'
Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, a contender to become the country's next Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative party, speaks during a Conservative Party hustings event in Darlington, north east England on August 9, 2022 (AFP)
Liz Truss, Britain's Foreign Secretary, speaks at a Conservative Party event in Darlington, northeast England, on 9 August 2022 (AFP)

The UK's foreign secretary, Liz Truss, has been criticised after saying she will tackle a "woke" civil service culture that "strays into antisemitism", in a statement which also praised Jewish values such as "protect[ing] the family unit" and "setting up your own business". 

The FDA, a union which represents civil servants in the UK, described Truss's comments as "inflammatory, insulting and abhorrent".

"The Conservatives have been in government for more than 12 years now and, for most of that time, Liz Truss has been a minister. So accusations of 'civil service wokeism' are a little ironic, given it's essentially a criticism of their own leadership," Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA union, said in a statement. 

"However, Truss's accusation of antisemitism goes further than the usual dog-whistle politics that has been on display during this leadership campaign when it comes to the civil service. She provides no evidence for her accusation that many civil servants will find both insulting and abhorrent.

"A prime minister is also minister for the civil service, and throwing around such unfounded inflammatory accusations illustrates a lack of leadership, the very thing that she claims to be demonstrating."

In a written statement issued after she spoke at a synagogue in Manchester, Truss, who is one of the two contenders to become the UK's next prime minister, hit out at "civil service wokeism" and said she outlined a plan to "protect British Jewry from creeping antisemitism and wokeism. 

"Every organisation has its culture, but it's not fixed, it can be changed," she said.

"That's what ministerial leadership is about: it's about making sure that the policies we represent, the values we stand for, are reflected in what we do.

"I've been very clear with our officials about the positions we take on Israel, and that will continue if I become prime minister."

As part of her plan, the foreign secretary also pledged to "review whether schools are doing enough to educate pupils and teachers about antisemitism".

She also said that university campuses needed to be "ridded" of antisemitism and that she will work to secure a free trade agreement between the UK and Israel. 

At the same time, she reinforced her commitment to protecting the British Jewish community. 

"So many Jewish values are Conservative values and British values too, for example, seeing the importance of family and always taking steps to protect the family unit; and the value of hard work and self-starting and setting up your own business," she said.

"The British Jewish community is incredibly proud of this country and so are Conservatives."

Charlotte Nichols, an opposition Labour MP, accused Truss of "using the Jewish community". 

The criticism was echoed by Sarah Owen, also an opposition Labour MP, who said Truss was using "the serious issue of antisemitism" to "peddle anti-'woke' war against civil servants." 

"Either you're woke - simply alert to social injustice & inequality (including antisemitism) - or you're not," Owen said on Twitter.