Liz Truss. (Photo: Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Liz Truss was today facing a backlash after she claimed that “woke” civil service culture “strays into antisemitism”.
The frontrunner in the race to replace Boris Johnson issued a press release vowing to protect Jews from “creeping antisemitism and wokeism”.
However, one part of the announcement, in which she launched an attack on civil servants, sparked fierce criticism.
Team Truss wrote: “She will change woke civil service culture that strays into antisemitism.”
The civil service is the best workplace to be Jewish to be honest, everyone is so friendly, so it's all quite strange.A Jewish civil servant speaks to us anonymously
Reacting to the comments, a civil servant working in a major government department told HuffPost UK they had never once heard about an antisemitism problem.
The civil servant, who we are not naming, said: “Honestly, we’re used to ridiculous comments from ministers but to start throwing around that the civil service is antisemitic is such a baffling and odd attack and so offensive to civil servants.
“It’s also patently nonsensical to say ‘they’re so woke they’re antisemitic’. What on earth does that even mean? Every single day I consider leaving the civil service because of these people.”
Another civil servant, who is Jewish, told us there might have been some issues over diversity courses.
But they added: “I think she’s just vomited out a load of buzzwords and ended up with something objectionable.
“The civil service is the best workplace to be Jewish to be honest, everyone is so friendly, so it’s all quite strange.”
Dame Margaret Hodge and Dave Penman criticised Liz Truss's comments. (Photo: Getty)
A civil servant, who recently left for the private sector, said the “constant attacks” and lack of faith after partygate drove them to leave.
“I know of dozens of good civil servants who are leaving because of this negativity,” they added.
“How ministers, MPs, and leadership candidates can keep making unsubstantiated comments and threats, and still expect to have anyone who can actually deliver left, is beyond me.”
Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union for senior civil servants, said Truss’s accusations were a “little ironic” given the Tories had been in power for 12 years.
“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,” he added.
“She provides no evidence for her accusation that many civil servants will find both insulting and abhorrent.”
Message I received re Truss: "I'm a Jewish civil servant (grew up modern orthodox) and I have absolutely no idea what she's referring to. What does 'Woke civil service culture strays into antisemitism' even mean? I've never worked in a more inclusive and diverse environment" /1
— Noa Hoffman (@hoffman_noa) August 12, 2022
Veteran Labour MP Dame Margaret Hodge described the comments as “below the belt”.
The former cabinet minister, who is Jewish and has been outspoken about antisemitism in her own party, added: “Using antisemitism to peddle the right’s ‘anti-woke agenda’ is below the belt.
“The oldest form of racism is not a tool to use in the divisive culture war nonsense.”
Times journalist Hugo Rifkind commented: “This is baffling, but also grim. Equating Jews with rightwing reactionary politics is what leftwing antisemites do. Am pretty colossally unkeen on Tories doing it, too.”
This is baffling, but also grim. Equating Jews with rightwing reactionary politics is what leftwing antisemites do. Am pretty colossally unkeen on Tories doing it, too. https://t.co/Shqo0dZ9Bb
— Hugo Rifkind (@hugorifkind) August 12, 2022
Sam Freedman, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government, said: “I worked in the civil service for three years and have worked with numerous officials on various things since then and have never once experienced any antisemitism. Bizarre comment.”
Journalist Etan Smallman tweeted: “Antisemitism is far too serious for anyone to be using it in the same sentence as ‘civil service wokeism’. Let alone our prospective prime minister.”
Dr Ruvi Ziegler, associate professor in international refugee law at the University of Reading, commented: “WTAF is ‘woke civil service culture’? Who comes up with this nonsense, and how on earth is this related to British Jews?”
Another Twitter user commented: “Attacking the civil service (who cannot respond in the media) is weak, pathetic and unbefitting someone seeking the highest office in the land.”
HuffPost UK contacted Truss’s team asking for evidence of an antisemitism problem in the civil service.
Her team referred us to an interview Truss gave to the Jewish Chronicle in which she pledged action to change civil service “woke” culture, including within the foreign office.
When discussing how she was committed to eradicating antisemitism in various bodies, she revealed she had to “overrule” foreign office officials who did not share her views.
The article did not outline what the issue was or what she specifically disagreed with civil servants on.
I was a Jew in the public sector for four years and engaged with the Civil Service on a daily basis.
I never once encountered anti-semitism. It was an exceptionally multicultural and tolerant environment.
Inaccurate, exploitative & shameful comments. @trussliz should apologise. https://t.co/7Ju5WObBpx
— Adam Schwarz (@AdamJSchwarz) August 12, 2022
The press release was issued after Truss spoke at a synagogue in Manchester.
In a written statement, hitting out at “civil service wokeism”, Truss said: “Every organisation has its culture, but it’s not fixed, it can be changed.
“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.”
Truss also announced she would review whether schools are doing enough to educate about antisemitism, rid university campuses of antisemitism and work to secure a free trade agreement between the UK and Israel.
A Truss campaign source also appeared to link Labour’s antisemitism problem when Jeremy Corbyn was leader with Keir Starmer.
The source said: “The Labour Party under Sir Keir Starmer and his colleague Jeremy Corbyn has been a talking shop for antisemitism and antizionism.
“This has increased anxieties within the Jewish community.”
The Labour Party has been approached for comment.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.