The head of a civil service union has slammed Liz Truss for making “unfounded inflammatory accusations” after she promised to stamp out a “woke civil service culture that strays into antisemitism” if she becomes prime minister.
FDA general secretary Dave Penman said the claim – included in a press release published by the Truss campaign outlining “support for the British Jewish community” – was “insulting and abhorrent”.
“Every organisation has its culture, but it’s not fixed, it can be changed,” the Conservative Party leadership hopeful and foreign secretary 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.”
Penman said accusations by ministers’ of “civil service wokeism” amounted to “a criticism of their own leadership”.
But he added: “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.”
Sam Freedman, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government and former Department for Education policy adviser, labelled the comment "bizarre".
"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 anti-semitism," he wrote.
The press release containing the claim, based on an interview Truss gave to the Jewish Chronicle at a Manchester synagogue yesterday, outlined a “comprehensive plan to boost links between the UK and Israel, and protect British Jewry from antisemitism and wokeism”.
As part of the plan, Truss said she would review whether schools are doing enough to educate pupils and teachers about antisemitism. University campuses must also be ridded of antisemitism, she said.
She also pledged to work to secure a free-trade agreement with Israel as part of her efforts.
Asked by CSW what it meant by the “woke civil service culture that strays into antisemitism” and how Truss would change it, a spokesperson for the Liz For leader campaign pointed CSW to the JC interview and said they had nothing further to add.
Truss did not explain her comments on the civil service culture in the interview, but did accuse Foreign Office staff of resisting her efforts to tackle antisemitism.
She told the publication she had taken a “strong stand in tackling antisemitism at the international level”, particularly within the UN Human Rights Council, which she said “have been used to peddle a particular agenda which frankly have strong elements of antisemitism”.
She said that to do this, she had had to “overrule” Foreign Office officials who had told her it would lead to Britain becoming “isolated”.
She said she accepted civil servants – which the JC said included “Arabists at the Foreign Office” – disagreed with her view, but that she felt her actions were “the right thing to do”.
Truss also criticised the UNHCR earlier this week, telling a CFI Leadership Hustings event that there are “too many countries who tried to do Israel down, who try and use the Human Rights Council as a way of levelling unwarranted criticism at Israel.”
“What I’ve done is I’ve stood up against those countries. I’ve occasionally stood up against advice from my own departments, and various claims Britain would be isolated, and in fact, other countries followed us in what we did,” she said.
She also said she had “demonstrated at the Foreign Office I am prepared to take on the orthodoxy” by pushing to strengthen the UK’s security relationship through a strategic partnership she signed with Israeli PM Yair Lapid.