Liz Truss, the Conservative leadership frontrunner, has been criticised after accusing the civil service of having a “woke” culture that “strays into antisemitism”.
The foreign secretary also referred to “setting up your own business” as being a “Jewish value”.
The FDA union, which represents civil servants, described her pledge to “change woke civil service culture that strays into anti-Semitism” as “inflammatory, insulting and abhorrent”.
FDA general secretary Dave Penman said Ms Truss provided “no evidence for her accusation”, which he said “goes further than the usual dog-whistle politics” of the ongoing Conservative leadership election.
“The Conservatives have been in government for more than 12 years now and, for most of that time, Liz Truss has been a minister,” he said.
“So accusations of ‘civil service wokeism’ are a little ironic, given it’s essentially a criticism of their own leadership.”
He added: “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, Ms Truss referred to “wokeism” in the civil service, adding: “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.”
The foreign secretary also pledged to review whether schools are doing enough to educate pupils and teachers about antisemitism, according to her team, and said university campuses must be “ridded” of the issue.
“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.”
A source for the foreign secretary’s campaign claimed that Labour has been a “talking shop for antisemitism and anti-Zionism” under the leadership of Sir Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn.
“This has increased anxieties within the Jewish community,” they said.
Labour MPs, including some who themselves are Jewish, also criticised the remarks.
Warrington North MP Charlotte Nichols accused Ms Truss of “using the Jewish community as spurious pretext for another baseless attack on the civil service”.
Her fellow Labour MP Sarah Owen posted: “Using the serious issue of antisemitism in schools and universities to peddle your anti “woke” war against civil servants is not the solution you think it is.
“Either you’re woke – simply alert to social injustice and inequality (including antisemitism) – or you’re not.”