James Heale James Heale

Gove sounds the alarm on anti-Semitism

Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Multiple ministers are out giving speeches today but none will be as hard-hitting as that made by Michael Gove this morning. Britain, he warned, risks ‘descending into the darkness’ if it fails to tackle growing anti-Semitism in the wake of the 7 October attacks. Much of the Community Secretary’s ire was directed at the recent pro-Palestine campus protests, amid fears of the impact on Jewish students. University encampments are merely, in Gove’s words, ‘anti-Semitism repurposed for the Instagram age’; the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign is ‘explicitly anti-Semitic’. It comes after anti-Jewish hate crime incidents rose by 147 per cent last year, two-thirds of which followed the attack on Israel, according to the Community Security Trust.

Gove suggested that pro-Palestine march organisers should stump up for policing of their protests

Gove’s argument was that the fight against anti-Semitism is crucial in the wider struggle to preserve free societies under attack. He contrasted the fate of those societies where Jews feel most at home to where they are demonised and persecuted. ‘It’s an ironclad law of history that countries which are descending into darkness are those which are becoming progressively more unsafe for Jewish individuals’, Gove said. He compared ‘the Spain of the Inquisition, the Vienna of the 1900s, Germany in the thirties’ to ‘the Netherlands of the seventeenth century [and] Britain in the first decades of the last century’. ‘When Jewish people are under threat, all our freedoms are threatened’ he said. ‘The safety of the Jewish community is the canary in the mine. Growing anti-Semitism is a fever which weakens the whole body politic.’ Both the far-right and the far-left share common ground in this respect, he argued. ‘Anti-Semitism is a virus that evolves’ said Gove: from that, the other pernicious conspiracies are spawned.

This being a Gove speech, there were some news-lines for the grateful hacks too. He suggested that pro-Palestine march organisers should stump up for policing of their protests, much like Chelsea Football Club funds policing for matches at Stamford Bridge. Gove condemned the ICC’s call for Binyamin Netanyahu’s arrest, arguing there ought to be no equivalence between a democratically-elected leader and the head of a terrorist group. His punchy rhetoric also caused a stir after he name-checked the Revolutionary Communist party, whose leader promptly accused Gove of a ‘disgusting smear’.

Rightly or wrongly, Gove’s speech is being viewed through the lens of the long-awaited Woodcock report on political protests, which is due to be published later today. Two months after he unveiled the new government definition of extremism, we are still waiting for the formal naming, shaming and shunning of the groups identified by Gove. Having sounded the alarm on anti-Semitism, the Communities Secretary will now be under pressure to back up fine words with prompt action.