Speech by Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

The Rt Hon Michael Gove MP

Since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th last year we have seen a shadow spread. Across the world. And here in the UK. 

October 7th was the largest pogrom perpetrated against the Jews since the Holocaust. The perpetrators of those killings have said that if they could, they would kill many, many more. And yet within hours of news of the massacre being broadcast worldwide, and long before Israel had launched its current military operation inside Gaza, there was growing evidence of a remarkable phenomenon. Not sympathy and solidarity with the Jewish people as they faced another enemy bent on their extermination. No. Quite the opposite. A questioning of the facts. A blaming of the victims. A campaign of hate directed not just against the Jewish state but Jewish people everywhere. 

Let me quote from a speech given by my friend David Wolfson in the House of Lords last October just a few weeks after the October 7th attack. 

David began his speech with this comparison. 

“On Saturday night I had two children in uniform. My son was in the uniform of the Israel Defence Forces. Like many twenty-year-olds in Israel, he is doing military service because if he didn’t, there wouldn’t be an Israel. He witnessed the aftermath of Hamas’ atrocities firsthand.” 

My other child in uniform was my daughter. Her uniform was trainers, jeans, and a Star of David necklace around her neck. That is her traditional Saturday night uniform, as with many teens who come in on the Tube to enjoy this great city’s nightlife.

I was more concerned about my daughter. How on earth have we gotten to that place?” 

How on earth.  

That was six months ago. When a father feared that his daughter was under threat in London if she was – to coin a phrase – openly Jewish. 

Since then, the shadow has only spread. The hate grown. We have seen an explosion in anti-semitism. The charity charged with recording antisemitic incidents – the Community Security Trust – recorded 4,103 incidents in 2023 -– as we’ve heard an increase of 147% on the previous year, which was itself a record high. Of those figures 2,699 incidents occurred after October 7th. That is more antisemitic incidents occurred between October 7th and December 31st, 2023, than in any previous twelve-month period. 

And every day brings fresh examples.  

The chaplain driven off campus at Leeds University because he was Jewish. The visitor to a mosque promoting inter-faith dialogue told he was not welcome because he was Jewish. The family who found their baby’s passport defaced because they were Jewish. 

The stand-up comic who was told – by a BBC comedy star - that she would be killed, and her family would be grieving for her in the cemetery – because she was Jewish. The renovator of a dilapidated building threatened with a machete and told he should leave the “jew building” he was working in – because he was Jewish. The reporter told not to cover an event because her eyes looked Jewish. 

And inseparable from these incidents are the increasingly strident, visible and lurid, demonstrations of anti-semitism on our streets during protest marches. Swastikas, Hamas banners, depictions of Jews as exploiters, devils, child killers pigs. It’s incessant. We saw it again only this weekend. The imagery of Der Sturmer paraded past the gates of Downing Street. 

Now, of course, I know that many of those on these marches are compassionate people – driven by a desire for peace and an end to suffering. But they are side by side with those who are promoting hate.  

The organisers of these marches could do everything in their power to stop that.  Many – the majority – don’t. 

And we now know that it is – genuinely – dangerous for people to be openly, clearly, proudly, Jewish near these marches. At a time when we are all encouraged to be our whole authentic selves, to celebrate our identity, to be out and proud – there is only one group told they – and they alone – can only be tolerated on terms set by others – Jews. 

The organisers of the marches say that there are Jewish people on their demonstrations. 

But they are only safe if they deny what is dear to so many Jewish people – the safety of people in Israel. If they are to be accepted on these marches then they must knuckle under, accept the calls to globalise the intifada or end the Zionist entity.  

They have to obey the rules laid down by others – those march organisers. Who reserve the right to tell Jews both where they should live in the world and how they should live on our streets. 

It is a classic antisemitic trope to set the terms on which Jews will be accepted. Safe, provided they live in their ghetto. Safe, provided they don’t get above themselves. Safe, provided they don’t contemplate the use of force in self-defence.  

Until, of course,  they aren’t safe anymore.  

History tells us that the dismantling of the right of Jews to live, like others, on their own terms leads, inevitably, to the destruction of Jewish lives. 

That is why we must make a stand. 

We have seen where the unchecked growth of anti-semitism has led in the past. We all know that what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews. 

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 and the Jewish community – the Spain of the Inquisition, the Vienna of the 1900s, Germany in the Thirties, Russia in the last decade.  

It is a parallel law that those countries in which the Jewish community has felt most safe at any time are the countries where freedom and progress is most secure at any time. The Netherlands of the 17th century. Britain in the first decades of the last century. America in the second half of that century. 

So when Jewish people are under threat, all our freedoms are threatened. The safety of the Jewish community is the canary in the mine. Growing anti-semitism is a fever which weakens the whole body politic. It is a mark of a society turning to darkness and in on itself. 

And I see that directly in my work tackling extremism and promoting community cohesion. There is one thing which – increasingly – unites the organisations and individuals which give cause for extremist concern. Anti-semitism. It is the common currency of hate. It is at the dark heart of their world view. Whether Islamist. Far Right. Or Hard Left. 

In the past we have tended to bracket Islamists, the Far right and the extreme Left as different causes for concern.  

And indeed, it is vitally important in dealing with extremism to be precise in the use of data and definitions. But increasingly we find that those undermining our democracy and society from different points on the extremist compass are all drawn, magnetically, to converge on antisemitic tropes, language, ideas and agitation. 

So far right figures – like Nick Griffin, formerly of the BNP, Mark Collett of an organisation called Patriotic Alternative, Jayda Fransen of Britain First, and Jim Dowson, a transatlantic hate preacher – have been invited to share space with Islamist advocates and broadcast from Islamist platforms, where the common focus of concern is Jewish influence, the Jewish state, the Jewish threat. 

And on the extreme Left, academics such as Professor David Miller and groups such as the Socialist Workers’ Party, the Socialist Party and the Revolutionary Communist Party jostle to share platforms with Islamist groupings, deploy aggressive language about “Zionists”, support calls for intifada and praising te the resistance – a synonym for Hamas – in terms that Jewish students say cause them physical fear.

And extreme Islamist groups then weaponise this growing anti-semitism to divide Muslim from Muslim. Islamists have demanded that mosques become no-go zones for “Zionists”, that inter-faith dialogue exclude any Jewish voice sympathetic to Israel’s existence, and that believers show that they are truly faithful by demonstrating their commitment in the fight against Israel. By making ardour against Israel and hostility to Jewish voices the litmus test of how good a Muslim you are, Islamists polarise and divide our Muslim communities.

That is why none of us can afford to be indifferent to the increasing prevalence of anti-semitism in our society. There is a reason television series about the 1930s are called “A Lesson from History”. 

A growth in anti-semitism is both a precursor of greater hate and an enabler of further extremism. 

Antisemitic tropes which encourage people to think criticism of Israel is muted or censored by Jewish control of the media feed into greater distrust of the “MSM”. That leads to a greater willingness to believe in conspiracy theories and a stronger propensity to seek out “alternative” truth tellers – whether on incel message boards, anti-vax YouTube channels, far-right Telegram groups or Islamist podcasts. And thus,The common ground on which our democracy depends is eroded.

The continual insinuation, sometimes open assertion, that the major political parties are in hock to Jewish finance is also an effort to divide and demonise. Extremists will argue that Jewish money drives both foreign policy and domestic decision-making in countries like our own in order to deliberately fuel disaffection with democracy and encourages a further flight to the extremes. 

So understanding, and countering, the rise in anti-semitism all around us is central to the wider struggle against extremism, division and hate and the defence of democracy, freedom and civilisation. 

This new development in the nature of extremist activity is related to the changing nature of the time of anti-semitism. 

Anti-semitism, as the late Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks pointed out, is a virus that evolves.  

In medieval times it was a religious prejudice – requiring conversion on the part of Jewish individuals to eliminate the Jewish faith. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the focus changed – the perverted notions of “racial science” and ethnic purity led the Nazis and their collaborators to wish to end Jewish lives in order to eliminate the Jewish people. 

And anti-semitism now is increasingly focussed on the Jewish home – on Israel. Self-styled progressive opinion – against borders, sceptical of the nation state, determined to link prosperity to exploitation, anxious to make every conflict one centred on privilege – has been mobilised and charged. 

So now the focus is on the delegitimization and demonization of the state of Israel, as a prelude to its dismantlement and destruction. That is what the cry of “From the River to the Sea” envisages. The erasure of the Jewish people’s home. Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jerusalem to become Judenfrei. 

These protests may ostensibly be presented as against Israel’s actions in Gaza but in reality they are directed against Israel’s continued existence. Israel is denounced as an apartheid state conducting a genocide. The worst evils of the last 100 years are, apartheid, genocide, are situated in one country – the Zionist construct – the Jewish home.  

The calls for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions from protestors are endorsements of a campaign – the BDS campaign – which I can see is explicitly antisemitic. The Britain-Israel Communications and Research Centre has submitted evidence to Parliament making clear that the “founder and ideologue of the BDS movement – has repeatedly made clear his non-recognition of the rights of Israel to exist”, and that the BDS campaign“[they] oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine”. The end point is clear – the elimination of Israel. 

Being clear about what the BDS campaign wants is very far from giving the Israeli government, any Israeli government, a free pass. It is, of course, legitimate, and sometimes necessary to criticise the conduct of Israel’s government. That is why we have continually, since October 7th, stressed the need for aid to flow freely to civilians in Gaza, we have worked for diplomatic progress towards peace, emphasised that there will have to be, ultimately, a two-state solution and argued that military action must be governed by international humanitarian law. 

But while it is necessary to be clear about where we may differ from the Israeli government at any point, just as we differ from other friends from time to time, it is even more necessary to be clear about what is going on more broadly. We must draw attention to the way in which Israel, unique among nations, is so consistently treated differently from others. To consider why. And to see what the impact of that is on the Jewish community in Britain. 

There are no BDS campaigns directed against Bashar Assad’s Syria, the regime guilty of killing more Muslims in living memory than any other. There are no student encampments urging university administrators to cut all ties with China given what is happening in Xinjiang or Hong Kong, or what happened in Tibet. I know of no efforts to organise marchers in their thousands to demand immediate action to stop the persecution of the Rohingya or Karen people by Myanmar’s Government. I may have missed it, but agitation to end the war in Sudan, or in the Democratic Republic of Congo or Mali or Ethiopia does not seem to energise our campuses. 

And nowhere is there any suggestion, other than with Israel, that the errors or even crimes of a country’s leaders should necessitate the end of that country’s independent existence. No one argues that the state of Syria is illegitimate, or Myanmar should be dismantled or deconstructed. 

That is why the argument that the cry of “From the River to the Sea”, or calls for the globalisations of the intifada, or demands for victory for the resistance are not really anti-semitic are so disingenuous. They are cries targeted against the reality of collective Jewish experience.  Denials of the reality of collective Jewish suffering. Calls for the end of collective Jewish existence. 

We should all remember what those who have endured anti-semitism at its worst have asked for when they were at last free. A safe home. When the British Army liberated Bergen-Belsen in 1945 the survivors in that camp marked the end of their persecution with a song of salvation. It was the Hatikvah – the song that has become Israel’s national anthem –  

As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning deep in the heart, 

With eyes turned toward the East, looking toward Zion, 

Then our hope – the two-thousand-year-old hope – will not be lost: To be a free people in our land, 

The land of Zion and Jerusalem. 

Those voices could not be crushed eighty years ago. But there are a growing number who want to silence that song today. 

And nowhere is that campaign more visible today than on our campuses. 

The encampments which have sprung up in recent weeks across universities have been alive with anti-Israel rhetoric and agitation. But more than that they have been deeply, profoundly intimidatory to Jewish students and others. Yet they have not appeared in a vacuum. They have followed years of ideological radicalisation. 

The encampments, in their slogans, programmes and demands reflect the prevailing intellectual fashion: of decolonisation.  

The radical left, the extreme left, rejects the idea that successful states – whether the United Kingdom, Israel, South Korea, the United States or any European nation – can have prospered because of free markets, enlightenment values, liberal parliamentarianism, property rights and capitalism. and so on. 

The hard left finds it impossible to acknowledge that higher material living standards – and indeed greater human flourishing – in some states rather than in others – is better explained by reference to Adam Smith, John Locke, Edmund Burke and Karl Popper rather than Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Franz Fanon and Edward Said. That historic fact is unconscionable for the dedicated activists of the radical hard left.  

So they argue that the prosperity of states such as the US, the UK, France, Spain and even Australia or Canada must be built on exploitation and empire.  

That argument, as my colleague Kemi Badenoch has brilliantly shown, and historians from Niall Ferguson to Nigel Biggar have reinforced, is inherently flawed. 

But these ideas are deeply congenial to those authoritarian states who are, increasingly, arrayed together against us. For Iran, for China and even for Russia, the decolonisation narrative is meat and drink.

The idea that the success of liberal Western nations is built on plunder and exploitation, that we seek even now to dominate others through illegitimate means and that our attachment to freedom is mere hypocrisy is central to their efforts to advance their goals.

That is why forces within those powers seek to influence the debate in our country. They want to weaken our collective resolve in support of democratic values and fellow democracies.

And they know that if they can undermine support for Israel by encouraging a broader lack of self-confidence in the West’s values, they have secured a signal victory. It is no mere coincidence that Iran, Russia and China are sources and spreaders of anti-semitic and anti-Israel narratives. They know those intellectual currents erode our shared defences.

And they know that if the decolonisation narrative and the delegitimization which follows can prevail in the case of Israel then it will be a profound breach in the West’s collective defence. Because nowhere is the narrative more ahistorical and illogical than when it comes to Israel. But they know that if they Undermine Israel and the other dominos will fall.

Why is delegitimizing Israel so important?

Because Israel is transparently successful because of its democratic values, not a history of exploitation.

Israel has next to no material resources. It has been surrounded by enemies since its re-creation. And those enemies sought to strangle it at birth. 

It is a land of refugees and asylum seekers. Built by those fleeing persecution, not enacting it.

And Israel was itself a nation reborn after imperial subjugation -– under the Ottoman Empire -– which endured for hundreds of years.

So Israel in 1948 was a poor, shunned, embattled and fragile child of Empire.

And yet Israel succeeds. Why? Because of its values. A belief in courage, enterprise and endeavour. A belief in the worth of every individual’s soul. A robust democracy. A market economy. A commitment to liberty.

But for a section of the extreme radical left to acknowledge that would be to admit that their ideology is wrong, decolonisation theory is refuted by facts on the ground, the real route to prosperity and progress lies through free markets and free peoples in strong liberal nation states.  

So Israel’s success must be delegitimised, its achievements denigrated, its example dismantled. It has to be branded as a settler state, a colonial construct, a racist endeavour. It has to be found guilty of the greatest sins of empire – apartheid and genocide.  

If these arguments were restricted to the seminar room and the journal article that might be one thing. But as history reminds us, ideas have consequences.  

Young minds can become entranced, and ideologies can lead to action. 

Indeed, some of those advancing these ideas have subsequently celebrated the most terrible actions. There were actually voices in academia who described the pogrom of October 7th as de-colonisation in action.  

Mahvish Ahmad, assistant professor in human rights and politics at the London School of Economics responded to the Hamas massacre by saying that decolonisation ‘is not a metaphor’. And an associate professor at McMaster University in Canada, Ameil J Joseph, occupied the same intellectual terrain. ‘Post-colonial, anti-colonial and decolonial are not just words you heard in your EDI [equality, diversity and inclusion] workshop’, he tweeted. 

And the effect of that rhetoric, those views, that celebration of resistance has been felt by Jewish students as hostile and intimidating on campuses here in the UK. 

In Leeds University earlier this month graffiti proclaimed that the faculty were funding an “f…ing genocide” and the graffiti went on, “Israel is harvesting Palestinian organs”. That is a direct invocation of one of the oldest and most vicious antisemitic tropes. The blood libel. 

On Bristol University the encampment posters claim that our media and politicians are lying because they are “Zionist funded”. Another antisemitic trope – the all-powerful Jewish conspiracy. 

At SOAS, part of London University, there is a declaration of “full solidarity” with the Palestinian resistance – i.e., Hamas – and a proclamation that the student union is a “historically anti-Zionist space with a duty to uphold BDS”. Yet again, telling Jewish students they are not welcome unless they deny their own identity. Anti-semitism re-purposed for the Instagram age. 

Alongside these student demonstrations, academics on the Far Left who advance decolonisation narratives, such as David Miller, outline a programme that tells Jews in Britain what their terms of surrender should be. He calls for the end of “Zionist organisations”, a programme of “individual de-Zionisation”, and “abolishing the fact of the Zionist entity or any hope that it could ever be resurrected” as well as a “re-education programme” to deal with the “toxic effects”, in our country, of “Zionist ideas”.  

How can Jewish students experience this as anything other than the most direct hostility and hate?

And how can we allow it to continue unchallenged? 

We cannot. 

That is why the Government is taking action. 

That is why we are legislating to prevent universities from enabling anti-semitism by endorsing the antisemitic BDS campaign.  

The legislation is making its way through the House of Lords and has been endorsed by politicians from all parties as well as the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council. [Political content redacted] Listen to the Jewish community, send a message to the antisemites on our campuses, back the Bill now. 

There is much more that needs to be done. I believe universities, schools, government departments, the NHS and local government – indeed all public bodies – should sign up to a charter against anti-semitism, adopt the IHRA definition of anti-semitism and make clear that antisemitic agitation will be met with clear disciplinary action. 

We also need to ensure that the marches on our streets which have caused so much distress, indeed physical intimidation, of Jewish people are dealt with more effectively.

That is not to criticise the police, who have to operate within a framework we politicians set.  We politicians must do better.

And we can. Today the former Labour MP, John Woodcock, will publish a ground-breaking report into political violence and intimidation. Its analysis is brilliant and its recommendations both compelling and far-reaching. Some will require detailed debate and thought but that cannot be an excuse for delay in dealing with the challenges he addresses. We must make rapid progress to deal with the intimidatory consequences of marches by looking at their cumulative effect, consider more closely how to police repeated invocations of prejudice, and ensure organisers pay for the consequences of their actions.

There is also more we need to do to bolster the role of the Government’s Independent Adviser on Anti-semitism; and to take the matter with the seriousness it demands, I intend to establish a parallel Independent Adviser on Anti-Muslim Hatred. We must also call out extremist groups, ensure they aren’t given public platforms, endorsement or money, tighten the rules on charities and look at how to ensure extremists cannot abuse our tax system.

But alongside legislation in parliament and executive action by Government there is a broader duty. One for all of us. 

We must not be silent.  

We must not let tolerance for different views become a moral relativism that refuses to defend the democratic principles and traditions we cherish in this country. 

We must say to every Jewish citizen in this country – your safety is the best guarantee of our security, your freedom to live as you choose the only way we can be certain we remain a land of liberty, your future is our future. We said Never Again. And that is a promise we will never, ever, disavow.

Published 21 May 2024