Gove attacks faith schools ‘persecution’

A Shadow Minister has attacked the government's interventions over faith-schools admissions policies, saying that he is "incensed by the way the government's actions have put Jewish schools in the dock".

Michael Gove told the JC at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham that the long experience of Jewish faiths schools should act as a model for schools of other faiths.

The Tory schools spokesman appeared at a packed reception given by the Conservative Friends of Israel on Sunday with Israeli ambassador to Britain, Ron Prosor.

Mr Gove, who is to make his first visit to Israel in two weeks, paid tribute to "the free society that cherishes the individual and is unique that they have done so much, not only for their own country but for the all of humankind".

He said that when people talk about boycotting Israel, "I feel myself shivering, because this talk of boycotting was just the kind of talk we were hearing in the 1930s. Now antisemitism takes a new form, as a wholly disproportionate dislike of the Israeli state."

Speaking about his own ministerial brief, Mr Gove said he "is a huge fan of Jewish faith schools" and that the recent furore over admissions policy "focused on Jewish schools in an unfortunate way".

While he did not believe that this had been deliberate, he said: "Once the government decided to check certain areas, a greater degree of sensitivity should have been exercised. The department could have had a quiet and firm word with headteachers if they had overstepped the line, instead of the way they acted."

Mr Gove said he supported faith schools for other religions and recommended that the government should "learn from the 100 years of experience of Jewish schools in Britain, the way they both connect their pupils to their tradition and are at the same time fully integrated in this country".

Regarding schools elsewhere, Mr Gove said that a Tory government would ensure taxpayers' money did not go towards printing hate-filled Palestinian schoolbooks. He added: "Care must be taken that money that goes to the Palestinian Authority doesn't allow them to free up money for terror."

Ambassador Prosor spoke of Paul McCartney's concert in Tel Aviv last week as a great achievement for Israel's image. But, referring to the UN speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week, Mr Prosor said: "Seeing someone who displays such deep antisemitic feelings, should frighten each and every one in this room. The Iranian nuclear programme is like the Euro-star from London to Paris, heading to its destination very quickly, while the international community is like a passenger train, stopping at every station. It has to gather speed."

Another fringe event on Sunday evening was organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust, dedicated to Britons who had helped Jews during the Holocaust, in particular MI6 officer Frank Foley, who issued 10,000 visas to Jews in Berlin before the war.

Jeremy Wright, an Opposition whip, referred to the need to fight extremism in the form of the BNP and "how the Holocaust teaches us that extremism grows on islands of apathy and individuals make a difference".

    Last updated: 11:12am, March 24 2009