Education Secretary Michael Gove has attacked British architects’ opposition to Israel, becoming the most high-profile politician to speak out on the issue.
He accused the Royal Institute of British Architects of “selective outrage” over its efforts to have Israeli architects thrown out of the profession’s international union. Mr Gove questioned why Riba had not taken a similar stance against Syria and China.
His comments came in front of a packed audience at the latest JC Editor’s Choice event, co-hosted by JW3 on Monday night.
Asked about academic boycotts of Israel, the Conservative Cabinet member said: “I think they’re vile. It’s indefensible to say you are dedicated as a teacher to the life of the mind and to sharing knowledge, and then to say to people that because of the country from which they spring they should then be boycotted. I think it’s immoral.”
Comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa was “wicked”, Mr Gove added.
He said he had spoken to Tony Blair about opposition to Israel on the left. Mr Gove said the former Labour Prime Minister had repeatedly cited Israel’s record on the “three classic liberal principles — free speech, free love and the right to a fair trial and fair justice.
“Israel does a far better job at defending those than all the other countries you can think of in the Middle East.”
In a wide-ranging discussion with former JC editor Ned Temko, Mr Gove offered a robust defence of faith schools in the education system.
“The best faith schools prove that there is absolutely no tension between understanding your faith background and becoming a fully integrated citizen in 21st-century Britain.”
Mr Gove also addressed the teaching of evolution, which he said was one of the most contentious issues in faith schools. A strictly Orthodox Jewish girls’ school was investigated last year amid allegations that parts of exam papers dealing with human reproduction had been covered up.
Without directly discussing that case, Mr Gove said: “You can’t teach science without teaching the theory of evolution. It’s impossible.” He praised Jewish schools including JFS and Hasmonean High School which he said were “hugely high-performing”.
Mr Gove played down suggestions that Muslim faith schools might fuel antisemitism. “The problem with antisemitism goes beyond what may happen in certain education establishments.”
There was a minority of Muslims who perpetuate antisemitic arguments, he added. But he warned: “Antisemitism now finds an expression in the language of human rights and in the way in which the right of the Jewish people to their own state is denied.
“Anti-Zionism morphs into antisemitism and the sorts of ugly rhetoric which can lead to violence. We need to be not just vigilant but intelligent in the way in which we analyse the roots of that antisemitism in order to take it on.”
Former journalist Mr Gove discussed issues ranging from teachers’ workloads and importance of exams.
On the lack of women in front-line politics he said: “If you think of the types of people who bring their parties into disrepute, they do tend mostly to be men. If you think of the ministers who just get things done, they are disproportionately women.”