Gove's timely wake-up call

September 18, 2014 13:01

I'm neither a fan of Michael Gove nor a supporter of his party. However, the speech he delivered last week to the Holocaust Education Trust, an edited version of which appeared in the JC, was - of the hundreds he has delivered since becoming a cabinet minister - probably the most important. And while I confess to not having read all the others, I am happy to wager it was also probably his best.

For what the former education secretary did in a few short passages was to slice through all the cant and excuses and provide absolute moral clarity on both the cause and consequences of the cancer of antisemitism, which metastasises throughout Europe today. To state that one's views on free schools, reforming GCSEs or how we teach British history rather pales into insignificance set against this hardly needs saying.

Gove began by reminding his listeners of the monstrousness of the Nazis' crimes. "We should never forget what we are commemorating," he said. "Wars generate crime; conflict breeds horrors but no crime is as wicked as the Holocaust, no crime as enormous." These words may appear to be self-evident. But they are no longer uncontested. The challenge is not direct but it is no less nefarious for that.

It comes in the form of boycotts and banners. Boycotts, as the Tory chief whip recalled, "began with a campaign against Jewish goods [and] ended with a campaign against Jewish lives".

Meanwhile, the banners that were carried at demonstrations against Operation Protection Edge this summer - "Stop doing what Hitler did to you", "Hitler, you were right", "Gaza is a concentration camp" and the imposition of swastikas on the Israeli flag - crossed the line between legitimate criticism of Israeli government policy and a "deliberate attempt to devalue the unique significance of the Holocaust and so remove the stigma of antisemitism".

The danger is worse than crackpot Holocaust denial

Some may say that we should not obsess over banners carried by a few hotheads when passions are running high. But such talk has consequences. In July, the Community Security Trust recorded 302 antisemitic incidents, a five-fold increase over the number in July 2013. In a third of those cases, there was explicit mention of the Holocaust, including attempts to link Nazi horrors in the bloodlands of 1940s Europe with Israel's actions in Gaza.

Ironically, on the same night that Gove delivered his speech, six Labour MPs - including a former cabinet minister - shared a platform at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign's rally in Westminster with the Liberal Democrat MP David Ward and Baroness Tonge, one of the party's former peers.

Put to one side Ward's Tweet in July that, "The big question is - if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? - Probably yes", or his past references to Israel as "an apartheid state". Put to one side, too, that Tonge's departure from the Liberal Democrat front bench in 2010 was precipitated by her call for an inquiry into claims that Israeli troops assisting in the Haiti earthquake relief effort were harvesting human organs, or that she resigned the party whip in 2012 after suggesting that Israel "is not going to be there forever".

It was Ward who last year marked Holocaust Memorial Day by writing on his blog: "I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza."

We can safely assume that Tonge has a higher tolerance threshold for such talk. But consider why none of those MPs consider Ward as the parliamentary pariah he should rightly be.

Until they do so, we need the likes of Gove to cut through the fug and remind us that there is a now a danger much greater and more pernicious than the Holocaust-denying crackpots of yesteryear like David Irving, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Jean-Marie Le Pen.

September 18, 2014 13:01

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