Michael Gove has been British Jewry’s greatest friend in politics

Support for Israel’s existential struggles against totalitarian terrorism became a natural consequence of Gove’s worldview


Michael Gove (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

June 03, 2024 13:48

Michael Gove’s decision not to seek re-election has prompted wide-ranging assessments of his legacy, as the most consequential politician of our era not to have served as prime minister. It is only right to record that throughout his career Michael has also been Britain’s foremost friend to the Jewish community and supporter of Israel. A prominent Jewish Lord recently quipped that, “in the last 20 years, forging alliances with non-Jews chiefly meant calling Michael Gove.”

Building on the best traditions of Scottish Presbyterian philosemitism, Michael has a deep affinity for Jews, Judaism and Zionism. One story will suffice. The observant husband of a prominent MP was travelling to a weekend retreat in the countryside when Shabbat came in, forcing him to walk the rest of the way. Upon arrival, Gove, whom he had not met before, opened the door and enquired, “Do you keep the other 612?”

Such kinship comes naturally because Gove recognised the “iron-clad law of history” that societies in which Jews do well themselves tend to flourish, and that societies which become unsafe for Jews themselves sink into darkness. As he said in a recent landmark address, in which he described the “shadow” spreading over British streets and British campuses, “A growth in antisemitism is both a precursor of greater hate and an enabler of further extremism.”

Perhaps our country’s clearest-eyed analyst of the wider extremist threat to the British way of life, Gove has consistently maintained admirable moral clarity: The extremists hold moral responsibility for the evil they cause. Western civilisation has a right and an obligation to defend its values. Our enemies’ hatred arises not because of something we have done but because of what we are and because of the values we hold dear. These positions are brilliantly articulated in his still eminently readable 2006 book “Celsius 7/7.”

As the most consequential education secretary in decades, Gove also pursued anti-extremism reforms. His approach to the alleged Islamist infiltration in some Birmingham schools, labelled as the “Trojan Horse” affair, now looks remarkably prescient. As Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, he recently forged a new government definition of extremism, with a significant focus on antisemitism. To his great credit, Gove never confused religious conservatism with radical extremism. For a gentile, his knowledge of the Charedi and the Modern Orthodox community is unparalleled.

Support for Israel’s existential struggles against totalitarian terrorism became a natural consequence of Gove’s worldview. Indeed, one of the seminal moments of his journalistic career was the defence of Israel’s then prime minister Sharon’s (then hugely controversial) decision to order the killing of Sheikh Yassin, the arch-terrorist founder of Hamas. It is a great shame for our community, and a personal disappointment to Michael, that the anti-BDS Bill, which he championed, is a casualty of the early general election.

Such positions come with a cost: Most perilously, Ali Harbi Ali, the Islamist terrorist who subsequently murdered Sir David Amess, first visited Gove’s house (and also Mike Freer’s constituency) with lethal intent. As recently as November 2023, a mob of hate marchers waving Palestinian flags heaped abuse on Michael outside Victoria station, until he was rescued by the police.

Always impeccably polite and charming, Gove is an extraordinary public speaker and a ferocious debater whose perfectly formed sentences invariably find their mark. We all would do well to revisit his January 2019 intervention in Parliament when Gove eviscerated Jeremy Corbyn over his deranged foreign policy and his “present but not involved” antisemitism.

Michael’s many talents will be hugely missed at Westminster. However, there can be no doubt that, whatever he chooses to do next, he will continue to stand in self-professed “unshakeable solidarity” with our community and with Israel. In the meantime, the least we can do is express our gratitude and celebrate him as a model friend to British Jewry and to Israel.

June 03, 2024 13:48

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