Michael Gove admits progress has ‘slowed’ for government’s anti-BDS bill

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Michael Gove admits progress has ‘slowed’ for government’s anti-BDS bill

In speech on antisemitism, delivered at JW3, in North London, Michael Gove blames 'opposition peers' for slowing progress of anti-BDS through parliament

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Micheal Gove speaks at JW3 on antisemitism
Micheal Gove speaks at JW3 on antisemitism

Michael Gove has admitted progress in parliament for his bill attempting to ban British public bodies from boycotting Israel has “recently slowed ” with “opposition peers” being the problem.

In a speech on antisemitism, delivered at JW3, in North London on Tuesday, the Communities Secretary said the bill was as an attempt by the government to legislate “to prevent universities from enabling antisemitism by endorsing the antisemitic BDS campaign.”

Gove said the legislation was making its way through the House of Lords, with support from “politicians from all parties, as well as the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council.”

But he then admitted:”Its progress recently has been slowed by opposition peers.”

The minister continued:”I have a simple request of opposition parties, who I believe are absolutely sincere in their abhorrence of antisemitism.  Listen to the Jewish community.”

Gove’s suggestion that the Jewish community was speaking with one voice on its support for the Economic Activity of Public Bodies (Overseas Matters) Bill immediately raised some concerns.

In a Q&A session with Gove after his speech, Yachad’s director Hannah Weisfeld noted there was “diversity within the Jewish community” on whether the legislation was “helpful in the fight against antisemitism.”

Weisfeld said the bill was one example of where “antisemitism” and “freedom of expression” were being directly pitted against each other “in the fight to make the country safer.”

Gove said the “key thing” is that in a healthy democracy there “will be diversity within communities and sometimes trade-offs.”

He added:”One thing I worry about is that sometimes people within the Jewish community and allies of the community sometimes think that if we need to speak out about antisemitism, and we demand something be done about it, it will only make it worse.”I worry that is appeasement.”

This government has made introducing the anti-BDS legislation one of its key commitments to supporters in the Jewish community.

But the drafting of the legislation, with some claiming it represents an attempt to introduce foreign policy thorough the backdoor, has consistently raised concerns amongst MPs and peers from all parties.

Alicia Kearns, the Conservative chair of the foreign affairs select committee, led a rebellion about the bill in parliament.

Tory peers have also been amongst those speaking out about the scope of the bill in the Lords.

In the Commons Dame Margaret Hodge, the veteran Jewish Labour MP had been amongst those most outspoken critics of the bill, while legal advice from Jewish barristers had also raised concerns about the drafting of the bill.

Last year the Union of Jewish Students along with other leading communal youth groups have also expressed the opposition to the legislation claiming it impacted on the right to protest against countries that violate civil rights.

Jewish News understands that the government has introduced a rollover motion for the bill, which is dated up until December 12th.

It is clear sign that there are now fears the bill will not make its way through parliament before a general election is called.

Elsewhere in his speech, the Communities Secretary raised concerns about the pro-Palestine protests that have taken place in the UK since October 7th.

Also in attendance at JW3 were Lord Pickles and the MPs Mike Freer and Miriam Cates.

But current independent antisemitism adviser Lord Mann was not present, as Gove announced he intended to “bolster” this role, while also appointing some to advise on “anti-Muslim hatred.”

Using the Community Security Trust’s statistics on rising antisemitism incidents, he also noted:”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. ”

Gove also focused criticism 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.”

He said they all “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.”

Gove also praised what he said was “brilliant” critique of the decolonisation movement from his “colleague Kemi Badenoch.”

He added:”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.   “

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