The Independent View

Pay-as-you-go protest is not the way forward for democracy or freedom of speech

Editorial: The communities secretary is right to warn against society descending into ‘the darkness of antisemitism’ – but to make protest organisers personally responsible for all that is said and done on a street march is as absurd as it is counterproductive

Wednesday 22 May 2024 08:23 BST
Protesters gather in Parliament Square ahead of a pro-Palestine march in central London
Protesters gather in Parliament Square ahead of a pro-Palestine march in central London (Jeff Moore/PA)

Among his other responsibilities, Michael Gove is secretary of state for “communities” – an amorphous term he has imbued with an unfamiliar muscularity in recent times. There is no one presently in government, including the prime minister himself, who has done more to preserve, protect and defend the Jewish community than Mr Gove. His instincts in this respect are laudable.

There can be no doubt that, for some people of Jewish heritage, the regular marches in central London against the war in Gaza, and the campus protests that have sprung up in British universities, can be intimidatory and distressing – both if experienced in person or via media coverage. It can feel, and is, in some cases, antisemitic.

As Mr Gove put it, in a keynote speech at a north London community centre, it can be a mark of a society turning to “darkness” and in on itself. It awakens fears that have lain mostly dormant since the Holocaust. The context is vividly, chillingly delineated – an “iron-clad law of history that countries which are descending into darkness are those which are becoming progressively more unsafe for Jewish individuals and the Jewish community: the Spain of the Inquisition, the Vienna of the 1900s, Germany in the Thirties, Russia in the last decade.”

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