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Sadiq Khan dismisses Gove’s antisemitism warning as ‘flowery rhetoric’ - but agrees protest chant should stop

21 May 2024, 12:58 | Updated: 21 May 2024, 13:05

The Mayor of London speaking to LBC's Fraser Knight
The Mayor of London speaking to LBC's Fraser Knight. Picture: LBC
Fraser Knight.

By Fraser Knight.

Sadiq Khan has agreed that protesters should stop chanting ‘from the river to the sea’ as he tells LBC it causes a great amount of anxiety among Jewish communities in London.

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But the Mayor of London dismissed Michael Gove’s declaration of the UK heading towards Nazi Germany levels of anti-Semitism as ‘flowery rhetoric’.

During a speech in north London, the Communities Secretary warned: “Anti-Semitism now is increasingly focussed on the Jewish home - on Israel.

“So now the focus is on the delegitimization and demonization of the state, as a prelude to its dismantlement and destruction. That is what the cry of “From the River to the Sea” envisages - the erasure of the Jewish people’s home.

“These protests may ostensibly be presented as against Israel’s actions in Gaza but in reality, they are directed against Israel’s continued existence.”

Speaking to LBC immediately after the speech, Sadiq Khan said he agreed that demonstrators should rethink the use of the chant.

“The way it's received by Jewish people, it makes them frightened and that should be enough.

“We don’t need to get into a conversation or an argument about freedom of speech or what the law is. If you know that what you're saying is causing people distress, don't say it.”

Read more: Anti-Semitism is ‘canary in the coal mine’ as UK risks ‘descending into darkness’, Gove to warn

Read more: Pro-Palestine marches 'could be shut down by police' under new plans, amid anti-Semitism and disruption concerns

The Mayor of London was on a walkabout in Covent Garden
The Mayor of London was on a walkabout in Covent Garden. Picture: LBC

Michael Gove also suggested the Uk was “descending into darkness”, likening the threats and abuse to Nazi Germany.

“We have seen where the unchecked growth of antisemitism has led in the past,” he said.

“We all know that what starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews. It’s an ironclad 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.”

When asked by LBC if he agreed with the sentiment, Sadiq Khan brushed it off, saying he didn’t want to get involved in “flowery rhetoric”.

The housing and community secretary’s comments came on the same day a report by a Government adviser said “extreme political activists are targeting core elements of Britain’s democracy”.

Lord Walney warned demonstrations by ‘extreme’ groups should be restricted or banned, if organisations use criminal offences - such as the destruction of property or serious disruption - to influence public debate.

He also recommended that protest organisers should contribute to the costs of policing if they hold a significant number of large demonstrations that cause disruption or repeatedly break the law.

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