A senior cabinet minister has told hundreds of Conservative Friends of Israel supporters that “anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism”.

Environment Secretary, Brexit backer and Israel advocate Michael Gove made the comment to 500 guests on Monday night, during his keynote speech at the CFI event in Manchester.

Also present in the room were Communities Minister Sajid Javid, Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Minister Rory Stewart, together with former minister Sir Eric Pickles.

Gove said Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn chose “death-squads over democrats” while saluting pro-Israel Labour MPs Joan Ryan and Ian Austin for their “fantastic job in standing up for Jewish people’s right to self-determination”.

He concluded: “At a time when people say that ‘I’m not an anti-Semite, I’m just anti-Zionist,’ it is important that we should say no, anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism.”

As the country approached the centenary celebrations of the Balfour Declaration, he added: “At a time when people are casual, cruel and callous towards the fate of the Jewish people it is time for all of us to say that over the last 100 years if we have learned anything we have learnt one thing, which is that when there is prejudice and hatred directed towards the Jewish people darker times will follow, and it is our moral duty to say that what begins with the Jews never ends with the Jews. We stand with Israel. We stand with the Jewish community.”

In his first speech as CFI parliamentary chair, Stephen Crabb MP said the centenary celebrations were a “really key moment for us”, adding: “The commitment that we make is that we will be standing up and defending Israel and standing up against the intolerance and bigotry of the boycott movement.

“We will be standing up for Israel’s right to defend itself, and we will be calling out the Labour Party on any act of anti-Semitism”.

Former CFI parliamentary chairman Sir Eric Pickles said the UK “recognises the importance that Israel has as a strategic partner and as a friend” before describing his “genuine sadness at the rise in anti-Semitism” in the Labour Party.

Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev, who also attended the Labour Conference last week, said: “It is a pleasure to be back at Conservative Party Conference in the company of so many CFI friends.

He added: “Seeing you all here tonight gives me confidence that the Israel-UK partnership will continue to grow because I see you all here committed to the friendship between our two democracies”.