What is it about Lib Dems and Jews?
In his latest column, Daily Telegraph journalist Damian Thompson asks, “What is it about Lib Dems and Jews?”
He’s got a point. The Liberal Democrats is Britain’s third largest political party and shares executive power in a coalition with the Conservatives. It maintains an unhealthy obsession with Israel — despite, as Daniel Pipes has noted, the Arab-Israeli conflict’s relative unimportance, in terms of casualty numbers, compared to other far bloodier conflicts around the World.
Earlier this week, Thompson notes, Sir Bob Russell MP, during a debate on the British educational curriculum, asked Education Secretary Michael Gove, “On the assumption that the 20th century [history study] will include the Holocaust, will he give me an assurance that the life of Palestinians since 1948 will be given equal attention?”
The Jewish community and Holocaust education groups were shocked. Karen Pollock, from the Holocaust Educational Trust, said, “To try to equate the events of the Holocaust — the systemised mass murder of six million Jews — with the conflict in the Middle East is simply inaccurate as well as inappropriate.”
A few days later, David Ward MP, who back in January said he was “saddened that Jews … could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza,” then claimed Israel was an “apartheid state”.
In 2008, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tonge claimed that, “The Jewish lobby in the US …makes all political parties obey the will of Israel.” In 2010, Tonge was dismissed from the Party after she backed the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah’s claims that Israeli rescue teams in Haiti were stealing organs from children. Tonge has also voiced support for an opinion piece by Ismail Haniyeh – the Hamas leader who has advocated the killing of Jews worldwide.
In 2012, Tonge resigned as the party whip after she refused to apologise for claiming that the Jewish state would “not last forever … Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.”
Nick Cohen, writing in Standpoint Magazine, notes that, “Baroness Tonge stands as an example of a malaise which has gripped hundreds of thousands of people who are playing with ideas previous generations would have described as fascist without hesitation … She supports the clerical fascism of Hamas, and has gone to the Ba’athist tyranny of Syria to describe its leaders as ‘shrewd, plausible and actually very likeable’.”
Despite Tonge’s resignation, the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine group invited her to address later that year a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat chaired by deputy leader Simon Hughes.
The Friends of Palestine group, however, is a good fit for Tonge. Its chair, John McHugo, hosted an event in London last November with Bill and Kathleen Christison, a couple of former CIA officers, who describe Congress as “Israeli-occupied territory;” who claim that 9/11 was secretly orchestrated by the US Government and claim that Israel is a Nazi state.
At the same event, McHugo spoke alongside Daud Abdullah, who led the boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day and signed the Istanbul Declaration (which endorsed attacks against British troops and Jewish communities); as well as Anas-Altikriti of the Cordoba Foundation, a Muslim Brotherhood activist who said the murder of coalition troops in Iraq is “legitimate.”
In 2010, Liberal Democrat deputy-leader Simon Hughes and Liberal Democrat Junior Minister Andrew Stunell spoke at the ‘Global Peace and Unity’ conference, an annual Muslim Brotherhood event in the UK filled with overtly anti-Jewish hate preachers. Politicians from the other parties, noting the plethora of extremists, refused to attend. At the conference, the Daily Telegraph reported, “items glorifying terrorism were on open sale [at the conference]… Also available were ‘shahada [“martyrs”] headbands, as worn by many Palestinian suicide bombers… The headbands contain the personal testimony of the suicide bombers.”
Lord Phillips of Sudbury, as another example, describes Israeli settlers as “colonists” and darkly speaks of the “well-organised Jewish lobby.” Discussing Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Palestinian terror group Hamas, Phillips has said, “I was immensely impressed by the man. I spent an hour with him, man to man. He is dying […] for some encouragement because he never gets a dividend for anything Hamas does, except more colonisation and more repression.”
British Jewry’s support for the Liberal Democrats has never crept much higher than 10%, according to surveys carried out up to 2010. The recent spate of anti-Jewish comments by leading Liberal Democrats, then, seems unlikely to improve the party’s standing.
Israel-obsession, though, is not limited to the backbenches. In 2011, Baroness Falkner, a Liberal Democrat peer and Foreign Affairs spokesperson, travelled to Gaza to meet with leaders from Hamas, including a meeting with Ahmad Bahar, who has said, “Allah, take the Jews and their allies, Allah, take the Americans and their allies… Allah, annihilate them completely and do not leave any one of them.”
In 2009, Operation Cast Lead was in full swing. Israeli troops were fighting against Hamas terrorists in an effort to stop the lethal attacks against Israeli civilians on the border with the Gaza Strip. Liberal Democrat leader (now Deputy Prime Minister) Nick Clegg, wrote that, “We must stop arming Israel…[The Prime Minister] must condemn unambiguously Israel’s tactics.”
In an echo of Tony Blair’s speech to the US Senate in 2003, Clegg claimed, “The overwhelming use of force, the unacceptable loss of civilian lives, is radicalising moderate opinion … throughout the Arab world.”
Blaming Israel is a useful focus for politicians who are keen to blame the Middle East’s terrorism, conflict and misery on anything but the violent ideologies themselves. Does this explain, though, the Liberal Democrat’s apparent obsession with the Jews? No, not completely. No one needs a scapegoat that often. Some, then, might think darker bigotries are at work.