Clegg: what you see is what you get

It is fair to say that the Liberal Democrats are not popular in all sections of the Jewish community. The intemperate comments of Baroness Tonge urging, among other things, an inquiry into the alleged harvesting of body parts by Israeli rescue workers in Haiti, have certainly not helped. The general perception that the party is pro-Palestinian and soft on radical Islam has contributed to the suspicion in some circles.

It may come as a surprise, therefore, that party leader Nick Clegg has taken such a strong stance on relations between his party and the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis). The decision by ministers to cancel a civil service recruitment fair organised by Fosis because the organisation had "failed to challenge sufficiently terrorist and extremist ideologies" was a bold one.

Mr Clegg's comments to the Community Security Trust in Manchester last week were intended to illustrate his "muscular liberalism".

It is possible to argue with his belief that it is possible to "engage to change" organisations such as Fosis, when they are so yoked to the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood. But it is important that he has sent a signal that the government will not endorse or fund Fosis events. Earlier this year, David Cameron won the battle inside the coalition to extend the counter-extremism strategy beyond groups which openly endorse violence.

Mr Clegg has always argued for a policy of engagement with radical Islam but he and others within the party have been keen to dismiss the idea that the Liberal Democrats are anti-Israel. Exactly a year ago, he gave a speech to LibDem Friends of Israel which emphasised his party's support for a change in the law of universal jurisdiction.

Unlike other political leaders, Nick Clegg has never courted the Jewish community. But nor has he been a false friend. At least, with Nick, you know what you are getting.

    Last updated: 12:09pm, November 10 2011