Pay attention: Simon Hughes really knows what the liberals think

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes

Simon Hughes’s interview with the JC today should come as yet another wake-up call to supporters of Israel. Mr Hughes is not just one of the country’s most senior politicians and deputy leader of a major party; he acts as something of a touchstone for liberal opinion. A human rights lawyer by profession and a veteran campaigner on issues of individual liberty, his views on Israel chime with many on the centre ground of British politics.

This does not mean he is correct when he suggests that the international community now needs to consider a one state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. It does not justify his defence of Jenny Tonge or other Liberal Democrats hostile to Israel.

But it does reinforce the fact that that this characterisation of the situation has become the mainstream view on the centre ground of politics.

Simon Hughes is not stupid, nor is he a swivel-eyed Trot. He is certainly not an antisemite. He genuinely believes that what he says is reasonable and humane.

It is particularly interesting, therefore, that he chose not to discuss the concerns ordinary Israelis have about the threat they might face from Hamas or Iran or, indeed, the Islamist movements sweeping to power in the Arab Spring. But in the increasingly dominant liberal narrative, Israelis themselves have become guilty by association with their government.

I know Mr Hughes would be horrified to think that he had not considered the humanity of the Israeli people and I know that it was not his intention to discount it.

But such is the power of the liberal consensus on the multifarious misdeeds of the Israeli government, it is all too easy to forget that the consensus in Israel (and the UK Jewish community) may be somewhere else altogether.

Mr Hughes expresses a common view that those who care about peace in the Middle East are taking issue not with Israelis or Jews, but with successive Israeli governments.

This is a convenient smokescreen. It would be a simple matter if everyone who voted for Benjamin Netanyahu did so out of a commitment to human rights abuses and a fervent belief in the importance of breaching international law.

But this is clearly not the case. People on the liberal-left, whether supporters of Israel or not, need to recognise that real Israeli human beings voted these governments into power.

At the same time, Simon Hughes’s interview demonstrates that in certain sections of the political class, sympathy for Israel’s predicament is ebbing away. Empathy with the Israeli people will not be long behind.

Last updated: 12:19am, September 21 2012