Nick Clegg: The full JC interview

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, answers questions on Gaza, right-wing 'nutters' and support for faith schools.


The Lib Dem leader: No apologies, I stand by criticism of Israel

The Lib Dem leader: No apologies, I stand by criticism of Israel

What would you do to kick-start talks in the Middle East in order to bring about a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict?

Clearly President Obama has the most leverage over the parties in the peace process. There is a limit to what we can do on our own, but I would like to see the UK and the EU supporting the initiatives being taken by the Americans.

Ultimately, I believe Israel’s long term peace and security will depend on reaching a settlement with the Palestinians and therefore it is incumbent on all of Israel’s friends to do what they can drive forward the peace process.

What is your position on Israel's actions in Operation Cast Lead and what should Israel do to calm international opinion on this issue?

Israel has a right to take action to protect its civilians. That is beyond question. I understand that the constant attacks from Gaza on innocent families living in Sderot was and is intolerable and Israel rightly seeks to defend its citizens.

But the truth is that Operation Cast Lead did not work. It was self-defeating. There are still attacks on Israeli citizens from Gaza.

Israel is more isolated internationally, the people of Gaza are more embittered and Hamas strengthened as a direct result of Operation Cast Lead. It has made it harder not easier to achieve Israel’s long term peace and security and that is deeply regrettable.

I think Israel could do a great deal to reassure international opinion by holding an independent inquiry into Operation Cast Lead.

What is your view of the current state of UK-Israel relations in the light of Israel’s use of British passports in Dubai? What further action should be taken if the investigation of the Dubai authorities confirms that Israel was responsible for the assassination of the Hamas operative?

Clearly relations between Israel and the UK have been affected. It is unacceptable for British passports to be abused in this way. We will have to wait and see what the Dubai authorities conclude.

While of course I understand Israel’s unique security predicament, my view is that this kind of killing would be completely counter-productive to the peace process. I just don’t see how this fits into a long-term security strategy for Israel.

You have described the Conservatives’ allies in the European parliament as nutters. Do you regret saying this? Why is this such an important issue for British voters?

I do not regret criticising the Conservatives for their alliances in the European Parliament. Let’s not forget that the Conservative party put this group together. They chose to make these alliances.

They left behind the European mainstream for people who are extremely socially conservative, who are climate change sceptics, and who are way further to the right than the Christian Democrat tradition that the Conservatives used to feel comfortable with.

They chose to ally themselves with a Latvian Party whose members attend an annual parade by SS veterans. Michal Kaminski, the Leader of the new Conservative group of MEPs opposes making an apology for the Jedwabne massacre.

I just think that the background of these people should have put them beyond the pale for the Conservatives.
The Conservatives are increasingly isolated figures in Europe. I don’t know whether David Cameron is proud or embarrassed by these people.

But it seems self-evident to me that the alliances a party makes in Europe are an important issue for British voters.

Jewish parents and students are very concerned about the rise of antisemitism and Islamic radicalism on campus. What measures would the Liberal Democrats take to stamp these out?

This is a problem we have to get on top of. Pockets of antisemitism on our campuses are deeply worrying, because this is where extremism can really take hold.

Obviously individual universities have a big role here, as do the police when the law is broken, but we mustn't allow that to absolve politicians from doing their bit. It's up to government and opposition parties to highlight what is happening and to help end it, for example by actively promoting interfaith dialogue in our universities.

Education is everything when it comes to tackling antisemitism, which is why we also have to teach children about the dangers of this prejudice when they're young so we can diminish the possibility of extremism later on.

That's why the work of organisations like the Holocaust Education Trust and the Anne Frank Trust is so important. On the University problem, I also feel very strongly that politicians have a moral duty to speak out against the completely unacceptable academic boycotts of Israeli academics, which are unacceptable and counterproductive.

Would the Liberal Democrats make funds available to improve security around Jewish institutions including schools as recommended in the recent all-party report on antisemitism?

Community policing is absolutely key to ensuring that Jewish communities feel safe, and that synagogues and cemeteries are protected.

I am a huge admirer of the CST which provides a model of Community policing from which other communities should learn. We will continue to support its work.

More broadly, our plan is to put 3000 more police on the streets. In Jewish communities those extra officers will be able to protect Jewish people and their property from any kind of attack.

We're going to pay for those extra police by scrapping Labour's ID cards, which will cost billions but won't keep us safe. ID cards are compulsory in Spain but that didn't stop the Madrid bombers, it just meant they could be identified afterwards. More police to protect Jewish institutions will be much more effective.

What is the Liberal Democrats' commitment to faith schools in the light your manifesto commitment to making admissions and staff recruitment more inclusive? What does this commitment mean in practice?

Faith schools are an important part of our social fabric, which is why parents must continue to have the option of faith-based schools within the state-funded sector, and it's important that new faith schools can be established too.

In practice, we want local councils to work with these schools to find ways to ensure that faith schools are inclusive, so that pupils are not cut off from the wider community and so children from the local area who are not necessarily of that faith can still access the school, which is what happens in many cases already.

It's important that staff are not discriminated against on religious grounds, but of course schools are perfectly entitled to factor in faith when recruiting staff who are principally responsible for religious instruction.

Is there any legislative remedy to the Supreme Court decision over JFS?

I believe the remedy is clarity over school admissions for faith-based schools. The Supreme Court's ruling created quite a lot of uncertainty around this issue, and our proposals should help remove that confusion.
Over the next five years we would expect state-funded faith schools to work with local authorities to show that their intake is inclusive in the way I just described, which will give everyone very clear guidelines to work to.

It’s a way of balancing the needs of different children but making sure we don't end up in a situation where faith selection is banned, which would be a huge loss in terms of the identities of these schools.

In December, the Prime Minister and David Miliband committed to amend the universal jurisdiction legislation, which allows magistrates to issue arrest warrants for visiting foreign politicians and military staff.

Now that the government has pushed the issue into the long grass until after the election, would the Liberal Democrats back an immediate change to the law?

Yes I do think the issue needs to be considered when parliament returns. But I would want to first see a review of how the current legislation works in practice, and a full debate in parliament.

If we are going to sort out anomalies, we should do it properly. Rushed legislation is often the worst legislation.

There is serious concern in the Jewish community over recent comments made by Baroness Tonge and Lord Wallace. Many consider the Liberal Democrats the party least sympathetic to their interests. How can you reassure them?

The Liberal Democrats are supporters of the Jewish community and Israel. We utterly abhor all forms of racism and antisemitism and are in favour of a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The struggle against intolerance is embedded in the philosophy of liberalism and it defines my party like no other issue. I opposed British participation in the UN’s Durban II conference, because it would serve as a platform for antisemitism.

Chris Huhne has taken a lead on calling for action to deal with antisemitic violence. The party has worked closely with the Community Security Trust on this issue in particular.

I would encourage the Jewish community to look at the party’s position as a whole: the Liberal Democrats are friends of Israel, we are supporters of Israel. The mark of a strong friendship is to be prepared to speak out if you believe a friend is acting against their own best interests.

When I speak out over Gaza, for example, it is because I genuinely feel that Israel’s policy runs counter to its best interests. That is not a view unheard of amongst the Jewish community. It is no contradiction to be a strong friend of Israel while being critical of the policy of its government.

    Last updated: 10:58am, April 29 2010