Lib Dems split over conflict

The Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel are trying to broker a meeting between the Israeli Ambassador Ron Prosor and the party’s leader, Nick Clegg, who has been outspoken in his criticism of Israel’s actions in Gaza.

In an article in Wednesday’s Guardian, Mr Clegg called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to condemn Israeli tactics and suspend arm sales and demanded that the European Union suspend a proposed new trade agreement with Israel.

On Tuesday, however, the party’s Home Affairs spokesman Chris Huhne had written to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, to express concern at the “alarming evidence” of antisemitism in the wake of the Gaza crisis.
Gavin Stollar, vice-chairman of LDFI, said that moves to set up the meeting had begun after an earlier statement by Mr Clegg.

“It is important that the diplomatic envoy should have the opportunity to make Israel’s case and that the party leadership is aware of all sides of the argument,” said Mr Stollar.

In his article, Mr Clegg wrote that Israel had “every right to defend itself” but its approach was “self-defeating” and the loss of civilian life “unacceptable”.

Mr Huhne — who recently visited Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust — urged Ms Smith to alert local police forces to “what appears to be an increase in antisemitic incidents and threats associated with the events in the Middle East”.

He was concerned by reports from the Community Security Trust that the Israeli invasion of Gaza “is being used as a pretext for such activity aimed at the Jewish community in Britain”.

Lib-Dem Foreign Affairs Spokesman Edward Davey, speaking from Budapest, said that party leaders were united behind Mr Clegg’s position. Mr Davey — who visited Israel with the LDFI in November — said he had been “quite surprised” at Israel’s attack because he had been told then that its policy of “courageous restraint” in the face of provocation was working.

LDFI president Sir Alan Beith, said he differed with some of Mr Clegg’s views, particularly the embargo call.

    Last updated: 7:45pm, January 8 2009