Community leaders in Redbridge have accused Liberal Democrats of “a cynical ploy” in running an anti-Israel election campaign in a council ward with a high number of Muslim and Jewish voters.
The charge follows the circulation of a by-election leaflet in Valentines ward including a call from party leader Nick Clegg to “stop arming Israel”, and a reference to the “latest innocent victims in the rubble of a UN school”.
Liberal Democrat Shoaib Patel won the by-election from the Conservatives by 182 votes.
Redbridge Council leader Alan Weinberg condemned the Lib-Dem campaign.
“There’s no doubt that the leaflet was seen as antisemitic by many in the local Jewish community — and that it was designed to pander to the worst possible perceptions of Israel,” he claimed.
“It saddens me because many people have done a lot of hard work to build trust between the two communities,” the Tory councillor added.
“It’s not like Redbridge Council can do anything to influence foreign policy.”
Rabbi Aryeh Sufrin, who heads the Ilford Chabad centre, accused the local Lib-Dems of “cheap politics to gain votes in a highly populated Muslim area”.
He hoped Councillor Patel would now “use his privileged position to promote peace and harmony between all faiths”.
Ilford Federation minister Rabbi Alex Chapper said the Lib-Dems’ tactics were particularly regrettable “in the light of the recent spate of antisemitic and anti-Israel graffiti in the area. It does nothing to promote feelings of security among the Redbridge Jewish community.”
Defending the leaflet, Lib-Dem leader Councillor Hugh Cleaver maintained that the Gaza situation had been an important issue on the doorstep.
“There was no intention to offend any community in Redbridge. We were simply responding to the very strong views held by many electors as a result of seeing what was happening each day on the news.”