The Liberal Democrats have acted “little better than the BNP” in promoting anti-Israel views to win votes in Muslim areas, according to the Conservative Friends of Israel.
Launching a scathing attack on Lib-Dem election campaigning, James Arbuthnot MP, CFI parliamentary chairman, said the party was “attempting to incite hatred and fear for its own electoral advantage”.
He highlighted leaflets handed out in wards with large Muslim populations in Redbridge, Essex, and Camden, north London, which exploited concerns over the Gaza conflict and called on the government to stop arming Israel.
A Lib Dem spokesman counter-accused the Tories of political opportunism, and said Britain should be a “critical friend” to Israel.
But Mr Arbuthnot said: “The Lib-Dems are attempting to incite hatred and fear for their own electoral advantage.
“The concern is that it comes from a party that is generally thought of as being perfectly respectable and so it enhances the credibility of the leaflet, whereas with something from the BNP, people would reject it out of hand because of who it comes from.
“So in that respect, it seems it’s little better than the BNP.”
Robert Halfon, CFI political director, claimed that the Lib Dem strategy had come “direct from the party’s high command” and followed a successful Lib Dem campaign to unseat pro-Israel MP Lorna Fitzsimons in Rochdale in 2005.
Jewish community leaders in Redbridge raised concerns over the Lib-Dem campaign in a council by-election in February.
Rabbi Aryeh Sufrin, head of Ilford Chabad Centre, and Ilford Federation minister Rabbi Alex Chapper, both criticised leaflets which showed an image of a Palestinian man carrying a badly injured child. Next to the picture was a comment from Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, saying: “We must stop arming Israel.”
In January, at the height of the Gaza conflict, Jo Shaw, Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Holborn and St Pancras, met Bangladeshi community members and criticised the government for not doing enough to stop “Israel’s assault”.
Following the meeting she said Israel wanted “to achieve peace by subjugating a people” and called for “an inquiry into the apparently indiscriminate shelling of residential areas”.
Lib Dem Friends of Israel chairman Monroe Palmer said his group worked closely with the CFI and Labour Friends of Israel, but claimed the Tories were “more interested in attacking the Lib Dems than standing up for Israel”.
“They are endangering the work of all groups working for Israel, for party political advantage. It’s nothing to do with battling for Israel, it’s a battle for David Cameron to make a few votes.
“I did not approve of the Lib Dem leaflets in Redbridge. The picture was not nice, but it had no part in a local election campaign.”
A Lib Dem party spokesman said: “We at no point called for Israel to be disarmed, but the disproportionate scale of the action at the end of last year meant that we did call for a temporary suspension of arms exports to the country.
“This naked political opportunism on the part of the Tory Party is utterly shameful. It is deeply unfortunate that they have chosen such a sensitive issue in order to score cheap political points.”
He added that party leader Nick Clegg and home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne had signed the London Declaration on Combating Antisemitism last month.