Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg stunned audience members at a major speech on antisemitism by asking whether referring to Israel as a Jewish state was “a new idea”.
Mr Clegg invited audience questions after delivering the second annual lecture of the European Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism in Westminster on Monday.
Asked about an article in the Independent referring to the “Jewish lobby”, Mr Clegg responded with a question of his own. He had listened to Binyamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy speech on Sunday in which the Israeli Prime Minister said Palestinians must recognise Israel as a Jewish state.
Mr Clegg did not believe he had heard an Israeli PM refer to the country in such a way before and asked: “Is the idea of Israel as a Jewish state something new?” Giving the vote of thanks, Board of Deputies’ senior vice-president Jonathan Arkush said to applause: “The idea that Israel is a Jewish nation state is certainly not new at all.
“There are over 70 states with an explicit Islamic character and countries such as Britain, which is definitively Christian. Is there not room for one country with a Jewish character?”
A spokesman for the Liberal leader claimed the remark had been taken out of context .“As someone who wishes to see a just and lasting peace in the region, Nick was keen to discuss how this significant change in political rhetoric will affect future negotiations, not least on protecting minority rights within Israel and strengthening the essential Jewish nature of Israel.”
Monroe Palmer, chairman of Lib-Dem Friends of Israel, believed the MP had been questioning whether Mr Netanyahu was suggesting the country should be solely Jewish. “Nick is a very good friend of the Jews,” he stressed.