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Surprisingly Jewish — that’s the new-look Lib Dems

The JC's political editor Marcus Dysch turns his attention to the often-neglected third force in Parliament. And finds a good deal of Jewish interest...

    Sir Vince Cable meets the Board’s Gillian Merron and Joel Salmon (left) and Mark Gardner of CST this week
    Sir Vince Cable meets the Board’s Gillian Merron and Joel Salmon (left) and Mark Gardner of CST this week

    Opposition reshuffles rarely set the heart racing, and some might believe the prospect of Sir Vince Cable moving his dozen MPs round is of little relevance.

    But the appointment last week of his first Liberal Democrat “principal spokespersons” threw up a surprisingly large number of Jewish points of interest.

    Of the 31-strong team, which includes peers and non-elected personnel, 10 per cent are Jewish. Technically it makes the Lib Dems’ shadow-cabinet-of-sorts the most-Jewish such group in Parliament.

    Baroness Featherstone will speak on energy and climate change, while Baroness Kramer, daughter of a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, will be spokesperson on Treasury matters.

    They are joined by Lord Marks, who as Jonathan Marks QC is a high-flying and prominent expert on legal matters. He is reappointed to the justice spokesman role he held under previous party leaders.

    A low profile within the Jewish community has not held Lord Marks back from working his way up the party ranks from his 10-bedroom mansion near Henley, where the father-of-seven lives with his wife, Lady Clementine Medina Marks.

    Elsewhere in the reshuffle, Tom Brake, who never made a single comment of note on the Middle East in his time as the party’s foreign spokesman, is replaced by deputy leader Jo Swinson.

    She took an even hand when summing up a motion on the Balfour centenary at the Lib Dem conference last month, but has in the past tended to side with the Palestinian cause.

    Most notably, during the conflict in 2009, she referred to Israel’s “wholly disproportionate” action in Gaza, saving particular condemnation for the IDF operating in civilian areas, while avoiding any mention, let alone criticism, of Hamas terror.

    One Westminster source described her this week as “pretty vanilla”, which on past experience with the Lib Dems could be seen as a vast improvement. But time will tell whether she returns to her former position of arch critic.

    Wera Hobhouse, whose maiden Commons speech referred to the persecution suffered by her maternal relatives in Hamburg during the war, is worth keeping an eye on in her new role as communities spokeswoman.

    Layla Moran will be the party’s education spokesperson. She is Britain’s first MP of Palestinian descent — her mother is from Jerusalem — and has said she will “do whatever I can as an MP to advance the Palestinian cause”. Ms Moran has also condemned the “lunatics” of Hamas and said she wants to “reach out” to British Jews to be a “bridge to peace”.

    Meanwhile Baroness Sheehan, who will be the party’s international development spokesperson, is a supporter of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and backs a boycott of Israeli goods.

    One senior pro-Israel figure in the party said it was “still early days” when assessing the new leadership’s approach to Jewish issues but the aim was to stay in “close contact” with Sir Vince, who met Board of Deputies figures this week for the first time since his appointment.

    Who could have imagined that the small band of Lib Dems could be the source of such intrigue and interest?

     


     

    On the theme of fringe parties, our old friend Caroline Lucas — the Green MP who campaigned against an eco-friendly store and against the use of high-tech water meters in her constituency because they were Israeli — has returned to a familiar theme.

    The member for Brighton Pavilion wrote to the Foreign Office to ask whether Boris Johnson had asked his Israeli counterpart about “intelligence-gathering targeting pro-Palestinian activists” in Britain. She wanted to know how many Brits are being spied on by Mossad and how many UK citizens had been affected by Israeli laws barring boycott supporters and opponents of settlements from entering Israel.

    She received short shrift from Alistair Burt, the Middle East Minister, who told her the government does not comment on intelligence matters, nor does it make “any assessment” of Israel’s immigration policies.

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