You have said you will back a change to the legislation which allows magistrates to issue arrest warrants for visiting foreign politicians and military staff. Now that Labour has pushed the issue into the long grass until after the election, what guarantee will you give to the Jewish community that you will introduce the law change immediately after the election?
I think the government’s approach to this has been feeble. They said back in December that they would look at changing the law to stop political groups being able to issue private arrest warrants – but we’re now just weeks away from an election and still nothing has been done.
It’s a big problem. It means that while we’re saying we want to get the Peace Process moving and that we want Britain to play a part in that, some of the key people we need to talk to in Israel are being deterred from coming here. It puts us in a really weak position. We will keep pressing the Government to make this right - and if they don’t, we will.
What exactly is the Conservative Party's policy on Israel and the peace process? In particular what would you do to kick-start talks??
I passionately believe in the right of Israel to exist, to defend itself and to live in peace and security. And I unequivocally support a two-state solution. We need a State of Israel, with her existence recognised by all her Arab neighbours, living alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian State.
Since I’ve been doing this job, I’ve spoken to people from both sides and from all the countries involved in the peace process about how we can narrow the differences between the parties and bring about the settlement that is urgently needed. It’s going to take perseverance, dedication, courage, and compromise to bring real, lasting peace to the Middle East. That’s something that William Hague and I both understand and we will work incredibly hard to help bring it about.
William Hague was forced to backtrack after criticising Israel's disproportionate use of force. What is your position on Israel's actions in Operation Cast Lead and what is your opinion of the Goldstone report?
No, that’s not right. We’re talking about two separate events here – the war in Lebanon in 2006 and the conflict in Gaza in 2008-9 – and in both cases, our views didn’t change.
In 2006, we did say that some of the things that Israel did during the war in Lebanon were disproportionate and a mistake, while upholding Israel's right to self defence. I think that we were right to say that and we’ve always stood by that view.
In 2008-9, during the conflict in Gaza and Operation Cast Lead, we said that Israel did have the right to defend her citizens from rocket attacks. The loss of life in Gaza was terrible and some of the scenes we saw were horrific. And that’s why we called for an early ceasefire and for both sides to show restraint.
The detailed allegations of human rights abuses contained in the Goldstone Report are serious and they do need to be fully investigated. But we would have voted against the UN Human Rights Council Resolution on the Goldstone Report, which didn’t mention Hamas’s role in starting the conflict in Gaza. The government on the other hand simply dithered about, not sure what to do, and in the end did not vote in any way at all.
How do you respond to the claims in the Channel 4 Dispatches programme that the Israel lobby, via Conservative Friends of Israel, has an undue influence within the Conservative Party?
There are lots of groups with specific areas of interest who are friends of the Conservative Party and I’m pleased we are attracting interest from so many different parts of society. We really value the work that CFI does and the way it helps to fight anti-Semitism. But decisions on policy are entirely a matter for me and my Shadow Cabinet, and they’re taken on the basis of our view of Britain’s national interest
What reassurances can you give to UK Jews about his alliance in Europe with parties in Poland and Latvia that have been criticised for their links to the far right and accused of antisemitism?
We need to look at the facts. The Chief Rabbi of Poland has himself made it very clear that the Polish Law and Justice party is a mainstream party and their MEP Michael Kaminski, who has been the focus of Labour smears, is not only not anti-Semitic, but actually has a record of combating anti-Semitism.
And as for our Latvian partners, again there’s been a lot of distortion. The TB/LNNK is a mainstream party, it’s part of the Latvian Government, and the Latvian Foreign Minister has now had to complain to David Miliband about some of the insulting things Labour have said.
The truth is that we would never ally with a party we believed to be anti-Semitic, led by anti-Semites or with links to the far right. I hope Jewish Chronicle readers can see that.
Jewish parents and students are very concerned about the rise of antisemitism and Islamic radicalism on campus. What measures would a Conservative government take to stamp these out?
This is a worrying time for the Jewish community in Britain. The BNP is winning seats. The most disgusting literature can be found in bookshops and on university campuses. And the Community Security Trust reported more anti-Semitic incidents in the first half of 2009 than in the whole of any previous year.
So we’ve got to deal with this and drain this poison. And there are three key things we need to do.
First, stop letting people like Yusuf al-Qaradawi and Ibrahim Moussawi into this country to spread hatred. Second, ban those extremist groups like Hizb-ut-Tahrir who are already here. And third, do more – much more – to tackle radicalisation in our universities.
Of course, it’s important that academic freedom is respected and that our universities are a place where robust debate can take place. But this freedom has to be matched by responsibility – and that means making clear to university authorities and student unions that they need to help identify those who are vulnerable to influence from extremists or shown they are willing to promote hatred, just as they would in relation to any other suspected crime.
Will the Conservative Party make funds available to improve security around Jewish institutions including schools as recommended in the recent all-party report on anti-Semitism?
We’ve got to stop the rise of anti-Semitism, and I will always stand firm against anti-Semitism, in all its forms and wherever it occurs. I support the work the Community Security Trust does to provide extra vigilance for the Jewish Community. I have spoken at its dinners, supported its work and assisted with fund raising. I back faith-based organisations and what they do: they form an important part of my vision of the Big Society.
But we also need to do much more in terms of freeing up the police from bureaucracy and paperwork and form-filling so that they have more time to focus on these sorts of issues. I can promise you is that with a Conservative Government we will never allow anti-Semitism to go unchecked in this country, and we will work flat out to reverse the radicalisation and root out the sources of radicalisation which have grown up over the last few years.
What is the Conservative Party's commitment to faith schools?
I have visited Jewish Schools in London and Birmingham. I’m a big supporter of faith schools, personally as well as politically.
Personally, because my daughter, Nancy, goes to an excellent Church of England school and we’re really lucky in that. Politically, because I think that faith schools are a really important part of our education system and they often have a culture and ethos which helps to drive up standards. If anything, I would like to see faith schools grow. Through our school reform plans, there will be a real growth in new good school places, and we’re anticipating that some of these will be in faith schools.
Is there any legislative remedy to the House of Lords decision over JFS?
We are talking to lawyers about this case and about what it means for the future. We’re going to look into this very closely indeed.
Has anti-Semitism been purged from the Conservative Party at grassroots as well as parliamentary level?
I think we’ve got a good record in showing that we can change as a Party and welcome people from all backgrounds. With Disraeli, we were the first Party to have someone who was ethnically Jewish become Prime Minister.
With Michael Howard, we had the first practicing Jewish Leader of the Opposition. And we’ve just seen a Conservative Member of Parliament, John Bercow, become the first Jewish Speaker of the House of Commons. One of the highlights of my year was meeting Dayan Ehrentreu and learning about my ancestors, the Levitas.
Of course, we can’t ever be complacent, but if you look at our Party today you see we’ve got a Jewish Chief Executive, Andrew Feldman, we’ve got a Jewish Chairman of the Research Department, Oliver Letwin, and at this general election we’ll have Jewish people standing as Conservative candidates in really winnable seats. I didn’t do this, the Conservative Party did it, and I’m really proud of the way we’ve shown we can change.