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Party leaders stake their claims for Jewish votes

    Clegg: ‘a supporter of Israel’
    Clegg: ‘a supporter of Israel’

    The three major political parties this week made their pitch for the vote of JC readers in a series of exclusive articles and interviews involving senior politicians.

    Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg told us that his party's criticism of Operation Cast Lead stemmed from a concern that Israel was damaging its international reputation.

    "The mark of a strong friendship is to be prepared to speak out if you believe a friend is acting against their own best interests," he said. "When I speak out over Gaza, for example, it is because I genuinely feel that Israel's policy runs counter to its best interests. That is not a view unheard of amongst the Jewish community."

    He said Israel needed to hold an independent inquiry into the conflict. "The truth is that Operation Cast Lead did not work. It was self-defeating. There are still attacks on Israeli citizens from Gaza. Israel is more isolated internationally, the people of Gaza are more embittered and Hamas strengthened as a direct result of Cast Lead."

    He said the Lib Dems remained "supporters of the Jewish community and Israel".

    Mr Clegg also used the interview to reinforce his criticism of the Conservative Party's controversial east European allies in the European Parliament, who have been accused of being extremists and antisemites. He said he did not regret describing members of the new European Conservatives and Reformists grouping as "nutters" during the second leaders' debate. "They left behind the European mainstream for people who are extremely socially conservative, who are climate change sceptics, and who are way further to the right than the Christian Democrat tradition that the Conservatives used to feel comfortable with."

    Hague: Gaza needs attention
    Hague: Gaza needs attention

    The Liberal Democrats are the only party not committed to an immediate change to the legislation on universal jurisdiction, which has put senior Israeli politicians and military figures at risk of arrest for war crimes in Britain. Mr Clegg said: "Yes, I do think the issue needs to be considered when parliament returns. But I would want to first see a review of how the current legislation works in practice, and a full debate in parliament. If we are going to sort out anomalies, we should do it properly. Rushed legislation is often the worst legislation."

    On domestic policy he defended his party's manifesto pledge to ensure all faith schools develop an "inclusive education policy". He emphasised that faith schools were an important part of the country's social fabric. "[This] is why parents must continue to have the option of faith-based schools within the state-funded sector, and it's important that new faith schools can be established too," he said. "In practice, we want local councils to work with these schools to find ways to ensure that faith schools are inclusive, so that pupils are not cut off from the wider community and so children from the local area who are not necessarily of that faith can still access the school."

    Writing in these pages, Lord Mandelson, whose late father was the advertising manager of the JC, said the Labour Party was driven by the values that have defined the Jewish community.

    "At the heart of all we do lies a commitment to tolerance, justice and fairness, achieved through the combined efforts of a community united by shared beliefs and aspirations," he said.

    The man who is running the Labour election campaign paid direct tribute to the contribution the Jewish community has made to British society. "The Jewish community is a thriving example of a society driven by a commitment to hard work and success, coupled with great generosity and community spirit. The work that charities like Norwood and Jewish Care do is an inspiring testament to this Jewish spirit of togetherness that sees the success of a few, used to the benefit of the needs of the many."

    Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague used a wide-ranging interview on international affairs to emphasise his party's commitment to kick-starting the peace process in the Middle East and warned: "We are concerned that if a two-state solution is not arrived at soon then it will never be."

    However, he saved his strongest words for Nick Clegg's position on Iran. "Unlike the Liberal Democrats, we don't say we rule out forever any military action." He added: "To simply take all military efforts off the table is reducing the pressure on Iran."

    However, like Mr Clegg, he said it was important to recognise that allies and friends were not beyond criticism and that the Goldstone report into the Gaza conflict should not be dismissed. "Goldstone raised some important issues, which all concerned have to address. And of course democracies and free societies are to be held to high standards and should be."

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