Why Corbyn is making Lib Dems smile

The party hopes to win over Jewish Labour supporters alarmed by their new leader


Supporters of Israel could find a warm welcome in the new-look Liberal Democrats, party members suggested this week.

The election of Tim Farron as party leader following the crushing general election result in May - in which the party was reduced to eight MPs after losing 49 seats - was said to provide a new opportunity for previously disenchanted Israel advocates to return to the fold.

As the party's annual conference began in Bournemouth on Sunday, Mr Farron appointed Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel vice-president Lord Palmer as his adviser on the Middle East.

Gavin Stollar, LDFI chairman, said: "We have a new leader and a new feel to the party. LDFI has been contacted by new party members who want to be involved and want to help out.

"This is an opportunity for the party to reposition itself. We think there's a natural affinity for us with Tim."

Mr Stollar said some of those approaching his group had previously supported Labour and the Green Party.

Delegates also predicted the party could benefit from Jewish Labour supporters who desert following Jeremy Corbyn's election as leader.

Mr Farron was said to be considering courting Jewish donors looking to move their money away from Labour.

Mr Stollar added: "The election of Mr Corbyn does demonstrate an opportunity for our party to attract people from across the political spectrum."

On Sunday evening, around 100 people attended a LDFI event on the prospects for peace in the Middle East.

Panellists included new peers Lorely Burt and Sir Alan Beith, Israel's deputy ambassador in Britain Eitan Na'eh and Bicom chief executive James Sorene, a former adviser to ex-party leader Nick Clegg.

At the same time, the party's Friends of Palestine group held a session on whether the European Union should immediately recognise a Palestinian state. Hannah Weisfeld, founder and director of the left-leaning Israel campaign group Yachad, was one of the speakers. She said the event had been "extremely moderate" and that she had been warmly welcomed.

It was encouraging to hear Israel's security concerns taken seriously by delegates, she added.

On Lord Palmer's appointment, Mr Farron said that he was looking forward to drawing on the peer's "vast experience and wise counsel".

He added: "The party remains firmly committed to a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine based on peace and security for both peoples. With Monroe's advice and support we will continue to do what we can to contribute to this end."

Lord Palmer responded that he was "delighted to be able to assist".

Mr Stollar said the appointment "rightly recognises one of the Liberal Democrats' foremost experts on Middle East politics".

Meanwhile, controversial former Lib Dem peer Baroness Tonge has said she is considering joining Labour.

She told The Sunday Times that she agreed with Mr Corbyn's positions on Israel and the Palestinians.

The pair have in the past campaigned together at anti-Israel events, and once travelled in the same delegation to Gaza.

Baroness Tonge, who gave up the Lib Dem whip in the Lords three years ago after claiming Israel "would not last for ever" and would "reap what they have sown", told the BBC this week that the Hamas leaders they met in Gaza had "said a lot of wise things".

"We were all favourably impressed by those people. We all feel it was very, very important to listen to their point of view," she added.

The former MP said she would decide whether to join Labour in the Lords before the end of the year.

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