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Yes, Minister

Is Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg the new face of anti-Israel politics in the United Kingdom?

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Nick Clegg campaigning in Sheffield, his home constituency, yesterday. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

If none of the United Kingdom’s three major parties wins a parliamentary majority in today’s elections—as many commentators predict—one casualty may be the country’s already shaky relations with Israel, which are likely to go from bad to worse if Nick Clegg, the charismatic 43-year-old leader of the Liberal Democrats, is given control of the foreign ministry in a deal that brings his party into a governing coalition.

Touted as the fresh face of British politics after his strong performances in televised debates with Labor leader Gordon Brown and Conservative David Cameron, the Cambridge-educated Clegg is also the face of an increasingly undiplomatic British disdain for Israeli policies that often crosses the line into open incitement against the Jewish state.

In at least two parliamentary districts with a high concentration of Islamic voters Liberal Democrat candidates distributed leaflets calling for Britain to “stop arming Israel.” One leaflet features photograph of a dead child being carried through the streets of Gaza with the words “The world watched in horror …”

While the Liberal Democrats also printed flyers intended to woo Jewish voters, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that when it comes to emotional attacks on Israel, the party is taking its direction from its leader, who is likely to become deputy prime minister, in a position to put one of his people in as foreign secretary (and control other cabinet posts) in any coalition government.

Writing in the Guardian in January 2009 about the then-ongoing conflict in Gaza, Clegg insisted that Brown, the prime minister, “must stop sitting on his hands. He must condemn unambiguously Israel’s tactics,” which Clegg characterized as disproportionate. He demanded “an immediate suspension of all arms exports from the EU,” adding that “if that cannot be secured, Brown must act unilaterally.” Clegg also called for the European Union to suspend trade agreements with Israel.

Later that year, after delivering a lecture on anti-Semitism, Clegg was surprised to learn that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted the Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish State. Clegg asked, “Is the idea of Israel as a Jewish state something new?” Afterward, a spokesman explained that Clegg misunderstood, thinking Netanyahu was suggesting Israel should be solely Jewish. He pointed out that “Nick is a very good friend of the Jews.”

Clegg was also the lead signatory of a letter to the Observer by a group of MP that claimed Israel was “imprisoning” 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.

Clegg’s personal vehemence on the subject of Israel is hardly unique among the leadership of his party. One of Israel’s most virulent critics among British lawmakers is Baroness Jenny Tonge, who was fired from her job as Clegg’s health spokeswoman in the House of Lords after calling for an inquiry into allegations made by the online Palestinian Telegraph that Israeli solders were not rescuing survivors of the Haitian earthquake but rather stealing and trafficking their organs. Clegg said her comments were “wrong, distasteful and provocative and have caused deep distress to the Jewish Community.” He went on to say he did not believe Tonge was anti-Semitic or racist.

This was not the first time the baroness was fired over her views on Israel. In 2004 she said she could see herself becoming a Palestinian suicide bomber, an opinion that didn’t prevent her from being made a peer. Two years later she was reprimanded for saying that “the pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips.” After meeting the head of Hamas she described him as “shrewd, plausible and actually very likable.” Tonge is still listed by the Lib Dems as one of the party’s Middle East experts.

Questions are also asked about some of the company Clegg keeps. London’s Jewish Chronicle reports he was a guest of honor at a fundraising banquet in November organized by Nadhmi Auchi, an Iraqi-British billionaire who was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 15 months in prison in 2003 for taking illegal payments from a French oil company, Elf Aquitaine, and who was also implicated in the Tony Rezko scandal that was glancingly linked to Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Auchi, who funds the notoriously anti-Israeli and often anti-Semitic Middle East Online, also donates money to charities connected to Hamas. He is also a major financial supporter of George Galloway, the British leftist politician who made his name through his steadfast support for Saddam Hussein and for his attempts to deliver money and aid to the Hamas government in Gaza.

The views expressed by Clegg and Tonge are hardly at variance with how Britons appear to perceive Israel. You have only to watch the weekly BBC audience-participation current-affairs program Question Time to experience the strong anti-Israel bias. During the Lebanese conflict with Hezbollah, I was approached at a party by a woman who first asked if I was Jewish, and then asked, “Why are you bombing innocent people?” I pointed out that I wasn’t, but she made little distinction between an American Jew and the Israeli government.

For some time, Britain’s union movement has been at the forefront of anti-Israel action. The TUC—the British equivalent of the AFL-CIO—is the biggest single donor to Gordon Brown’s Labor party. It is linked to the Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s boycott of goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, which distributes the leaflet “Would You Buy Stolen Goods?”

Last week, Scotland’s union federation voted to endorse a boycott disinvestment from Israeli companies, and sanctions against Israel.

Later this month Britain’s largest academic trade union will consider moves to further an Israel boycott, as well as to sever relations with the Israeli union movement, Histadrut . Also on the University College Union agenda are motions calling for a boycott of Israeli academics.

David Hirsh of Engage, a group of academics and unionists that campaigns against the boycott effort, says it’s not new and that the organization’s leadership “continues to allow anti-Semitic ways of thinking to pollute the union and to degrade our solidarity.”

What’s most depressing about the specter of Nick Clegg taking over the British foreign ministry is not that his views on Israel are so radical but that they are increasingly mainstream. Gordon Brown’s government has not, as promised, changed the law to allow Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and other Israeli politicians to visit the United Kingdom without being arrested as war criminals. Foreign Secretary David Miliband took a hard line on Israel, expelling a Mossad officer in retaliation for the forging of U.K. passports by the alleged hit team that killed a Hamas agent in Dubai and refusing to let Israel send a replacement until it owns up to the forgeries.

Would Israel find a better friend in Conservative leader David Cameron? Perhaps, but he too has shown ambivalence. “Unlike a lot of politicians from Britain who visit Israel, when I went, I did stand in occupied East Jerusalem and actually referred to it as occupied East Jerusalem,” Cameron proudly says. “The Foreign Office bod”—the British equivalent of “guy”—“who was with me said most ministers don’t dare say [that].”

As Melanie Phillips, a Jewish Daily Mail columnist and strong supporter of Israel, suggests in her blog, “Those who hope that a Tory government led by David Cameron would be less hostile to Israel than the current UK Labour administration and less likely to swallow Arab propaganda should take note of Cameron’s comments.”

During the pre-election televised debate on foreign policy in which Clegg first impressed British voters, any mention of Israel, the Palestinians, or what each candidate would do to foster a peaceful settlement was conspicuously absent. It would appear the three prime ministerial contenders were solidly in agreement on all of these questions, with no need for further discussion or debate.

Larry Miller is a correspondent for CBS and NPR. He has lived in London for 35 years and has covered nine U.K. elections.

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Paul Leber says:

Not much has changed since York

Sydney Lev says:

Tablet needs proofreaders: Front-page byline read “Larry David” but in the piece the writer is referred to as “Larry Miller.” Get it together, Tablet.

Andy Black says:

I thought the Jewish community were concerned about David Cameron?

jd says:

Harold Bloom in his review of the book by Anthony Julius on British antisemitism “Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England” by Anthony Julius which will appear this Sunday in the NY Times Book Review sees current British anti-Zionism a continuation of traditional English Jew hatred.

I read Mr. Miller’s piece with great alarm at the extent to which Anti-Semitism is still so much at the forefront of political discourse in the United Kingdom. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Cleg comes off as a particularly ill-informed individual when it comes to the important details of the situation in the Middle East. The fact that he would hire someone as ignorant as Baroness Jenny Tonge to speak on his behalf on any issue is seriously troubling – her hateful comments about Israeli rescue workers stealing the organs of earthquake victims evokes old Anti-Semitic tropes and for Cleg to say that he did not believe the Baroness was racist or Anti-Semitic is difficult to believe. I hope that the British electorate will not see fit to give Mr. Cleg the votes he needs to do further damage to the image of their country in the eyes of all people who value intelligent, informed dialogue about the situation in the Middle East.

cl says:

i was hoping Larry David had written this…

tillkan says:

“I was approached at a party by a woman who first asked if I was Jewish, and then asked, “Why are you bombing innocent people?” I pointed out that I wasn’t, but she made little distinction between an American Jew and the Israeli government.” And whose fault is that? Israel constantly claims to be acting in the name of all Jews. As an American Jew who opposes Israeli policies, including the bombing of innocent people, it is hard even to express how much it enrages me to have Israel speaking for me.

Asher says:

tilkan is enraged by Israel, but not by Palestinian suicide bombers, or by British suicide bombers who murder Israelis in Tel Aviv (Mike’s Place, 2003). Don’t worry tilkan, we don’t want you either. Just don’t come to Israel if you ever are persecuted, OK? In fact it would be honest if you relinquished your right to return to Israel. This way you don’t have to deal with Israel bombing your Hamas friends.

Have you expressed your displeasure at the US bombing innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq? Oh no, the servile creature you are knows how not rock the boat of his master. Having lived many years in the US, I can say you are a typical American Jew, with a ghetto mentality.

American Jews have done NOTHING for the survival of Jews – during World War II and afterwards. During the Holocaust, they were so cowardly that they didn’t even ask Roosevelt to order US planes to bomb Auschwitz, even though those planes bombed many the factory three miles down the road.

500,000 American soldiers died in Europe in WW II. None died for the survival of Israel, though its enemies waged several wars of annihilation since 1048.

We can take care of ourselves. If I were to depend on American Jews, or on any anything else that the Israeli Defense Force, I would take the Masada option.

tillkan says:

Are you serious? You really think I haven’t protested hundreds of times against the US wars on Iraq and Afghanistan? Who do you think people like me are? You think we defend the US occupations and torture? No, it is the Israel defenders who do that. And of course, many of us Jewish critics of Zionism have renounced our right of return, so if that was a taunt, it didn’t sting much.

Antony says:

Tillkan goes to some wild parties. The woman who approached him didn’t open with the normal pleasantries (you know – “have you tried the lox”, or “is that a schnoodle in your pocket”). No she came straight out with “Are you Jewish, or a carrier for any other heritable diseases?”. Fortunately Tillkan convinced her that though a Jew by birth, he sides with the solid majority of young liberal American Jews who will not be passing this affliction on to his progeny. She swooned and they spent the rest of the evening professing their mutual love for bagels.

Asher says:

Tilkan, it’s not a taunt, it’s a straightforward request for honesty. You don’t like Israel, don’t come to Israel – not just for now, but even if you are persecuted by your country. Right now the US is not an anti-Semitic country, but if were to ever become one, do NOT come to Israel. OK? I served in the IDF. I would NOT want to help protect people like you.

You’re an anti-Zionist – then you should NEVER ask for Israel’s protection, no matter how tough things are.

The taunt is that you, like most American Jews are a coward when comes to anything Jewish. Far from being helpful or even decent, you’re a bunch of ghetto Jews. The generation of your grandparents showed it best – they were scrupulous in NOT HELPING the Jews who were murdered in Europe. You continue in their glorious of that shitty generation of bastards.

Have you protested genocide in Sudan, anti-Semitic law in Arab countries, slavery in Saudi Arabia, the occupation of Tibet by Communist China? Or is your rightneousness directed to the Jewish state and the US alone?

Have you ever condemned the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries? More than 50% of Israel’s population is made of Jews that are refugees from Arab countries. There were 900,000 Jews expelled by your Arab friends, far more than than the Palestinians refugees of 1948.

My experience with people like you is that you are loud in condemning the Jewish state – ALWAYS -, the US – occasionally, and that you are amazingly silent about the Arab world and about Communist bastards like China or Vietnam.

Asher says:

Hey Antony, I bet tilikan swapped some cute Yiddish words “learnt from his grandma”. The US has plenty of these hip ethnic Jews, enamored of klezmer and latkes – both go down well with attending Norman Finkelstein’s lectures, where together with similar dudes hear the latest from Hassan Nasrallah and the latest murder of Zionists in a pizzeria. That’s cool, man! Let’s read The Nation and the latest Noam Chomsky Holocaust denial. And easy with the latkes, it’ll stain your Che Guevara T-shirt or the keffiyeh.

Asher says:

tilkan, re-reading your second post I saw that, even as you rambled profusely about the US, you did NOT answer to my question of whether you protested against murder of Jews by your Arab friends. You didn’t, and never will. You know why? Because you LIKE it that they murder Jews.

eli says:

tilkan is the left wing anti-semitic Jew, justifying his hatred of Israel and the US but seeing little or nothing wrong with the much more oppressive and at times genocidal states such as Sudan, North Korea, China, Cuba, Zimbabwe etc. It is the use of double-standards for judging Israel and the demonizing of Israel that shows their anti-Semitism. They love humanity, except for Israel and the US.

Asher says:

eli, this is not an issue of left-wing or right wing. I too am left-wing and I am proud Zionist. So were David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Rabin and countless others. The relevant thing is that tilkan is far-left – it’s the far that matters.

The US far Right has plenty of anti-Semitic politicians and journalists (Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, James Baker, Grove Norquist) just like the far Left (Noam Chomsky, Ralph Nader, Zbigniew Brzezinski, anyone publishing in The Nation). It doesn’t matter much if you’re “Left” or “Right”, but it matters a lot if you’re “far” – then your chances of being totalitarian and anti-Semitic are dramatically increased.

tilkan is clearly on the far Left. No wonder he’s anti-Semitic. It would be nice if Israel asked such people to legally renounce their right of return. Not by signing petitions or newspaper ads. No, legally.

Harry Green says:

All civilizations that have expelled the Jewish people have withered.
Britain is not exempt.
The British will reap what they sow. A Sharia state in place of a parliamentary democracy.
The Scots are not exempt either.

Harry Green says:

Tillkan may be Jewish by birth…

Marion Abramowitz says:

To Selfhating, Apologists and Others

Which part of Israels RIGHT TO EXIST do you not understand. 1948 was not a SURREALISTIC MOMENT.

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