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Stand firm, Mr Clegg

April 19, 2014 at 12:56 pm

Nick Clegg is unpretentious, which is probably why he is capturing the imagination of the British electorate. Most commentators refer to his apparent honesty, despite attempts by the right-wing media and the Israel lobby – often one and the same thing – to smear him. Clegg has failed to endear himself to the latter. In the Jewish Chronicle Alex Brummer claims that ‘Israel doesn’t agree with Nick’. The paper’s editorial is even more explicit: ‘Clegg needs to act’, a crude call for action against two critics of Israeli policies, Baroness Jenny Tonge and Lord William Wallace.

The LibDems’ policy on  Palestine is unambiguous. They call for a war crimes tribunal, an arms embargo and measures in respect of the EU-Israel Association Agreement. These eminently reasonable demands supported by credible investigations and reports are not matched by the other major parties, who choose instead to equivocate.

Clegg has shown the same single-mindedness towards Britain’s relationship with the US.  While acknowledging that it is ‘immensely special’, he has emphasized that the relationship should be two-way, not one in which Britain responds ‘slavishly’ to Washington’s every beck and call.

It is this independence of thought which has distinguished Clegg from his rivals and set him on a collision course with the Israel lobby. The media and political pressure on the LibDem leader is reminiscent of that against Barack Obama after his presidential victory. It was the American Israel lobby which pushed Obama to drop the candidacy of Charles Freeman, a former ambassador and Assistant Secretary of Defense, for chair of the National Intelligence Council. His appointment was blocked by Steve Rosen, a former official of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) who not long before had been charged with being an Israeli spy; the charges were dropped.

The demands for Clegg to take action against Baroness Tonge and Lord Wallace have an eerily familiar ring to them. Nick Clegg’s task could not, however, be easier. For a start, he could test the moral backbone of those who make these demands by asking them to distance themselves publicly from the Israeli government as long as the unashamedly racist Avigdor Lieberman is its foreign minister.

One year ago Robert Fisk wrote in the Independent, “I covered the bloodbath of Bosnia in the early Nineties and I can identify Lieberman’s language – of executions, of drownings, of hell and loyalty oaths – with the language of Messrs Mladic and Karadzic and Milosevic.”

Say what you will of Fisk, but the evidence speaks for itself. In 2003, when Ariel Sharon contemplated freeing hundred of Palestinian prisoners, Lieberman, then Israel’s transport minister, objected, saying “It would be better to drown these prisoners in the Dead Sea if possible, since that’s the lowest point in the world.”

In 2004, he said of the 1.5 million Arabs in Israel: “If we want to stop the conflict, we must separate the two peoples. The main problem is the Israeli Arabs. I think separation has to include them. I am talking about a land swap as well as a population swap. This seems brutal and sounds brutal, but there is no other solution.”

Two years later Lieberman called for Arab members of the Israeli parliament to be tried for treason and executed if found guilty for meeting with members of Hamas.

Clegg is right not to jump into bed with the likes of Lieberman. It may be fashionable in some quarters but it is certainly not morally right.  In fact there is no evidence that having Israel as an ally is in Britain’s interest. If the current Israeli government led by Netanyahu and Lieberman can and do treat their trusted benefactor the USA in such a shabby and disdainful manner, a British government will fare no better.

Clegg wants a break from the past complicity and appeasement. Already the knives are out for him because he would not rush to war with Iran in response to Israeli pressure and unverified claims. Whatever the circumstances, British support must be earned and not given gratis or upon the basis of misplaced loyalties to an aggressive, expansionist state. Stand firm Mr Clegg and you might be surprised come polling day.