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MEMO's open letter to the Deputy Prime Minister

Dear Mr. Clegg,

Were we wrong about you?

Your speech to the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel signalled the end of your relationship with the British electorate. It marked a pitiful about-turn from the solemn pledges you made during the election campaign. You now need to act in order to save your party from the ignominy of political extinction.

After the anger unleashed against you by 50,000 students for your support for increased university fees, which you had opposed previously, no one expected you to demonstrate any further contempt for the electorate. Little did we know; the Jewish Chronicle published your address to the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI) under the headline, "Clegg: we got it wrong". In the speech, you announced "an operation to clarify misunderstandings", which left many of your supporters questioning whether they could still trust you.

To give you an idea why the electorate is so incensed by your apparent deception, here is a reminder of what you wrote in your article "We must stop arming Israel" in January 2009. After accusing former Prime Minister Gordon Brown of "sitting on his hands", you affirmed:

"He must condemn unambiguously Israel's tactics…. The EU is by far Israel's biggest export market, and by far the biggest donor to the Palestinians. It must immediately suspend the proposed new cooperation agreement with Israel until things change in Gaza…"

Not only this, you also actually said that if the EU failed to suspend arms exports to Israel, "Brown must act unilaterally".

Now, contrast that with your statement to the LDFI last week: "I particularly believe the EU, as an economic superpower neighbouring Israel and Palestine, has a huge role to play to persuade both sides to take steps towards peace. The EU both can and should use its economic clout to put pressure on both sides; to encourage Israel to restrict its settlement building programme and to push all Palestinians into recognising Israel's right to exist."

Apparently, the thrill of holding high office has eroded your ability to focus, and it is clear that you have taken your eyes off the ball. Now the call is not for unambiguous pressure on Israel but on 'both sides', as if Israel's blockade of Gaza has been lifted and the humanitarian crisis there is over. Not surprisingly, you did not call for the dismantlement of the illegal apartheid wall and settlements, in accord with the International Court of Justice ruling of July 2004. You took the soft and politically spineless option of calling for Israel to be 'encouraged' to 'restrict' its settlement activity.

Many of those who voted for the Liberal Democrats in the last election did so after reading your election manifesto pledge to oppose inequality, promote human rights and "fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur…" Indeed, when your representative for Rochdale, Paul Rowen, addressed the 100,000 people who took part in the Gaza Rally in London in January 2009 he said: "I am here on behalf of Nick Clegg to show solidarity for the people of Palestine… I want to stop the massacre [by Israel]".

Those words now ring hollow, spectres from another world – the world of opposition. Just a few months into office, you now support the Tories' proposed change to the laws on universal jurisdiction, which will allow Israelis accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity to visit Britain without fear of prosecution. When you were in opposition, your party's policy on this was against "any watering down of the current legislation"; any changes, you claimed, would be as a result of a full judicial review.

In December 2009, 51 Lib Dem MPs – an overwhelming majority of your parliamentary party – signed Early Day Motion 502, which was tabled by Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn, which said 'that this House believes that universal jurisdiction for human rights abuses is essential as part of the cause of bringing to justice those who commit crimes against humanity and will oppose any legislation to restrict this power of UK courts.'

Since then, a new EDM, number 108, has been tabled reaffirming "That this House believes that universal jurisdiction for human rights abuses is essential as part of the cause of bringing to justice those who commit crimes against humanity and will oppose any legislation to restrict this power of UK courts."

While a few die-hards are inclined to excuse your economic shortcomings, fewer people are prepared to accept your about-turn on human rights and international law. We understand your dilemma; it is not easy to be a friend of Israel and a friend of justice. The treatment of the Palestinians by the Israelis is the epitome of injustice.

The people who voted for your party did so not least because of your party slogan "a vote for the Lib Dems is a vote for Gaza and the children of Gaza". Now it looks as if the electorate has been conned. There is a growing sense of betrayal, which arose when you turned down an invitation to address the Lib Dem Friends of Palestine event at the Party Conference recently, agreeing instead to deliver a keynote speech at the Friends of Israel fringe event.

As Deputy Prime Minister we must remind you of Britain's treaty obligation to seek out and prosecute those responsible for war crimes. To redeem yourself and your party you must now deliver unambiguously what you demanded from Gordon Brown, that the principles of international humanitarian law must also apply to the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Herein lies your dilemma; you must decide what is most important to you, and choose to be either a friend of Israel or a friend of justice. You cannot be both. We believe that all war crime allegations should be investigated properly and there should be no immunity for anyone found guilty. Sometimes you have to be honest to your friends when they do wrong; covering up their wrongdoing is not friendship, it's complicity in their crimes. Be firm, and stand up for justice, and prove that we were not wrong about you and your party.

Please feel free to write your own letter to the Deputy Prime Minister at the following addresses:

Nick Clegg,
House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA
Email: [email protected]

If you are a constituent in Sheffield Hallam, you can write to him at the following addresses:

Nick Clegg
85 Nethergreen Rd,
Sheffield, S11 7EH

Email: [email protected]  or [email protected]

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