Questions to the Leader

LDFI asked both Leadership candidates Jo Swinson and Ed Davey a series of questions on issues of importance for LDFI and the Jewish community.

Here are their answers:

1. Due to a toxic culture of anti-Semitism running a-mock in the Labour Party, it is no longer the place for progressive, liberal, and pro-European Jews in the UK. Are the Liberal Democrats their natural home now? If so, why?

Ed Davey Yes – because we are not only progressive, liberal and pro-European, but we have and must always have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism. On the rare occasions any party member has expressed anti-Semite views, they have been disciplined, including being thrown out of the party. I hope Jewish people feel totally at home in the Liberal Democrats, and if they didn’t, for a second, I as Leader would want to know about it, and would expect any such concerns to be quickly and properly dealt with.

I sense that the anti-Semitism in the Labour Party comes from a section of the hard Left who for years have promulgated hate against Jewish people, and it appears these people are linked to Corbyn and his circle. I have never heard of any such grouping anywhere in or near our party. Therefore, I strongly believe we don’t have the toxic culture now within the Labour Party.

Jo Swinson The refusal of the Labour Party to act seriously and swiftly on anti-Semitism is disgraceful, the Panorama documentary reinforced what has become evident in recent years – the Labour Party’s leadership have allowed this toxic culture to survive and even thrive. I believe that the Liberal Democrats are the home for progressive, liberal pro-Europeans regardless of their faith, background, sexuality or otherwise, including the Jewish community.

As leader I want to make the Liberal Democrats the rallying point for a liberal movement to fight against the forces of nationalism, populism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. I want to make the Liberal Democrats the rallying point for a liberal movement that stands up and represents diversity, tolerance, and opportunity.

I believe the Liberal Democrats are the natural home for the Jewish community because our ethos and our work is underpinned by the values set out in our constitution. The Liberal Democrats have confronted anti-Semitism within our own party. As Leader I am committed to taking a zero tolerance approach to allegations of anti-Semitism and ensure the party acts decisively if issues do arise.

2. The Jewish community understand that you are not responsible for the views of individual members, but following Labour’s failure to deal with hundreds of complaints of racism, antisemitism and holocaust denial, what would you do if you heard of similar complaints within the Liberal Democrats while you were leader?

Jo Swinson There are clear processes in place to deal with complaints and I would ensure that those processed are followed in an efficient and transparent manner that can give confidence not just to those making the allegations but to the rest of the party. It is also crucial that we build a culture that is welcoming and open.

Ed Davey I would ask that the party’s disciplinary procedures are enacted as swiftly as possible, and I would make it clear that my strongly held view was that complaints as serious as racism, antisemitism and holocaust denial must be investigated rapidly, and if found to be true, must receive serious sanctions for those involved, given the gravity of the offence, and how diametrically opposed such views are to the values of Liberalism. While the Leader does not control the disciplinary procedures – and nor should he or she – they can and should strongly back up the processes.

3. In the last general Election Manifesto the Party said: “We will remain committed to a negotiated peace settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which includes a two-state solution. We condemn disproportionate force used by all sides. We condemn Hamas’ rocket attacks and other targeting of Israeli civilians. We condemn Israel’s continued illegal policy of settlement expansion, which undermines the possibility of a two-state solution. We support recognition of the independent State of Palestine as and when it will help the prospect of a two-state solution.” Would you make the same commitment in a General Election Manifesto now – if not, what would you change?

Ed Davey Yes

Jo Swinson Yes, I maintain this position, with the development that I believe the time is now right for the British Government to recognise the State of Palestine, in line with the party policy passed at Autumn Conference 2017.

4. You say you support the establishment of a two-state solution in the middle east between Israel and the Palestinian people, you therefore agree with the existence of the State of Israel and the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination. If so would you describe yourself as a Zionist?

Jo Swinson I wholeheartedly agree with the existence of the state of Israel and call on all States in the region which have not yet recognised the State of Israel to do so.

I am proud that the Liberal Democrats are committed to the universal liberal principles of human rights, democracy, international law and the self-determination of peoples, and as leader will work to make this a reality in all corners of the globe.

Ed Davey To be honest, I would avoid using the term Zionist about myself or in any context, as in my experience, it is a term that gets confused and abused. I absolutely recognise its historical meaning, and understand that if you believe in the right of Israel to exist, and the two-state solution, etc., there is a logical link to Zionism and in such a context, properly understood, I am clearly a Zionist.

But I fear that anti-semites have so often used the term “Zionist” as a term of abuse, that even people using the term with its proper meaning, can themselves be misunderstood.

I would be very open to a discussion with LDFI about the sensitivities of using the term, and to take advice, but from what I’ve observed it is such an abused term, I have tended to shy away from it.

5. The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has just been outlawed in Germany for being anti-Semitic, the movement is often awash with anti-Semitism in the UK too, do you think that widespread support of such groups, is beneficial for working towards peace?

Ed Davey I am not very familiar with the BDS movement – but I am absolutely against sanctions and boycotts against the State of Israel, as the BDS appears to campaign for, and I would not be surprised if this movement was riddled with anti-semites. While I do see a difference between criticising the Government of Israel as against Israel itself, too often these types of campaigns elide quickly into such anti-semitic positions. And when as a politician one has criticisms of Israel, or any country, it is important to stress the distinction between any Government and the country and people themselves.

For total transparency, I should add that I have always considered there may be a case for sanctions against produce from illegal settlements. As per party policy, I remain alarmed at the existence and continued expansion of illegal settlements, and I have always felt we needed to be stronger in criticising this aspect of the policy of Israeli Governments, not least to have greater credibility when we defend the Israeli Government from unfair and unwarranted attacks. The issue about such a narrow and focused sanction is its practicality, and to prevent it becoming a “thin end of the wedge” descent into wider and wrong anti-Israel sanctions. So I have been cautious, whilst understanding the case.

Jo Swinson I do not believe that the BDS movement does anything to help the peace process. It is counter-productive and simply adds fuel to a confrontational and aggressive narrative that those who do not want peace wish to build. I am opposed to boycotts but support the EU’s practice of ensuring goods made in the occupied territories are labelled as such to ensure transparency for consumers.

6. British Jewry are very fearful of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Prime Minister, in September 2018 40% of British Jews stated that they would consider leaving the UK if he entered No10 Downing Street. Irrespective of Brexit, would you help to prop up a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government, either in a coalition or in a supply and confidence arrangement similar to the Conservative Party and the DUP?

Jo Swinson I have been absolutely clear throughout the campaign that I would not enter into a Coalition with a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour party. Corbyn is a Brexiteer which makes coalition impossible and undesirable. His inability, at best to act on anti-Semitism within his party would make it impossible for me to work with him on a personal level in any sort of arrangement.

Ed Davey I will never support a Coalition or a supply and confidence arrangement with a Corbyn-led Labour Government.

7. Donald Trump is about to release details of his Middle East Peace Plan. Does Britain still have a part to play in the Middle East Peace Process? What can we do to influence change in the region?

Ed Davey If the UK has any role, it has clearly been downplayed and downgraded under the current Government due to its divisions and instability over Brexit. Britain ought to be playing a leading role, given our history and links. Both through our relations with the US and within the EU, we ought to be influencing change, but are at our weakest ever position to do that. Ditching Brexit, and working hard to re-establish our international credibility would be the first way to enable us to influence change – and we should then try to do that using good relations with all involved.

Jo Swinson Britain absolutely has a part to play in the future of the Middle East Peace Process. The so-called peace plan announced by the Trump administration in June failed to address the biggest challenges, including land, refugees and Palestinian independence, showing a critical lack of understanding. The UK Foreign Office is rightly the envy of the world and we should absolutely be putting the resources, expertise and diplomatic clout of the FCO at the service of this issue.

The Brexit vote sent a message to the world that Britain was retreating from the world stage, that we were pulling up the drawbridge and turning in on ourselves. My absolute priority is to Stop Brexit but even if that is achieved we must repair the damage that has been done to our reputation. To influence change in the region and re-engage with international, global issues in a meaningful way, I believe we must resource the Foreign Office and engage in forums at every level.

8. Do you support the Jewish community’s right to choose and take part in their cultural and religious practices such as kosher shechita slaughter and circumcision?

Jo Swinson I respect the religious traditions of the Jewish community. On circumcision I believe it must be done in a safe environment where the health and safety of the child is put first. I will continue to support the practice of shechita in this country and do not believe this is an area where party policy should change.

Ed Davey Yes

9. There are a number of thriving Jewish schools in the United Kingdom, what is your opinion on religious faith schools, and do you think there should be some sort of engagement initiative between faith schools and wider society?

Ed Davey As Leader, I would be bound to support the party policy on faith schools – though I am uncomfortable with some aspects of it.

I share the view that, overall, we should not be supportive of an expansion of faith schools at all – and our focus in terms of providing new school places should be on community schools and schools without faith-based admissions policies. To be clear, this would not rule out new faith-ethos schools, but would prevent new schools that selected based on faith.

Yet I do not share the view of party policy that existing faith schools should be forced by law to drop their faith-based admissions policies. While over time I would favour a gradual shift away from such policies, to a more integrated, multi-faith approach, I think it is misguided to drive through such an approach by mandate.

As a practising Christian, I see a role for faith in education. My big concern is however trying to build a society that recognises and celebrates difference together, rather than apart.

Jo Swinson This is an issue where views differ in the party, in the wider public and even within the Jewish and other faith communities as well. Freedom of choice and religious freedom is something I am committed to and Jewish schools clearly play a crucial role offering parents the right to choose. I am so glad to see that the question addresses the role faith schools should play in their communities. Faith schools have a valuable role to play in strengthening our communities understanding of other faiths and practices, there absolutely should be outreach from faith schools to make our communities more welcoming places.

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