Once again the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel have taken the opportunity to ask both Lib Dem leadership candidates, Sir Ed Davey MP and Layla Moran MP, a series of questions relating to Israel, the Middle East and matters of importance to the British Jewish community.
1. Beyond sacking Rebecca Long-Bailey from the Shadow Cabinet, what would Sir Keir Starmer and the Labour Party have to do to prove to you that they have eradicated the scourge of antisemitism and harassment that festered in the party under Jeremy Corbyn's leadership?
Ed Davey (ED): Labour have a long way to go to prove antisemitism has been rooted out and to rebuild the trust they lost in the Jewish community. A key moment will be how all parts of the Labour Party respond to the EHRC Report due to be published in the Autumn. It won’t be just the acceptance of the report’s recommendations, it will be implementation that matters. Yet to be fair, I think Keir Starmer has taken the correct stance with what he has said and done so far.
Layla Moran (LM): A single sacking is not evidence enough that Labour is on top of its antisemitism problem. While I am encouraged by Keir's decisive action in removing Long-Bailey, as you point out in your question, Labour's antisemitism problem was apparent at all levels of the party. I will need to see far more public commitment to clearing the rot and more action from the Labour Party's NEC and General Secretary in handling antisemitism and removing members who hold these views.
2. The Jewish community understands that you are not responsible for the views of individual members. But following Labour’s continued failure to deal with hundreds of complaints of racism, antisemitism, and Holocaust denial even now, what would you do if you heard of similar complaints within the Liberal Democrats while you were leader?
ED: As a party, we must have zero tolerance for antisemitism, and that is the stance I will take as leader. It has stained the Labour Party and I would never accept it staining us in the same way. One of Labour’s obvious failings was allowing too much external meddling in what should have been independent complaint processes. It is vital Liberal Democrats have strong investigatory and disciplinary procedures, capable of taking the right action even when that may be politically uncomfortable.
LM: I will do everything in my power to make sure that antisemitism has no chance to fester in our party. We need to make sure that the party's institutions are capable of dealing with these cases when they come up. These views must be condemned outright, and we must have our own house in order.
3. The Party's 2019 General Election Manifesto said the Party will: “Officially recognise the independent State of Palestine, condemn violence on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and support Israel’s right to security. We remain committed to a negotiated peace settlement, which includes a two-state solution." Do you make the same commitment now?
ED: Yes. That manifesto extract describes my own personal views well, and reflects our party’s longstanding approach.
LM: Yes, I remain committed to recognising the state of Palestine, condemning violence on all sides, and working towards a negotiated peace settlement resulting in a two-state solution. The two-state solution is in a very vulnerable position at the moment, and it's critical that we give it a lifeline.
4. You say you support the establishment of a two-state solution in the Middle East between Israel and the Palestinian people. Do 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 therefore describe yourself as a Zionist?
ED: I absolutely agree with the existence of the State of Israel and the right to self-determination, and I would urge any country that does not recognise Israel to do so. I also believe that it is time for our Government to join others in recognising the State of Palestine. Those recognitions can help us begin to move forward. I’ve been in politics too long to know that labels like “Zionist” are too open to misinterpretation, especially given the different schools of thought within Zionism, and one needs to be careful and specific in defining what you mean. But I am totally clear in my support for the existence of Israel and right of self-determination and that I share the same approach to these matters as many Zionists.
LM: I believe in Israel's right to exist, with the same rights of self-determination as any other nation, and firmly support a two-state peaceful solution. However, while this is entirely consistent with Zionist beliefs, it isn’t something I call myself specifically as a word.
5. The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement has just been outlawed in Germany for being anti-Semitic. The BDS movement is often awash with antisemitism in the UK too. Do you think that support for these types of groups is beneficial for working towards peace and a two-state solution?
ED: Any group that promotes or fosters antisemitism is working against peace and a two-state solution. The risk is we perpetuate the aggression and entrenchment on both sides, which creates barriers to establishing peace.
LM: As with many political circles, unfortunately, the BDS movement does have issues with antisemitism which should be condemned. Any kind of pro-Palestinian group which dabbles in antisemitism is working against a peaceful two-state solution. I would like to reiterate what I said in the Guardian in 2019, ‘to all the vile anti-Semites out there: clear off from the Palestinian quest for freedom and justice. Take your odious Jew-hatred elsewhere and do not think for one second that your views help champion Palestinian rights’. With regards to boycotts themselves, I believe that this should be a personal choice, not a state-mandated one. Boycotts hurt everyone involved, and I’d much rather the illegal settlements were not there at all!
6. Similarly, to the LDFI, you have publicly stated your opposition to President Trump's Middle East Peace Plan and Prime Minister Netanyahu's proposed annexation of the West Bank. However, do you also believe that the Palestinians need to denounce violent forms of opposition to Israeli occupation and come to the negotiating table, willing to make a long-lasting peace?
ED: Violence and the breach of international law will never provide the answers to the challenges we face, and that is true whichever side perpetrates it. It will require everyone to come to the negotiating table, with clear public statements that violence in all its forms must stop and that everyone is totally committed to delivering a long-lasting peaceful two-state solution. To build confidence during any peace process, all sides need to demonstrate their commitment to a non-violent future.
LM: I believe that politicians on both sides need to denounce any kind of disproportionate use of force and the killing and targeting of innocents by their own side. I oppose acts of terror in the name of ending the occupation and believe that both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership should agree to commencing peace negotiations without preconditions. It is important that citizens (and diaspora) on each side are not held accountable for the actions of their respective governments.
7. It is said by many in Israel (on the right and left) that there is "no partner for peace". The last Palestinian Presidential elections took place in 2005. Do you support calls for new Presidential Elections to provide a mandate for a new President with the legitimacy and energy to kick start peace negotiations with Israel?
ED: Yes. The inability of Fatah and Hamas to agree to elections has been frustrating, and it is important that all sides do everything they can to enable such elections to take place. From ensuring the security of those elections to enabling Palestinians in Jerusalem to vote, all the barriers that have been put in the way of the elections must be removed as soon as possible.
LM: Yes, there should be elections in Palestine. Nobody should have a 15-year mandate. The authoritarian, antisemitic and homophobic Hamas won the election in Gaza and in true dictatorial fashion, they have outlawed elections. I have publicly condemned Hamas and made clear they do not speak for me or my values.The President of the Palestinian National Authority, the internationally recognised head of the government in Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has been the official leader of the Palestinian people since 2005. If a future State of Palestine is to prove itself as a respected member of the international community it must hold free, fair and transparent elections, as they become a beacon of democracy to the wider Middle East. It saddens me to see my ancestral home being run in this way and I cannot wait until the day that Palestine can be a free and vibrant democracy.
8. Does Britain, outside of the European Union and at odds with Donald Trump's Peace Plan still have a part to play in the Middle East Peace Process? What can we do to influence change in the region?
ED: While one of the many negative impacts of Brexit is the diminution in our ability to influence internationally alongside our European partners, Britain still has a standing in the world and absolutely we have a role to play in the peace process. We may need to find new ways to exercise our diplomatic influence, but we must not allow our interest, involvement and role to be eliminated. The need for peace talks remains so important.
LM: Absolutely we have a part to play in the Peace process. Even outside of the European Union we should be working closely with the EU on shared goals. We should be ready and prepared to engage with a new US President. But recognition by the UK of a Palestine as a state would make a major contribution - giving a much-needed boost to Palestinian hopes and starting to re-energise hopes for peace. Palestinian statehood will require democratic elections as stated and a collective return to the negotiation table.
9. The Liberal Democrats had a large presence at London's Pride Parade last year. The only country in the Middle East that celebrates Pride Month is Israel, with Tel Aviv's Pride Parade hosting over a quarter of a million people each year making it the largest pride parade in the whole of Asia. If elected Leader, do you feel this side of Israeli democracy should be discussed and acknowledged more often in UK political debate?
ED: We should support, protect and defend LGBT+ rights everywhere in the world, and it is fantastic that Tel Aviv is home to such a well-attended Pride festival. There are many positive sides of Israeli democracy and contribution to the world that get ignored due to the ongoing conflict, and of course they should be acknowledged.
LM: I think it would be healthy to give more attention to the civil society of both Israel and Palestine. Thinking of either country as nothing more than one-dimensional international actors who only exist in the context of conflict is wrong-headed. Where there is good and where there is progress, we should celebrate it.
10. 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?
ED: Absolutely, yes. It wouldn’t make me a very good liberal if I denied the right of a particular community to engage in the practices of their culture!
LM: As a liberal, I believe these issues, true matters of conscience, are not for me to decide. It is up to the particular individual or community to determine if they support kosher slaughter and circumcision. I will work closely with LDFI on such matters as I recognise their sensitivity.
11. 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: I have long taken the view that we should not increase the number of schools where admission to the school is based on faith, though I do think all faiths should be taught and experienced during any child’s education. And as a Christian myself, I strongly believe in faiths engaging with society. The thorny question for any party like our own, that is clear that it does not want to expand the existing number of schools who select based on faith, is what do you do about existing faith schools? I am clear that it would be wrong to abolish such schools. My approach would be to engage over time with all faith schools, to discuss how their role in their community and wider society could become ever more inclusive.
LM: I am supportive of faith schools so long as they are not faith exclusive. I don't believe that any form of division is beneficial for children. Children need to interact with people from all sorts of different backgrounds and faiths. I am supportive of faith schools being proactive participants in society and their local community.
12. Would you be the first sitting Liberal Democrat Leader to join a delegation to the Middle East which included visiting the State of Israel?
ED: I would be keen to visit the region again, including Israel.
LM: I’d love to be!