By Charlotte Henry
Joining a political party rightly means compromise. However, it also means knowing what your key principles are. As a member of, and a candidate for, the Lib Dems, as well as a journalist commentating on the party, I was never able to compromise on its negative stance towards Israel.
I could never understand why they were called the Liberal Democrat party, but unequivocally failed to support the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.
Another foul message from Bradford MP David Ward, after the terrorist attack on a shul in Jerusalem on Tuesday, was the final straw for me. He has made repeated statements that I, and many Jewish News readers, would consider anti-semitic. Ward has received almost no sanction from his party previously, and nothing will happen to him this time either. As a result, I took the difficult step to leave the party.
As recently as May I was a candidate in the Childs Hill Ward of Barnet, which includes bits of Golders Green. Not surprisingly many Jewish residents of the area refused to vote for me or my fellow Jewish candidates, because they believed our party to be anti-semitic.
Not anti-zionist, not-anti Israel, but anti-semitic. How did a centrist, mainstream, political party get itself into such situation?
Many Lib Dems joined the party due to an admirable belief in human rights, and a determination to stick up for the ‘little guy’. As a result, they have often become misguided when considering Israel and the Middle East, not seeing the full story. Lib Dems all to frequently ignore the tiny size and vulnerability of Israel, and forget about the human rights of Israeli citizens to live their daily lives without being bombarded by Hamas missiles.
When I resigned, the Lib Dem’s told the Jewish News that they didn’t recognise the image I had portrayed of the party. They take closer look.
The lack of outrage from the Lib Dems at Ward’s comments tells you most of what you need to know. He, and previously Jenny Tonge, shared their vile views knowing there was some political cover, and even sympathy, for them in the party.
I have said before, and still believe, that the Lib Dems have a cultural blind spot over the Jewish community, and not enough is being done inside the party to turn this around. A perfect example is that just last month the party held their autumn party conference over Yom Kippur for the fourth consecutive year. That hardly makes them look sensitive or accessible to the Jewish community.
Add to all that how impossible it is to actually remove anyone from the Lib Dems, and you have a rather toxic cocktail.
There is no doubt that Nick Clegg, and the staff around him, abhor anti-semitism, in the same way they abhor all kinds of racism. Many of Clegg’s MPs feel the same. Indeed, for a lot of them them their entry point to politics was in campaigning against racism. Furthermore, Under Nick Clegg’s leadership Baroness Tonge has been removed from the Lib Dems, and he has personally sought to rebuild relations with the Jewish community.
Despite all that, incidents and outbursts keep happening, with little action taken. I have found it increasingly embarrassing to face Jewish friends and family and have to justify why I remained in the same party as David Ward and his defenders.
That said, issues around Israel weren’t the only reason I resigned. I have felt deeply uncomfortable with many of the goings on around the Lord Rennard scandal. There was an underlying misogyny to the the saga that I found profoundly depressing.
Furthermore, as I tried to unravel parts of it it as a journalist, I faced increasing criticism from party colleagues who wanted it all to just go away. They didn’t understand why the longterm benefit of telling the truth was more important than saving a political party from short term discomfort.
As with the Jewish issues, there is a grim determination by the Lib Dems to keep things “in the family” and hidden in the dark, when some sunlight would be a very useful disinfectant.
I’m quite sad to no longer be part of an organisation I believed in and fought for, but I could not stay when my membership felt like tacit acceptance of anti-semitism and misogyny. Ultimately, some things matter more than few votes, and the Lib Dems need to realise that.