The chairman of the Lib Dem Friends of Israel has said the drop in support for his party from Jews was “disproportionately higher” than the national average.
Recovering the Jewish community’s trust would now be a five-year battle, said Gavin Stollar, who lambasted the communal leadership for spending “undue time and attention” on anti-Israel MP David Ward.
The LDFI chairman provided the honest assessment in the wake of what former leader Nick Clegg called a “catastrophic” election result for the 130-year old party, as the Liberal Democrats won only eight seats in the new parliament.
Speaking to the Jewish News, Stollar echoed Clegg’s stark warning this week that the rise in nationalist instincts did not bode well. “Fear and grievance have won, liberalism has lost,” said Clegg. “People have reached for the politics of identity, of nationalism, of us versus them.”
Stollar said this should serve as “a worry” and a wake-up call for the community, saying: “Be careful what you wish for. There’s a rump of the Tory party which would not be ill at ease in UKIP. Nationalism is fine but we must remember where we come from. This ‘us and them’ would have included Jews in the past. Assimilation means we assume it no longer does, but we’d be naive to think that if the nationalistic effect continues it wouldn’t have an effect on our community.”
He added that the role of the Liberal Democrats was now to pursue a different line under a new leader, saying: “Jews and the liberal agenda are historically and contemporarily entwined, it’s a creed we need to promote.”
Asked about former Bradford East MP David Ward, Stollar said: “Undue communal time and attention was spent on him, it distracted the Jewish communal leadership and skewed how they view the party.”
On last summer’s temporary suspension of arms sales to Israel during the Gaza war, which many blamed on senior Lib Dem ministers Vince Cable and Nick Clegg, Stollar said it was “completely spun by the Tories.”
The LDFI chair said he spoke to former Business Secretary Vince Cable at the time. “He was shocked and stunned,” recalls Stollar. “He was on holiday when an automatic embargo was triggered. The Tory minister in the department didn’t want to put his name to it, so Vince got a message saying he had to sign it off. It was a storm in a teacup, the Conservatives totally misrepresented it.”
At a national level, ratings plummeted from 23 percent to 10 percent within six months of taking office in 2010, and Stollar admitted that “the drop in support among the Jewish community has been disproportionately higher than elsewhere,” adding: “It’s LDFI’s job to rebuild that trust and support over the next five years.”