Israel Diplomats Breathe Sigh of Relief at Clegg's Poor Poll Showing

Analysis / It is unclear how diplomatic ties will unfold under Britain's new government, but the candidate from the party perceived as toughest on Israel will certainly not hold the reins of power.

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Sighs of relief will have been heard in Israel's London embassy on Friday morning as it emerged that Britain's Liberal Democrat party had failed to capitalize on a surge in pre-election opinion polls.

Nick Clegg, leader of the U.K. Liberal Democrats, May 7, 2010Credit: Getty

With nearly all the votes counted, the 'Lib Dems' languished on 56 seats in the U.K.'s 650-seat legislature, far behind the Conservatives with 301 and the incumbent Labour party with 255.

Despite claims by the party's leader, Nick Clegg, of his support for Israel, both Israel's foreign ministry and Britain's Jewish community continue to harbor suspicions over his party, whose members have called for sanctions against Israel and dialogue with Hamas.

Many British Jews are still angry with Clegg for not expelling from the party Jenny Tonge, a veteran parliamentarian who has sympathized with suicide bombers and recently called for an investigation into allegations Israel had stolen human organs during an earthquake rescue mission to Haiti.

Nor has Clegg himself steered clear of controversy. Last year he used a speech at an anti-Semitism conference to ask: "Is the idea of Israel as a Jewish state something new?" Even if he continues to back Israel publicly, it will not alter the fact that of the three major parties, his is seen as most hostile to Israel and most willing to appease Britain's Muslim community.

Conservatives or Labour: Which is best for Israel?

Once the dust settles, it is likely that the center-right Conservatives will replace center-left Labour at the head of a new government – with or without the support of Clegg's party in a coalition. Yet it is unclear whether this would improve Jerusalem's ties with Downing Street.

Gordon Brown loses no opportunity to explain how from early childhood he absorbed a love for Israel from his father, a Christian clergyman and declared Zionist. On the other hand, he has not fulfilled a promise to change a law that sanctions the arrest of senior Israelis on war crimes charges during visits to the U.K. He has also been a leading advocate of a ban on exports from settlements to the European Union.

That said, it is clear that with his departure, Israel would lose a loyal friend, who throughout his career fostered close relations with both Israel and Britain's Jews.

Would Israel find a new ally in a Conservative government? The party's leader, David Cameron, has often expressed support for Israel – but perhaps not with the same conviction as Gordon Brown, or the current prime minister's predecessor, Tony Blair.

Cameron has been a proud critic of Israel's building in East Jerusalem and his shadow chancellor, William Haig, was surprisingly vehement in denouncing Israeli tactics in the 2006 Lebanon war, which he called "disproportionate".

But Israel is not without stalwart friends in the Conservative party. Foremost among them the party's leading ideologue, Michael Gove. Some of the views expressed in his speeches and opinion articles over the past few years would put the mainstream Likud to shame.



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