Huhne: a boycott of Israel would be ‘illiberal’
CHRIS HUHNE, the second leadership candidate, backs faith schools, condemns attempts to boycott Israel as “fundamentally illiberal” and has the support of key Jewish party members. Hornsey and Wood Green MP Lynne Featherstone chairs his campaign.
Speaking to the JC on Tuesday, Mr Huhne was withering in his contempt for proponents of an academic boycott. “You cannot penalise an individual for the views of a state they may or may not be attached to or may be critical of,” he argued.
“The academic community in Israel has often been among the most critical of government policies... so a boycott penalises people who speak out within Israeli society.”
A Liberal Friends of Israel member whohasvisitedthecountryanumberof times, the Eastleigh MP and party environment, food and rural-affairs spokes- man supports a two-state solution. “I’m very aware that Israel is the only serious functioning democracy in the region and respects the human rights of its minority Palestinian population.
“There have been points where I felt Israel had gone too far — for example, some of the punitive action in Lebanon and Gaza. But I don’t think anyone shoulddoubtmycommitmenttothere being a safe and secure homeland in Israel for its population.”
The former economics journalist and City economist added that he had once devised a risk rating for Israel for investment. It was positive.
Asked about how he would have dealt with controversial comments about Israel from Baroness Tonge and MEP Chris Davies, he would say only that they had been “insensitive” and “unfortunate”, which they had “recognised afterwards”.
Pressed further, he replied: “I would not like to second-guess what leaders did at the time. There were a number of private conversations I was not privy to.” But he accepted that Mr Davies’s resignation as MEP leader and removal of the whip from Baroness Tonge were justified. “They were not appropriate remarks for anybody to make who is in a position representing the party.”
He also supported his party’s acting leader, Vince Cable, for boycotting the visit by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
“We have lacked a sense of gradation of our response to countries which violate human rights of their citizens,” he said, suggesting that it was “not wildly different from Burma” and citing issues such as “discrimination against women, torture and amputating limbs”.
While acknowledging the importance of trade, it was “unnecessary to gild the lily with the accolade of the sort we are offering”.
Of the king’s claims that Britain had ignored warnings of terror, Mr Huhne found “it hard to credit that our intelligence would not have checked out serious leads given to them by Saudi Arabia”.
In any case, “the means by which Sau- dis extract information are not always the most reliable, especially the use of torture”.
Expressingqualifiedsupportforfaith schools, Mr Huhne described them as “an attractive part of the public and private school systems, providing they do not become exclusive preserves of one faith or another and remain open to the community around them.
“If we proceed down the road to more Islamic faith schools, we don’t want them turning into madrassahs and becoming engines of intolerance.”
Having been on the parliamentary antisemitism inquiry, he had been “shocked” by the security measures required by Manchester King David School.
In such cases, schools should have “adequate support from the state to ensure security and not to eat into the legitimate public budget for education”.
Chris Huhne: backs faith schools