Huhne: a boy­cott of Is­rael would be ‘il­lib­eral’

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY RACHEL FLETCHER

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”.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Chris Huhne: backs faith schools

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