Time to do away with Lib Dem Friends of Israel and Friends of Palestine

Why, in a liberal and democratic party that “seeks to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community”, do we allow two groups to flourish in the party, when they should share a common aim? I refer of course the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine and Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel.

Let me be clear and open. I have Israeli nationality and look back fondly on the ten years of my life spent living in Israel. That doesn’t mean I am uncritical of the Israeli governments, past and present, and of many of the actions and policies they have implemented over the years. I have been calling for a two state solution for nearly 40 years since I first saw at first hand the degradation and suffering in the refugee camps in Gaza. The occupation of Palestine harms both the occupied and the occupiers.

Over the years, I have been cheered by the advances towards a peace settlement and dismayed at the many – far too many – setbacks. I am not going to blame either side more than the other. Both have shown short sightedness and at times done their best to avoid making the hard choices needed. It is far too easy to be partisan and to always blame one side or the other for setbacks, or for actions that feed the fear and de-humanising nature of the occupation.

As a party we should be encouraging the voices in both Israel and Palestine that call for peace and reconciliation, not having separate groups within the party that act as flag bearers for their side and seem to only want to point out the failing of the other.

I have spoken to both friends groups about having joint fringe meetings at conferences. I’ve asked about bringing in speakers from groups like the One Voice Movement, Project Yala and others. These speakers could show how groups on the ground are working to try to bring about peace between people on both sides to demonstrate to the politicians in both countries that it can be done. I have asked why the two friends groups don’t show true liberal spirit and combine and work together to work towards peace in a troubled area. Neither side seemed to be too interested, in my opinion they seem to want to remain in the certainty of their own position and lay all the blame on the other side.

My suggestion to the Federal Party would be to withdraw recognition from both groups until they can realise that they can better forward their aims, a free Palestine on one side and a secure Israel on the other, by showing the benefit of cooperating and working together. By doing this they might even set an example the politicians in Palestine and Israel can follow.

* Leon Duveen is a Liberal Democrat activist in Worksop, Nottinghamshire

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41 Comments

  • Daniel Henry 25th Oct '13 - 3:18pm

    Good point.
    Rather than having separate groups that take sides, a single group that focus’ on the solution would be much more effective.

    I could see an internal debate taking place, though.
    Should there be a two state solution, or should there be a single state, with dual nationality, giving all people in the country the same rights under law?

  • Bob Browning 25th Oct '13 - 3:29pm

    The two-state solution died many years ago. The chances of a proper Palestinian State with secure borders and its own defence force are zero. The best this can ever come to is a UN-approved apartheid which is not a viable long-term solution.

    Let’s hear it for the one-state solution. Many of the issues that they are grappling with become straightforward civil rights issues.

  • Paul Twigger 25th Oct '13 - 3:31pm

    Whilst the two groups have similar aims as you describe, they are not one issue groups. Instead, their interests are varied and do not necessarily correlate; therefore merging the groups would not work.

  • Nonconformistradical 25th Oct '13 - 4:33pm

    Leon – your link to the LibDem Friends of Palestine website is actually pointing to the LibDem Friends of Isreal site…

  • Ed Shepherd 25th Oct '13 - 5:50pm

    This is the most sensible article on this subject that I have read for a very long time.

  • Joseph Bourke 25th Oct '13 - 6:08pm

    Good points all, leon.

    If the friends of Israel and Palestine cannot demonsrtate the benefit of speaking with a unified voice on shared ains – what hope for a lasting settlement in that troubled land.

  • Agreed.

  • Leon Duveen 25th Oct '13 - 7:22pm

    Firstly apologies for getting the link to Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine wrong, the correct link is “http://www.ldfp.eu/”
    Now to respond to the other points raised here.
    It is my opinion that the only way a single state solution will work is by the expulsion of most of one or the other of the peoples as neither of them want to be subjected to the other and, in a single state;, one people would be a majority and the other people would not trust the majority to rule in the interest of both sides. Perhaps after a long period of living side by side as neighbours Israel & Palestine could learn to develop the trust needed and this could lead to more cooperation but for now it is a non-starter. In the event of such an expulsion, the level of violence and destruction needed would be horrendous and create yet another refugee crisis and a displaced people full of resentment and vowing to “liberate” their homeland.
    Given this, the only solution left is a two state solution and this has to be based on Israel giving up the area conquered in 1967 to allow a Palestinian state to be established. This will be very tough for many Israelis to accept but, I believe, the majority would be prepared to do so if it really meant a peaceful future for their children. Similarly many Palestinians will have to give up on returning to their family homes in the towns & villages they lived pre-1948, also a tough and demanding requirement. We, as a progressive political party, should do all we can to support both sides in facing these demanding decisions.
    This brings me to why I want the two Friends groups to combine. Too much of their effort seems to go in showing how bad the other side in and why the nation they support deserves our support at the expense of the other. However there can only be a secure Israel when there is a free Palestine & there can only be a free Palestine when Israel can feel secure. The two objectives rely on each other; therefore to be a friend of Palestine means you must be a friend of Israel and vice versa.
    We can spend at lot of time arguing of past rights & wrongs but it is the future we can influence. Let us show how pro-Israeli & pro-Palestinians can work together for the benefit of both sides.

  • paul barker 25th Oct '13 - 8:52pm

    This is one of those ideas that is so obvious once its been said that one wonders why no-one said it before. What neither side needs is more cheerleaders.

  • Michael Seymour 26th Oct '13 - 9:01am

    Anyone who sees the diminishing map of Palestine land will see the outrageous behaviour of the Israeli’s defying international law and doing their best to destroy a nation. If any other country did this there would be sanctions at the very least, or no fly zones instituted. We just let it go on, with weak and hardly concerned complaints.

  • While I am cynical anyone in the party higher-ups would dare say this, I am not against it in principle. We just have to make sure that our reasons for doing it are clear.

  • Paul Twigger 26th Oct '13 - 10:33am

    I agree that the two groups should speak with one voice on this issue, as they both want the same thing. However cooperation, not a merger, would be more appropriate as each group campaigns on many more issues and needs to retain their independent voices.

  • One thing is certain; the plight of innocent Palestinians caught up in the conflict deserves more attention than it gets; Personally I am neutral pro Palestinian and prepared to work with those who are neutral pro-Israel with a common aim but I worry that partisans on both sides would not go along with this

  • Bob Browning 26th Oct '13 - 2:57pm

    The two-state solution is at this point a non-starter. The Israelis will never accept a viable self-governing Palestinian state on their borders. A state with membership of the UN, with its own army and air force, is just never going to happen. Any Palestinian state that results from any negotiating process will be in effect a bantustan with very limited powers. Even then the state would be split geographically between Gaza and the West Bank, and we know how well that worked with East and West Pakistan. The Palestinian people may accept that today, (possibly), but the sense of injustice would continue and one day erupt again. (A three-state solution???)

    A one-state solution is more difficult, sure, but stands the best chance of long-term viability. There are examples of viable states with different communities. Even the Lebanon, before a large number of Palestinian refugees were dumped on them. They had a constitution that split the offices of state between Christian and Muslim communities. It is possible.

    However a one-state solution needs a complete change of mind-set by both communities, and maybe that is not possible.

    Israel is the last European colonisation project. They have resulted in total domination of the natives (USA, Australia), some attempt to live together in mutual respect (South Aftrica, New Zealand) or perpetual struggle (Northern Ireland). If the one-state solution won’t fly then I am afraid our great grandchildren will be wringing their hands and asking if there is a solution to the age-old problem of the Middle East.

  • Martin Gentles 26th Oct '13 - 6:31pm

    Agree with the poster. Perhaps the two groups should consider merging?

  • Leon Duveen says, ‘The occupation of Palestine harms both the occupied and the occupiers’. On the face of it this might appear correct. However, any rational and objective assessment shows there is a huge imbalance between the harm done to Palestinians and anything that might be described as harm done to the illegal occupying forces of the Israelis. Any good Liberal Democrat should be highly sceptical of any suggestion that the situation is “balanced”.

    To improve understanding of the current situation in Palestine people should read Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Road to Freedom’. Then ask yourself if Mandela should have gone for a two state solution in South Africa.
    As Bob Browning says – Any Palestinian state that results from any negotiating process will be in effect a bantustan with very limited powers. In the years before 1990 the problem in Apartheid South Africa was not a problem between Apartheid and black and brown people, the problem was Apartheid.

    Israel continues with acts which are in contravention of UN resolutions, international agreements and international law. Israel continues to trample on the human rights of Palestinians . The problem is not between Israel and Palestine. The problem is Israel. And the problem within the Liberal Democrats is that when people like Jenny Tonge and David Ward speak out on the issue, the people at the top of the party behave as if they were lobbyists working for Israel.

  • Elliot Bidgood 27th Oct '13 - 11:42pm

    Very interesting and well argued. I’m a Labour Party member and I’ve often thought the same about the LFI/LFP groups in my party as well – both are nominally committed to a two-state solution, yet insist on lobbying against each other. If a pro-Palestinian British Lib Dem/Labour member and a pro-Israeli British Lib Dem/Labour member – two people who have both nationality and membership of the same niche organisation in common and are thus clearly united by far more than what divides them – cannot work together constructively, that doesn’t say much about the prospects for the actual Israelis and Palestinians to ever agree. People here should lead by example.

  • Bob Browning. Why should Israel trust the Arab World, based upon the history since the 1930s?

  • In response to Geoffrey Payne’s comments, yes that is a list of questions that need answering but those answers need to be worked out by both pro-Israel & pro-Palestine Lib Dems. That is why one organisation working to promote a just & peaceful solution for both sides makes more sense than having two separate groups each trying to promote their point of view from their side of the argument.,

  • Helen Dudden 28th Oct '13 - 10:04pm

    For many years the subject of Israel has been complex..

    For those of us who believe in a religion older than time itself, I have felt there has been blame placed on those who simply do just that.

    I believe in freedom and justice .

  • Leon, I think you should table the proposal ” the Federal Party to withdraw recognition from both groups until they can realise that they can better forward their aims by showing the benefit of cooperating and working together” as a motion at our Regional Conference this Saturday

  • Charlie 28th Oct ’13 – 1:06am
    Bob Browning. Why should Israel trust the Arab World, based upon the history since the 1930s?

    Well that all depends on what you mean by ‘the Arab World’. It is a phrase that might be used by some to conjure up an entirely false impression of the people of Palestine. If instead you talked about ‘the Mediterranean World’ that might give a different impression.

    Propagandists for an expansionist jewish settler programme often use the term ‘the Arab World’ as if everyone in the region rides around on a camel like extras from the film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’.
    The phrase ‘the Arab World’ can be a convenient shorthand t demonise any group of people other than jewish Israelis.

    If you re-phrased your question to ‘Why should Israel trust the Palestinians?’ the answers might be obvious.

    The history of the eastern Mediterranean since the 1930s reveals extraordinary change. In Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt there have been huge demographic and political changes. Egypt is today a very different place from the strange sort of half colony of Britain that it was in the 1930s and 40s. Indeed, Egypt is a very different place from the country it was only a few years ago and who knows where it is heading.
    Greece and Cyprus are member states of the EU and their citizens will like us be voting in the European Parliament elections next year. Turkey has long ago applied to join the EU.
    This group of eastern Mediterranean countries is the group to which Palestine belongs. It has suited some people to demonise the people of Palestine over the last 80 years by pretending that Palestinians are different, inferior, uncivilised and undeserving of the right to live in their own homes in their own country.
    There has been a staggering improvement in the economic and social environment of ordinary people in these countries during this time. Many ordinary Palestinians have not had the chance to share in these improvements because of the disaster that has been visited on them by a huge influx of people from Europe, the USA and other parts of the world. These people have moved into Palestine since the 1930s and have imposed a state and a military occupation which denies Palestinians basic human rights in their own country.

    It is amazing that there was ever an organisation in the Liberal Democrats devoted to being friends of the people who have imposed this state of affairs on the Palestinians.

  • In trying to find a just & equitable solution for both Palestine & Israel, we are faced with a problem. Do we dwell on the past and drag up all the actions by both sides (and there are many on both sides going back nearly 100 years) that are potential sources of conflict or do we recognise that there is both right and wrong on both sides and that without forgetting the pain that has gone before, work to make sure that such pain stays where it belongs, in the past?
    I don’t pretend it will be easy but both sides need to be prepared to make sacrifices and hard choices. As onlookers from a safe distance the least we as a party can do is show that we recognise this. We can start by showing how it is possible for Friends of Palestine & Friends of Israel to unite and support the work being done to promote dialogue & understanding, If we are not prepared to do this, all we do is to show the extremists on both sides that they are right and that there is no alternative to to hatred & violence.

  • Leon Duveen asks – Do we dwell on the past and drag up all the actions by both sides (and there are many on both sides going back nearly 100 years) that are potential sources of conflict or do we recognise that there is both right and wrong on both sides.

    Once again this frames the question as if there is balance; as if the Israelis are suffering as much as the Palestinians. Even if you forget about the past it is what is happening today in Palestine that shows hw unbalanced the suffering is.

    Today FOUR MILLION Palestinians are registered as refugees by the UN.
    Today Gaza is blockaded so that medical supplies cannot get through.
    Today new settlers are moving illegally onto Palestine property with the full might of the Israeli military supporting them. This is in contravention of UN resolutions and international agreements signed up to by the Israeli Government.
    Today a concrete wall as high as a house separates Palestinians from their land, their jobs and their coastline.
    Today Palestinians will be searched, delayed and humiliated at military checkpoints as they try to go about their businesses, try to visit hospital, try to go to college.

    Is it not ironic that Leon who describes himself as an Israeli citizen asks us not to drag up the past? The last public statement made by Bertrand Russell a couple of days before he died in 1970 was on the subject of Israel – he said “to invoke the horrors of the past to justify those of the present is gross hypocrisy”; he was condemning the bombing of a neighbouring country by Israel. How often has Israel bombed neighbouring countries since 1970, how often have they bombed innocent civilians and children in Gaza? The Israeli government continues to this day to justify their illegal actions by reference to the past, sometimes to the past of biblical mythology. The state of Israel is funded on dragging up the past, it is the raison d”etre of Israel. How else do they justify what they do to the Palestinians today?

    By the way I am not a member of either of these Friends organisations. But I agree with Geoff Crocker that the motivation for this suggestion of combining the two organisations would appear to be bury support for the Palestinians within the party. Is that perhaps because the Friends of Palestine group is growing in support and influence whilst the Friends of Israel group is declining and only exists on funding from outside party from sources whose interests and agenda are contrary to those of the Liberal Democrats?

  • I notice that an advertisement for TOURISM iN ISRAEL appears in this list f contributions.
    It has the slogan – Israel: One place, Endless possibilities.

    Unless of course you are a Palestinian. How many Palestinians do you think are welcomed to Israel as tourists?

  • Leon Duveen 29th Oct '13 - 7:42pm

    Jon Tilley, at the end of the Second World war, millions of ethnic Germans were expelled from or leftvarious countries around Europe, from their homes where they had lived for generations and left as penniless refugees (Flight and expulsion of Germans (1944–50)) yet no-one is now calling for these people to return to their homes . Instead they have been integrated into the countries they ended up in (most West Germany at the time) and are now part of that country.
    After the 1948 war when Israel was created as the result of a UN resolution, about 800,000 Palestinians were displaced from what became Israel (1948 Palestinian exodus). Instead of absorbing them and accepting the outcome of the war, the neighbouring Arab countries left these refugees to fester in camps , reliant in UNWRA for aid, where it is no surprise, a deep sense of resentment has grown.
    At the same time, a similar number of Jews were also encouraged/forced to leave Arab counties were they had lived for generations, mostly penniless, and to become refugees (Jewish exodus from Arab and Muslim countries). Over ¼ million end up in Israel where they were absorbed and fully integrated.
    As I said, there have been wrongs done by both side, from incursions by IDF leading to massacres in Arab villages, to massacres carried out by terrorists/freedom fighters of civilians in Israel. Yes, the conditions in which many Palestinians live in the areas occupied by Israel since 1967 is appalling and needs to be changed. However, unless both sides are willing to realise that not all the right is on their side and are willing to make compromises, often painful and not without danger, the only outcome will be more violence and more pain for more Palestinians & more Israelis. I do not want this. I do not want more bereaved parents from either side, more orphans, more lives waste and more reasons for hatred.
    We need to break the cycle of each side waving their hurts as if that gives them more rights than the other, we need to break down the barriers that divide and breed hatred & mistrust. This is why I believe that as Liberal Democrats we lead the way here in the UK to show what can be done if we stop seeing the problem from one side or the other but one where by contact, discussion, even diplomacy, the hatred & mistrust can begin to be broken down and a real, just & lasting settlement can be found. We can start by doing that in our own party
    We cannot change the past, what has happened has happened. There are now, for good or for bad, two nations in the area of the Palestinian mandate. We can either find the way to let both nations life in peace with each other or condemn the area to more violence.

  • If Palestinians want their people back from Israeli incarceration then they have to hand over more land to jewish settlers. What some media might report as a step towards peace begins to look more like another land grab and a further diminution of Palestinian land.

    From The Jerusalem Post – today 30 October 2013

    Netanyahu to advance east Jerusalem construction as ‘compensation’ for prisoner release

    Prime Minister Netenyahu announces four building projects in conjunction with Israel’s release of 26 long-serving Palestinian prisoners; says gov’t to okay tenders for 1,500 housing units over Green Line in Ramat Shlomo.

  • Leon Duveen 30th Oct '13 - 9:21am

    John, you have fallen into the trap that so many fall into, getting bogged down in the tit for tat condemnation of this or that act. What Netenyahu is doing is wrong, it is a short tem political fix to shore up his support base but won’t help move the peace talks on. However do not confuse what the israeli Government with the Israeli people, the majority of who want a peace solution. Similarly, The PLA, Fatah & Hamas are not the same as the Palestinian people, where again, opinion polls show that there is support for a peace solution.
    This is why we need to move from on separate support groups, one for each side, pointing fingers at the wrongs by the other, to a single group ready to support those that want peace and ready to condemn those that work against it, irrespective of whether they are Israeli or Palestinian.

  • As I initially read this I began to agree, and certainly I can see the genuine sentiment being expressed here.

    But, in the end, I don’t agree with this.

    First it is pretty illiberal to tell two two special interest groups that they can’t exist unless they can join up.

    Second, forget the past, what is happening right now is that the Israeli state is breaking international law. it really is that simple.

    I take the point about breaking down incredibly complex histories and distrust, but really, we cannot muddy the water on the current illegal actions of the Israeli state.

  • >>>John, you have fallen into the trap that so many fall into, getting bogged down in the tit for tat condemnation of this or that act.<<<
    I don't think John has. He is just quoting examples of the injustices that Palestinians suffer on a day to day basis.

    You are right, there are faults on both sides, and outrages from both sides. But it is not equal. I don't see refugee camps with hundreds of thousands of Jews with very basic living conditions. The idea that these refugees should just have been 'absorbed' by neighbouring countries having been forcibly ejected from their homes by a form of ethnic cleansing is too outrageous to comment on.

    One thing you have right though, in my opinion. The egg cannot be unscrambled. In my view the establishment of the state of Israel was one of the big mistakes of the twentieth century, But it happened. We have to start with where we are. What steps are needed (in my not so humble opinion)?

    1. Both sides to participate in a truth and reconciliation process to acknowledge the faults of the past and put them behind us.
    2. Forget the two-state solution, it is a fiction.
    3. Negotiate the constitution of a secular, federal state of Israel-Palestine
    4. The provinces either primarily Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, but the elections to the federal government gerrymandered to give no one community a built-in majority. There are a bunch of other safeguards that can be made.

    And yes, lets have a 'Friends of Israel-Palestine group. But I suspect we will need a truth and reconciliation process of our own.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 30th Oct '13 - 9:07pm

    Leon outlines some very interesting thoughts that ‘The Friends of…’ may find beneficial to consider. I have always had a great concern about who ‘The Friends of…’ are actually friends of, the State or the people?

  • According to the BBC there have during the last 48 hours been Israeli military attacks on both Syria (Israeli aircraft bombing Syria) and Gaza (Israeli tanks killing Palestinians).

    So is this what is mean by a “two state solution’? That Israel is allowed to attack two states at the same time?

  • Leon Duveen – you fall into the common trap of painting an equivalence between the powerless occupied and the occupier. The Israelis can have peace any day they choose by accepting the Arab Peace Plan but instead are ethnically cleansing Area C of the west Bank. As for the non-viability of a one state isn’t this an interesting quote?

    “We have lived together in peace for centuries. And if Netanyahu were to ask if we can live together in one state, I would say to him: “If we have exactly the same rights as Jews to come to all of Palestine. If Khaled Meshaal and Ramadan Shalah can come whenever they want, and visit Haifa, and buy a home in Herzliyah if they want, then we can have a new language, and dialogue is possiblea”

    Ramadan Shalah – Islamic Jihad. But that’s the (more or less) powerless dispossessed speaking.

  • Sally Fitzharris 6th Nov '13 - 1:39pm

    Leon Duveen gives the classic opt out of those who while no doubt deploring the actions of the Israeli government do not want to criticize Israel. “ I am not going to blame one side more than the other……. it is far too easy to be partisan’’.
    If a murder is committed it is not being partisan to state that the murderer is guilty of a criminal offence.
    The government of Israel is clearly in breach of international law in many of its actions: house demolition, administrative detention, use of live fire to dispel non-violent protest, to mention but a few. ( To say nothing of land and water theft)
    As Liberal Democrats one is bound to recognise such violations: one is also bound not to keep silent.
    To pretend to any equivalence between Israel and Palestine – of military, economic or other power and indeed of illegality is plainly absurd.
    I would point out that we do indeed work with Jewish groups who share these views: notably the exceptionally courageous and hard working Jews for Justice for Palestinians. (JfJfP)
    Sally FitzHarris

  • Shaun Nichols 31st Jul '14 - 5:52pm

    Agreed.

    Lib Dem policy should be to support a one-state solution as Israel will never leave the West Bank.

  • My issue with Lib Dems friend of Palestine, and to a degree, with this piece, is both fail to mention Hamas. There seems to be no analysis of Hamas’ vastly illiberal goals, its methods, its bigotry that extends beyond Jewish folk, to LGBT, non-believers, and women. There’s no analysis or educational discussion on Hamas’ origin as a sect of a Brotherhood that colluded with European fascists in the 1940s and how that might raise issues today. No mention of Hamas’ grotesquely anti-Semitic literature and teachings to Palestinian children. The Friends of Palestine group’s constitution mentions Israel 7 times, but does not mention the vastly illiberal & Theocratic Hamas once. It is not balanced.

    To be a critic of Israeli govt policy is necessary indeed, but to do so by completely ignoring the opposite side, I believe does the debate a disservice. Almost as if having a group that evolved from fascists and promotes a theocracy, isn’t important.

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