By Stuart Littlewood
It was no surprise to read in The Guardian on 29 February that Baroness Jenny Tonge, a Liberal Democrat peer who has given unstinting support to the Palestinian struggle for freedom, had been sacked after declaring that Israel would not last for ever. She rejected an ultimatum from party leader Nick Clegg to apologise and said she stood by her remarks.
The row blew up when Jenny allegedly told a meeting at Middlesex University: “Beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there for ever in its present form… Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.” She said America would one day get sick of funding what she called America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East. “One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough.”
Israel’s admirers were soon queuing up to spit their venom. The Board of Deputies of British Jews condemned Tonge’s remarks as “sinister and abhorrent”. Chief executive Jon Benjamin said: “There is no place for someone like Jenny Tonge in mainstream political parties in this country.”
The chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, said: “I am appalled at Baroness Tonge’s remarks. They are dangerous, inflammatory and unacceptable… Views such as those expressed by Baroness Tonge have no place in civil public discourse.”
The Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel applauded Clegg’s “decisive action” and hoped the sacking would “draw a line under the continual smearing of Lib Dem party policy on Israel and the Middle East”.
And according to The Guardian an unnamed Lib Dem spokesman said: “Jenny Tonge does not speak for the party on Israel and Palestine. Her presence and comments at this event were extremely ill-advised and ill-judged… The Liberal Democrats are wholehearted supporters of a peaceful two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine issue.”
Clegg, who is also Deputy Prime Minister in the coalition government, said: “These remarks were wrong and offensive and do not reflect the values of the Liberal Democrats. I asked Baroness Tonge to withdraw her remarks and apologise for the offence she has caused. She has refused to do so and will now be leaving the party. The Liberal Democrats have a proud record of campaigning for the rights of Palestinians, and that will continue, but we are crystal clear in our support for a two-state solution.”
The Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine, however, issued this statement: “Her actual words which caused the controversy were ‘Israel is not going to be there forever on its present performance’. She has confirmed to us that her intention was to imply that Israel’s wilful failure to uphold and respect the human rights of Palestinian Muslims and Christians is behaviour which is likely to lead to its self-destruction.”
They claimed the leadership condemned her before even speaking to her.
John McHugo, chair of the Friends of Palestine, says, “Jenny’s motivation in speaking up for the rights of the oppressed is anger at injustice when others, who have the duty to speak out, pass by silently on the other side of the street. It is also an attempt to make Jenny the story, and to detract attention from the evils of Israel’s occupation.”
It seems to me a case of the usual suspects seizing any half-baked opportunity to vilify anyone who dares to call Israel’s criminal conduct into question. Which Israel were they defending – Israel within its 1947 UN Partition borders or today’s Israel in illegal and violent occupation of the entire Holy Land, relentlessly expanding its borders and dispossessing the Palestinians? It’s obvious Israel cannot be allowed to continue on this path, so what exactly was Jenny Tonge supposed to apologise for?
It would help if her detractors kept up to date. They harp on about a lopsided peace process and a two-state solution when both have been dead ever since the Israelis created, without challenge from a spineless international community, irreversible facts on the ground designed to (1) make a viable Palestinian state impossible and (2) ensure their occupation becomes permanent. If Clegg and Co really believed in a just peace and two states why haven’t they insisted, with as loud a voice as possible, on action to stop the land-grab and push Israel back to pre-1967 borders, as prescribed by international law and in countless UN resolutions? There can be no peace under brutal occupation. Robust sanctions, which are very fashionable at the moment as long as they are imposed on Israel’s enemies, are long overdue against Israel itself.
As for causing offence, if anyone should feel offended it’s the Palestinians, having suffered for decades under Israeli oppression and continually hearing Zionist luvvies in the UK trying to silence those who call for justice.
Back-stabbing a Leadership Trait?
Jenny Tonge, a doctor by training and profession, is quite used to being knifed in the back by scaredy-cat leaders.
In 2004 she said about Palestinian suicide bombers: “If I had to live in that situation – and I say that advisedly – I might just consider becoming one myself.” Everyone went mad. A senior Conservative said her comments would “sicken those across the world who have lost loved ones to suicide bombers”. The ignoramus didn’t mention the thousands of Palestinian families who had lost loved ones and even their homes and livelihoods to Israeli terrorists and occupation forces.
Charles Kennedy, the then party leader, dismissed Jenny as children’s spokesperson, saying: “Her recent remarks… are completely unacceptable. They are not compatible with Liberal Democrat party policies and principles. There can be no justification, under any circumstances, for taking innocent lives through terrorism.”
Agreed. But Kennedy too couldn’t bring himself to mention the casualties inflicted by Israel’s acts of terror and frequent high-tech military strikes on an occupied civilian population.
Statistics from Israel’s B’Tselem provided the truth. Between 2000 and the start of Israel’s ‘Cast Lead’ blitzkrieg on Gaza in December 2008, the Israelis’ vast standing army, equipped with the most advanced American-funded weaponry, killed 4,790 Palestinian civilians in their homeland. Of these, 952 were children.
Yes, 952 young Palestinian lives horribly snuffed out and their parents desolated…
In response the Palestinians, with their garden-shed weapons, killed 490 Israeli civilians, including 84 children. In this vicious game of murder and revenge the Israelis were leading by 11 to 1. Those were the “circumstances” in which Kennedy sacked Jenny Tonge.
Then, in 2006, Jenny told a fringe meeting at her party’s conference: “The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they have probably got a certain grip on our party.” As if to prove her point the LibDem Friends of Israel immediately issued a press release saying: “In the coming days and weeks we will work closely with colleagues inside the Party to ensure every avenue is explored towards removing Baroness Tonge from the Liberal Democrat benches in the House of Lords.”
The party’s leader at the time, Menzies Campbell, dissociated himself from her “offensive remarks” and “their clear anti-semitic connotations”. But the pro-Israel lobby’s infiltration of Parliament and public life was becoming self-evident and what she said was true. The threat to national security was clear to see. For example, our most important security bodies – the Intelligence & Security Committee, Foreign Affairs Committee and Defence Committee – were all headed by senior Friends of Israel. How could that be in our national interest?
Was Clegg ‘Got at’?
Nick Clegg, like his coalition co-leader David Cameron, is a product of the best education money can buy – Westminster (Eton in Cameron’s case) and Cambridge (Cameron to Oxford). They are the crème de la crème, born to lead. Or so they think.
But it has slowly dawned on people that expensive schooling does not necessarily endow pupils with the required principles and backbone, and many of these upper-class ‘products’ who find a career in politics are easily pushed around and told what to think and do by people who are busy promoting foreign interests – especially the adorers of the occupying regime in the Holy Land which was founded on terror, practises apartheid and shows no respect for international law or others’ rights.
Back in 2009 Clegg seemed to be his own man and wrote this about Gaza in The Guardian: “…What has the British government and the international community done to lift the blockade? Next to nothing. Tough-sounding declarations are issued at regular intervals but little real pressure is applied. It is a scandal that the international community has sat on its hands in the face of this unfolding crisis.”
At the same time he was telling the Jewish Chronicle: “There is simply not a shred of racism in me….The very suggestion that I might explicitly or tacitly give cover for racism, I find politically abhorrent and personally deeply offensive.”
It sounded like he was warning them not to count on his support for the Zionist Project.
But when by sheer fluke he was catapulted into the Deputy Prime Minister job, Clegg began to turn. He welcomed the appointment of Lord Trimble to Israel’s farcical inquiry into its own entrails after the murderous assault on the Mavi Marmara, well aware that Trimble was a founding member of the new international movement “Friends of Israel Initiative”.
And at the Liberal Democrats’ annual conference he attended a fringe meeting of his party’s Friends of Israel group with the new deputy Israeli ambassador to the UK. He thanked FoI for promoting themselves within the party and declared himself an admirer of “the democratic traditions and liberal ethos of life within Israel”.
So he slid from good guy to dumb-ass in less time than it takes to read his party’s constitution…
Speaking of which, the Constitution says Liberal Democrats “are supporters of international law… welcome the extension of international law to hold individuals to account for crimes against humanity. If governments engage in large-scale violations of human rights, or are unable or unwilling to protect their populations from catastrophes, then this responsibility must be fulfilled by the international community…”
Clegg would do well to refresh his memory on these high principles. He should also re-read the Preamble to the Constitution, a very fine document indeed especially where it says: “We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience… We reject all prejudice and discrimination… Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries; we are committed to fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur and to promote the free movement of ideas, people, goods and services.”
These principles are as good as any for guiding a person through political life. But where are they reflected in Clegg’s recent pronouncements or in the coalition’s non-existent policy for dealing with the scandalous injustice in the Holy Land?
And just how principled is his sacking of one of the country’s most committed campaigners for human rights, Jenny Tonge?
Furthermore, how can encouraging a fan club devoted to Israel’s criminal ambitions and allowing it to flourish under the Liberal Democrat banner possibly be consistent with his party’s principles?
Last time I checked the party website the Liberal Democrats were pledging to put British values of decency and the rule of law back at the heart of our foreign policy… “We want to see rules upheld and international law observed.” Not much evidence of that, Mr Clegg.
Jenny Tonge’s goodbye to the Liberal Democrats has been a long time coming. She’s well rid of them.
– Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine can now be read on the internet by visiting www.radiofreepalestine.org.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.