The vehemently anti-Israel peer told a Middlesex University debate to coincide with Israel Apartheid week: “Beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there for ever in its present form. One day, the United States of America will get sick of giving 70bn a year to Israel to support what I call America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East – that is Israel. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough.”
She added: “It will not go on for ever, it will not go on for ever. Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.”
Tonge also sat passively as a former US Marine, Ken O’Keefe, told the audience that Israel “must be destroyed” and that the Mossad was “directly involved” in the 9/11 attacks in the US. When he was heckled by Jewish members of the audience, O’Keefe, who is under police investigation for alleged incitement, compared them to Nazis.
In the debate, Tonge claimed she was “certainly not antisemitic. It’s an injustice that concerns me the most. I am certainly anti- the Israeli government and the Israel lobby that supports that government. And when they go for you, they go for you in a big way. I bear the scars.”
Clegg said that Tonge’s 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.”
Tonge herself said she had been quoted “completely out of context. They followed a very ill-tempered meeting in which Zionist campaigners attempted continually to disrupt proceedings. They mouthed obscenities at the panellists, to the extent that university security attempted to remove them from the premises. The comments I made were in protest at the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and the treatment of Israeli Arabs.
“I am disappointed the leadership of my party did not consult me before issuing a press release and seems always to abet the request of the pro-Israel lobby. Israel is acting against international law, the Geneva conventions, and Human Rights. They do this with impunity and if our political parties will not take action then individuals must. I have been asked to apologise but refuse to do so and resign the whip of my party.”
Her resignation was “absolutely welcomed” by Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel chair Gavin Stollar, who told the Jewish News: “We absolutely applaud Nick Clegg for taking this swift action. It draws a line under the smearing of Lib Dem policy on Israel and the Middle East”.
Tonge’s comments immediately sparked anger from Labour leader Ed Miliband, who Tweeted that there was “no place in politics for those who question existence of the state of Israel. Nick Clegg must condemn Jenny Tonge’s remark and demand apology.”
Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks said he was “appalled” at Tonge’s remarks noting that they were “dangerous, inflammatory and unacceptable. I commend Nick Clegg for his decisive action. Views such as those expressed by Baroness Tonge have no place in civil public discourse.”
Board of Deputies CEO Jon Benjamin said that the resignation had been long overdue “and her position has frankly been untenable for some time. Allegations of Jewish political control, organ harvesting and sympathy for terrorists should have no place in the politics of a party that is now part of the government.”
Meanwhile, Hamas “martyrdom” supporting Azzam Tamimi this week joined Tonge and anti-Zionist Israeli academic Haim Bresheeth at a Queen Mary University of London debate on a “One State or a Two-State Solution”.
Tamimi said: “I’d be a martyr for my country, of course. If you’re not prepared to die for your country, then you are not a patriot.”Learn more »