Board attacks Tonge’s Israel lobby criticism

By Dana Gloger, July 11, 2008

The president of the Board of Deputies has written to the leader of the Lib Dems in the House of Lords to complain after the outspoken critic of Israel, Baroness Tonge, made comments about the Board in Parliament.

In his letter to Lord McNally, Henry Grunwald said that the Lib Dem peer had “allowed her criticism of Israel to overstep the mark” and had “gone too far” during a debate last Thursday on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Baroness Tonge had said: “I am beginning to understand the power of the Israel lobby, active here as well as in the USA, with AIPAC, the Friends of Israel and the Board of Deputies.

“They take vindictive actions against people who oppose and criticise the lobby, getting them removed from positions that they hold and preventing them from speaking — even on unrelated subjects, in my case.

“I understand their methods. I have many examples. They make constant accusations of antisemitism, when no such sentiment exists, to silence Israel’s critics.”

In 2004, the peer was sacked from the frontbench by then Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy after she said she could understand why a Palestinian would become a suicide bomber and that she would consider doing so were she Palestinian. She refused to apologise.

In September 2006, she claimed that the “pro-Israeli lobby has got its financial grips on the western world” and on “our party”.

Her 2006 comments were criticised by Norman Lamb MP, spokesman for Sir Menzies Campbell, who took over from Mr Kennedy as leader.

Sir Menzies dissociated himself and the party from what he described as “her deeply offensive remarks and what I believe to be their clear antisemitic connotations”.

In his letter to Lord McNally, Mr Grunwald condemned Baroness Tonge’s latest comments. He wrote: “Her desire to perpetuate the myth that our community somehow has the power to have those with whom we disagree ‘removed from positions that they hold’ reveals a hateful and destructive agenda.

“Is she suggesting that the Board of Deputies and other bodies should simply remain silent in the face of such outrageous statements?

“It is not the first time that Baroness Tonge has spoken out in this way and I fear that it will not be the last. Her language remains offensive and unacceptable.”

But the baroness this week defended her comments.

“One of the things I’ve discovered over the years is that whenever anyone criticises Israel in a positive way they get accused of antisemitism,” she said.

“But it is not antisemitism, it is anti-Israeli-governmentism. Politicians who criticise Israel are sidelined due to pressure on party leaders to remove them.”

Baroness Tonge added that the reason she was so outspoken on this matter was in order to stop antisemitism from increasing.

“Jewish people in this country and all over Europe are being targeted because there are people out there who do not distinguish them from the Israeli government. I don’t want that to happen. It’s a tragedy,” she said.

“We do not want antisemitism to come back. It’s the worst thing that ever happened in the history of the human race. But it will return if Israel continues doing what it’s doing.

“I have so many friends and colleagues who are Jewish and I don’t want to see them suffering in this way.”

Last updated: 2:44pm, September 2 2009