Tonge blames Israel for Jew-hate... during debate on antisemitism

The controversial former Lib Dem MP made the claim during a debate at the House of Lords


Baroness Tonge, a former Liberal Democrat MP, told a Lords debate on antisemitism today that Israel’s actions were to blame for the rise in Jew-hate.

The peer described how statistics showed “a surge in violent antisemitic activity during and after Operation Protective Edge in 2014”, which she labelled “a vicious and deadly attack on Gaza by Israeli armed forces".

In an allegation she has made on previous occasions, she added: “These events are not quickly forgotten, and I suggest that some, if not many people who commit antisemitic acts, do not distinguish between ordinary Jewish people…and the Zionist Israeli government of what now is called the Jewish State of Israel. It is too difficult a distinction for many people to make.”

Baroness Tonge was sacked as the party’s health spokesperson in 2010 after demanding an investigation into allegations that IDF aid workers in Haiti were harvesting organs. 

In 2016, she was suspended from the party after she hosted an event at the House of Lords where audience members compared Israel to Isis terrorists and suggested Jews were to blame for the Holocaust. She subsequently resigned from the party. In 2017, she shared a post on Facebook which referred to the “Jewish lobby” and included a neo-Nazi caricature of a Jewish person in the bottom right hand corner.

She told her fellow peers that she was "sick of the filthy abuse I get online, and I am sick of the accusations of antisemitism being levelled against me, and I am appalled that I never get any apology.

“I am not antisemitic, I have never ever been antisemitic, and I never will be antisemitic. I have Jewish and gentile friends who will vouch for me.”

Meanwhile, peers from all sides of the house condemned the rise in antisemitism, describing it as “completely unacceptable”.

Members including Chief Rabbi Emeritus Lord Sacks, Lord Harris of Haringey, the Bishop of Chester and Lord Finkelstein discussed the resurgence of Jew-hate in its various forms.

“Debate” is the general term used by the House of Lords to mean a discussion of a particular topic.

Baroness Berridge (Conservative), who organised the debate, described how it had been called in the midst of a “resurgence of hatred and threats of violence against Jews around the world”, noting that one key feature of this trend “is the increasing prevalence of material online.

“It’s not a surprise that when 16,500 Jews from 12 European countries were interviewed by the Fundamental Rights European Union Agency last year, 85 per cent said that the community’s main concern was antisemitism”, she told the house.

“What was less reported was that 72 per cent of those Jews surveyed expressed concern about the increasing intolerance towards Muslims.

“Hatred of ‘the other’ usually does not stay with one category of ‘the other’. The main threat in Europe is neo-Nazi, far-right views which extoll hatred of Jews, not predominantly extreme Islamistic views on Jews.”

Lord Harris, chair of the Labour Peers group, also referenced the resurgence of far-right antisemitism, but went on to talk about the “deep sense of shame” he felt at antisemitism in the Labour Party and the announcement of an investigation by the EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) into the party’s conduct on the issue.

“Over three months ago I wrote as chair of the Labour Peers group to Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the party”, he said.

“That letter expressed our dismay – no, worse than that, our alarm – at the continuing failure to remove antisemites from our party. I have not had the courtesy of a reply.”

He left no doubt about whom he held responsible for the party’s lack of appropriate action on antisemitism, describing it as “a failure of leadership.

“Those of your lordships who have been responsible for major organisations know that the tone, style and ethos of those organisations is set at the top,” he said.

“Leadership is not about hiding behind procedure, blaming more junior officials, or allowing your acolytes to dismiss legitimate complaints as being the spite of those who disagree with your political approach.”

Baroness Ludford (Liberal Democrats) noted that with regard to antisemitism, “the range of perpetrators is wide, spanning the entire social and political spectrum”, while the Bishop of Chester said he viewed antisemitism as “perhaps the greatest tragedy and disgrace of the Christian Church.”

Lord Pickles (Conservative), former chairman of the Conservatives, described how at the party’s conference in Manchester several years ago, “a young man wearing a kippah was abused by a very well-dressed middle-class, left-wing crowd.

“The ‘y’ word was used, the ‘c’ word was used, the ‘f’ word was used, references to the smoking chimneys of Auschwitz. He was spat upon – and to their eternal shame, the police stood by and did nothing.”

Lord Pickles, who is also co-chair of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, went on to describe a conversation he’d had yesterday with “a prominent objector to the [planned] Holocaust Memorial [sited next to Parliament].

“At first we talked about views, trees and open spaces. He said it was a good idea but in the wrong place – going on to say, ‘I don’t see why we should have a monument outside Parliament to the so-called Holocaust’.

“I queried the qualification ‘so-called’. He said ‘Holocaust means "burnt offering", and most of them were gassed.’

“Leaving aside the victims of the Nazis who were starved, worked to death, hung or shot, pedantic semantics is no real defence to casual antisemitism”, Lord Pickles said.  

Lord Finkelstein described in detail the anti-imperialist beliefs of a strain of the Labour Party, and how antisemitism was able to grow in this environment, saying that “left antisemitism isn’t a few stray tweets, and it isn’t a gaffe or two.

“Anti-Imperialists like JA Hobson have always seen Jews as the owner of finance houses, on whose behalf racist imperialism was conducted,” he said.

“In other words, these particular anti-Imperialists are anti-racists who blame Jews for racism. This is an explanation of the mystery how people who claim they are anti-racist can in fact be antisemitic – ‘it’s the Jews fault’.

Lord Sacks, the chief rabbi emeritus, described how “today there is hardly a country in the world, certainly not a single country in Europe, where Jews feel safe.

“A society, or for that matter, a political party, that tolerates antisemitism, that tolerates any hate, has forfeited all moral credibility.”

Baroness Warsi (Conservative), who has been vocal on the issue of Islamophobia in her own party, told the House she had “felt it was important as a Muslim to lend my voice to this fight against antisemitism.

"We have only ever defeated intolerance when we have come together.

"Antisemitism will only stop when all of us, whatever faith we belong to or none – oppose it and challenge it.”

A somewhat different opinion was proffered by Lord Campbell-Savours (Labour), who, by contrast to other Labour peers, claimed that “the line between legitimate criticism of Israel’s actions in the West Bank and Gaza as against real anti-Jewish prejudice has become blurred, and the danger in blurring is that the public will set a high bar for the treatment of accusations of antisemitism. I find that deeply disturbing, and the international definition is not solving the problem.”

He “rejected accusations” that his party was institutionally racist and said he did “not believe that Corbyn is prejudiced.”

He also said that Israel needed to “reflect” on its treatment of the Palestinians, as it was that treatment “which is being used by racists across  Europe against the Jews.”


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