Ming Campbell delivers stinging rebuke to “antisemitic” Tonge

Jenny TongeYou may recall Baroness Jenny Tonge landed herself in hot water at the Lib Dem party conference this year for saying at a fringe meeting “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.”

The Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel leapt on the remarks. Yesterday, Ming Campbell wrote what is apparently a stern letter of rebuke to Jenny. He said later (in a comment that I’m reading straight from a Board of Deputies press release, not from a party source):

“I have acted with the maximum powers at my disposal at this time. I have written to Baroness Tonge dissociating myself and the party from her deeply offensive remarks and what I believe to be their clear antisemitic connotations. I have asked for a review of the disciplinary powers available to the Liberal Democrat leaders in both the House of Lords and Commons.”

This is not enough for Gavin Stollar of the Lib Dem Friends of Israel, who says in the same press release:

“We welcome both Ming Campbell’s unequivocal condemnation of Jenny Tonge’s comments, and his categorical distancing of the Party from her.. 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.”

Jenny, if you’d like to respond, e-mail me.

UPDATE: More quotes from the leader’s letter to Baroness Tonge here.

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79 Comments

  • What a load of drivel. Whereas Jenny Tonge’s remarks were over the top, that’s no excuse to pander to a lobby group that justifies human rights violations on a regular basis and clearly has no concept of Liberalism or democracy.

    I’ve never met Gavin Stollar, but I’m aware that he has a dramatically over-inflated sense of his own importance. Maybe others should launch a campaign to get him removed from whatever connections with the Liberal Democrats he holds?

  • Martin Hoscik 13th Oct '06 - 8:21pm

    Hmm, there’s a lot I’d like to say but after this experience:

    http://www.mayorwatch.org.uk/blog/2006/07/16/anti-semitism-comment-is-free/

    I do my utmost not to comment on the issue.

  • Tony Greaves 13th Oct '06 - 8:33pm

    The best that can be said of this nonsense is that it’s a very silly knee-jerk reaction by the leadership which seems to have been afflicted by the typical leader’s bunker mentality rather sooner than usual.

    I don’t know whether what Jennie says about the party is true now but I know from personal experience that it was certainly true in the past.

    As for Mr. Stollar, he seems to be desperate to prove that Jennie’s allegations are true!

    Tony Greaves

  • So Tony – the pro-Israeli lobby had a ‘financial grip’ on the Lib Dems? We’re not talking expressing understanding of suicide bombing or outrage at Israeli actions – this is clear and simple anti-semitism.

    There’s no need to remove Jenny Tonge from the benches, her views are clearly right at home in the party.

  • I really do worry about our party sometimes. Since when has objecting to someone using blatantly anti-semitic allusions been restricting free speech. This has got absolutely NOTHING to do with Israel, Palestinians and the Middle East. It has got everything to do with someone who takes our Party’s Whip in the Lords using imagery which certainly predates the creation of the State of Israel and could have been used by Goebbels, Mosley or Stalin.

    What Jenny said was anti-semitic pure and simple and if as a Party we wish to support that I for one, as a former party employee, constituency chair and activist do not feel I have a place left here.

  • “Who the f*ck does Ming Campbell think he is?” – the elected leader of our party!

    Please try and keep comments temperate.

    Cheers.

  • Horrified:
    Pro-isreali does not = Jewish (example: George W Bush!)
    Therefore being anti-pro-israeli views doesn’t equal anti-semitic

    There is a huge difference in the way in which western governments respond to the nuclear weapons development of Isreal, North Korea and Iran. It should not be an infamita to suggest that this is because there are pro-isreali influences on those governments

    Mind you if we operate Godwins Law liberalone just lost the argument :-) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godwin's_law)

  • Nikki Thomson 14th Oct '06 - 1:02am

    I’d have expected better of Ming. Surely he, with his distinguished career as foreign spokesperson, knows only too well that there’s a world of difference between being anti-semitic and anti-Israeli?

    However, it’s a really sad day for Liberal Democrats, with a policy of freedom of speech and expression and a home affairs spokesperson like Nick Clegg calling for a great repeal bill to give us back our civil rights, when our leader is threatening members of our own party for exercising their right to freedom of expression.

  • Lucy, Derby 14th Oct '06 - 9:01am

    If people are going to be censored or worse for voicing un-PC opinions in fringe meetings it will stifle the radicalism in our Party.

    I spoke to (ex-Labour MP, now LD) Bryan Sedgemore at Brighton, and asked him how our conferences compared to Labour’s. He commended ours for the quality of debates, and debating issues not personalities.
    I, for one, believe we should remember this, and keep radical democratic liberalism safe. It is a major reason why people join, and stay in, the party.

  • It seems at one extreme you cannot say anything about Muslims and now Jews without calling you anti-Islamic or anti-semetic.
    Now as I have said i am a Muslim and would welcome any and all opinions on the religion, in fact I am one who slates it more than most.
    However what would happen if I voiced a apprently un-pc view of the Jewish religion?
    Most would call me anto-semetic, why? are certain religions unthouchable, if so I fear we are on a very slippery slope.
    Religion as politics should be discussed and prodded as much as or more so than anything else. After all nearly every war in history is due to religious differences.
    I have friends/family of various religions and we often talk about religion and the part it plays in the world. However not once has anyone I know got offended by my views or I by theirs. Why? because it is our right to disagree and even dislike aspects of any religion, ours or someone elses. What this means is we all know where we stand and can argue but remain on friendly terms.
    Those who over react or threatin violence have lost the argument and like a child lash out.
    I don’t have much time for Jenny Tong, but for Ming to sensor her is absurd. Concentrate on your bloody job Ming, that’s more of a worry than what Tong has to say!

  • Jenny clarrified her remarks in a letter to Lib Dem News last weeks surely it would be better for everyone to draw a line under them instead of lunch a witch hunt against Jenny.

    Also surely matters of ‘discipline’ in the Lords are for our Leadership team in the Lords to deal with not neccessarily something the Federal Leader needs to be trying to micromanage.

  • If this on the BBC website is true:
    “Sir Menzies wrote to her after discovering his party had no formal disciplinary procedures available to punish backbenchers – a matter which he has now asked the Liberal Democrat leaders of the Commons and the Lords to review.”

    Then it is a shocking lapse of management of the Parliamentary party. Having that sort of thing is one of the absolute basics of council group standing orders.

  • There are two issues:
    A) Is it a free speech issue? Well, if it is, then the whole whip system is also anti-free-speech and we should get rid of the party whips tomorrow.

    B) Was what she said offensive? If she’d said ‘The pro-Israeli lobby has a lot of influence within the Western world, and maybe our party’ then that would have been one thing. To use the phrase ‘financial grips’ in this context is a very, very different thing. It makes the ‘being anti-Israel isn’t being anti-Semitic’ argument spurious in this case.

  • CheapWallpaper 14th Oct '06 - 4:17pm

    I don’t think using the phrase ‘financial grip’ is a ‘very, very’ different thing, and I don’t understand how it has any relevance at all to the anti-Israel/anti-Semitic debate.

    As others, I’m of the belief that ‘pro-israel’ and ‘Jewish’ are entirely different things, and hence consider the accusations of anti-semitism to lack much foundation.

    I do think Jenny’s comments were OTT, but the notion she should be thrown out of the party for them is absurd.

  • Yes, she said ‘Israeli’ rather than ‘Jewish,’ but by using the words ‘financial grips’ and painting a generally sinister conspiracy-type picture she tapped into old prejudices concerning the ethnic group to which most Israelis belong.

  • I also think the difference between criticising the Israeli government and using the label ‘pro-Israeli’ to cover yourself when making other sorts of statements is fairly big.

  • Tony Greaves 14th Oct '06 - 9:37pm

    The self-styled “Horrified” writes:

    So Tony – the pro-Israeli lobby had a ‘financial grip’ on the Lib Dems?

    If this anonymous person is willing to pay me the respect of revealing his or her identity as a real person I will willingly send details of some past events. (Liberal Party rather than Liberal Democrats).

    Tony Greaves

  • Yes, she said ‘Israeli’ rather than ‘Jewish,’ but by using the words ‘financial grips’ and painting a generally sinister conspiracy-type picture she tapped into old prejudices concerning the ethnic group to which most Israelis belong.

    Exactly.

    Presumably those of you who defend Tonge would also defend Robert Kilroy-Silk for his comments which were made under the guise of attacking “Arab regimes”? Or might you perhaps be applying different standards in different cases?

  • He made racist remarks about Arabs generally, predicated mostly on the idea that they supported what the regimes did.

    The fact that one can attack a country’s regime but not its people does not automatically mean that attacks on a government are never motivated by ethnic prejudice against its country’s people. I cannot believe that remarks about “financial grip” and so on were merely inadvertent or unfortunate.

  • Martyn Jackson 15th Oct '06 - 2:37pm

    And so the polarization continues, sadly mirroring the entrenched attitudes of the Middle East region itself.

  • A Shadowy Figure 15th Oct '06 - 7:33pm

    I think at the very least her comments were unhelpful. Whether or not they were intended to be anti-semitic it would not take a genius to work out that they could be interpreted as such. Therefore someone of her experience should have known better than to make such comments. That’s why I do not have any sympathy for her.

    Those people who say ‘hold on there is a difference between being anti-semitic and anti Israeli government policy’ are absolutely right. I do not think any liberal would dispute that. They should accept that in this case the claim that her comments are anti-semitic is a precise claim and not just a sloppy conpounding of anti-semitic and anti-Israeli.

    All too often political activists of all persuasions find it difficult to accept criticism of their friends, allies, leaders or heroes. Sometimes we just have to accept their shortcomings. I think on this occassion Baroness Tonge let down the party and those people whose views she is a voice for. I do not think there should be a witch-hunt against her but I do think she should publicly apologise for her intemperet language.

  • Grace Goodlad 15th Oct '06 - 8:54pm

    Jenny as ever deliberately provoked in this statement – and why shouldn’t she.

    Ming and Stollar just make Jenny’s allegations look grounded in fact, and I personally distance myself from the aggressive and ridiculous statements. particularly Stollar….

    ….In the words of a Catherine Tate character: “How very dare you?”

    ps Alex F – love the website!

  • Free speech has been persistently under attack by the pro-Zionist lobbies. Its not just in the political world – campuses – those cradles of open discussion – have been under intense assault. Consider this case, for example:

    http://www.socialistunitynetwork.co.uk/reports/slapped.htm

    Student slapped down for defending Palestinian right to resist

    by RICHARD SEYMOUR

    Axiomatically, leading academic institutions involve intense and varied debate over a variety of topics, and some of that debate ranges over territory that mainstream conversation often misses. The School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), a prestigious higher learning institution in the centre of London, would appear to have a defender of free and open discussion in head Colin Bundy.

    In the last month, the Director & Principal has openly defended the right of an apologist for the Uzbekistan regime, Shirin Akiner, to speak at SOAS, rejecting calls for reconsideration by former British ambassador the dictatorship, Craig Murray. He previously overturned a ban imposed by the Student Union on the attendance of Israeli embassy counsellor Roey Gilad: the students have an anti-racist policy, and consider Zionism to be in practise a form of racism.

    Bundy has expounded an heroic Voltairean dedication to free speech in defence of these actions. Yet, one glaring exception renders the rule absurd: the treatment of a student named Nasser Amin, a 23 year old postgrad student.

    Amin had written an article in a SOAS student magazine arguing that Palestinians had the right to use force against Israel’s occupation. Instantly, this issue was used alongside a clutch of others by some right-wingers and pro-Zionist students who insisted that SOAS was guilty of anti-Semitism.

    The broadsheets in the UK were joined in coverage of this claim by American far right website FrontPage magazine and Campus Watch, the former run by David Horowitz and the latter by Daniel Pipes, an anti-Muslim bigot. Gavin Gross, the SOAS student who had been most involved in pressing these claims, was given a glowing interview by FrontPage in which he dragged Amin’s name through the mud. David Winnick MP raised the possibility in parliament that Amin should be charged with incitement to racial hatred. Finally, Bundy succumbed to the pressure and issued Amin with a formal reprimand, without even informing him of it or why he was being reprimanded.

    Professors Richard Falk and Ted Honderich have referred in the past to a right to violence – Honderich has gone further, suggesting that on the basis of present realities, the Palestinians are entitled to their terror. Professor Michael Neumann uses similar arguments to Amin. These are public intellectuals, and so are in some position to defend themselves. Amin, by contrast, is a student. He is almost entirely defenceless. As a Muslim, he belongs to a community that is subject to calumny and extraordinary scrutiny of its every word and gesture. His academic freedom was sacrificed to the exigencies of an urgent political struggle by defenders of Israel to curtail the scope of anti-Zionism on campus.

    Some staff at SOAS spoke out on Amin’s behalf, including his tutor Dr Mark Laffey, who said “It is part of the job description of an academic institution that you are willing to give offence. Our job is to seek out the truth, no matter how uncomfortable or unpleasant for various groups or interests.”

    Another member of staff, John Game, circulated an open letter condemning Bundy for giving in to such pressure. The Islamic Human Rights Commission said a word or two on Amin’s behalf, demanding that Bundy explain why the reprimand was issued without Amin being given the chance to defend himself, and also demanding that the reprimand be retracted.

    Yet, Bundy’s impressive dedication to free expression continues to elude him on this issue. Answer came there none, and Amin still has an official reprimand to remind him of just what commonplace argument he may not articulate in mixed company. He also has an MP who’d like to see him face jail for up to seven years. And he has American rightists accusing him of “Jew-hatred” for the benefit of audiences whom he may never address.

    Amin, for his part, feels that the article was “selectively misquoted” by the media and that he has been misused for political purposes. Further, just when he hoped the college would defend him from “Islamophobia, bullying, racism, harassment and slander”, they instead acceded to the bullying, slapped him down and made him a scapegoat on their website.

    This is not an isolated story. Campus Watch has been behind the hounding of a number of pro-Palestinian academics in the United States, including Professors Joel Beinin and Rashid Khalidi. The website has a page inviting students to tell on teachers who are insufficiently supportive of Israel. It attacked a professor named Joseph Massad who was falsely accused of bullying pro-Israeli students.

    In part, this is happening because the issues surrounding Israel-Palestine are becoming more urgent, while at the same time a decades-long pro-Israel consensus is eroding. There is also a vast gulf between what is academically known about the Israel-Palestine conflict and the picture generally presented in the media. This has produced a climate in which pro-Zionists and right-wingers feel compelled to try and rein in academic discourse.

    The treatment of Nasser Amin is a small introduction to that trend, one which began in America and is gathering pace in the UK. So the story is, if you like, about all students and their right to argue points of view that are controversial in mainstream discourse.

  • Gavin Stollar 16th Oct '06 - 10:07am

    I have only just stumbled across this website and I am amazed (but sadly not surprised) at some of the comments posted.

    If anyone has any questions on who I am, I am pleased to inform this forum that I have stood for Parliament for the Party twice (2001/2005), I am currently a District Councillor (formerly also a parish councillor) and I have worked for Norman Baker, Charles Kennedy and Lord Alex Carlile in Parliament over the past 6 years or so.

    If people on this site think that Jenny Tonge’s comments are not anti-semitic by evoking the classic Jewish conspiracy theory of financial world domination then we really do have a problem in the Party. Before someone writes back and says “she was talking about the pro-Israeli lobby NOT the Jewish lobby – two very different things, with two very different connotations”, I would draw your attention to the recent Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Antisemitism where it states:

    “We conclude that ethnically and religiously motivated hatred, violence and prejudice, wherever they occur, should earn unconditional condemnation; sympathy and support for the victims should not be conditional on their alleged behaviour or political convictions. It is increasingly the case that, because anger over Israel’s policies can provide the pretext, condemnation is often too slow and increasingly conditional. Regardless of the expressed motive, Jewish people and Jewish institutions are being targeted.

    Recommendations:

    Antisemitic Discourse

    10. We conclude that ethnically and religiously motivated hatred, violence and prejudice, wherever they occur, should earn unconditional condemnation; sympathy and support for
    the victims should not be conditional on their alleged behaviour or political convictions.

    It is increasingly the case that, because anger over Israel’s policies can provide the pretext, condemnation is often too slow and increasingly conditional. Regardless of the expressed motive, Jewish people and Jewish institutions are being targeted.”

    If you wish to question this please see Chris Hunhe MP who was the Lib Dem MP who assiste to write this piece.

    Tony Greaves makes wild allegation and I would be delighted if he would provide me with details of former ‘goings on’, to make such comments and not provide details is hardly a substantiated stand point Tony!

    Please do not question the fact (a) that I am part of the mainstream of this Party, (b) that a report published in Parliament suggests that the sorts of comments made by Tonge ARE anti-semitic and (c) that Ming Campbell’s record on these matters would be affected by the Lib Dem Friends of Israel when his office was formerly funded (in part) by The Council for the. Advancement of Arab-British Understanding (CABBU).

    If anyone wishes to take any of the above issues up with me please feel free to email me on [email protected].

    GS

  • Matthew Harris 16th Oct '06 - 11:38am

    Nobody is trying to restrict debate on the Middle East or on anything else. Sir Ming Campbell is entirely right to say that Baroness Tonge’s comments on the “pro-Israeli lobby” had anti-Semitic connotations. The Parliamentary Inquiry into Anti-Semitism recently warned of the phenonomenon of “anti-Semitic discourse” cloaked in the language of reasoned criticism of Israel. Chris Huhne represented us on this inquiry; I invite those of you who know Mr Huhne personally to ask him what his views are on Baroness Tonge. Racism is racism, whatever your views on the state of Israel. Please see my comments on another forum for an explanation as to why Baroness Tonge’s comments are unacceptable: http://www.engageonline.org.uk/blog/article.php?id=666

  • Laurence Brass 16th Oct '06 - 12:09pm

    Some of the comments I have seen on this website would be more appropriate to the BNP than the Lib Dems. The issue is nothing to do with the Middle-East at all and one’s views on that conflict are irrelevant. The point Stollar and others have rightly been making is to protest at the crude racism by Tonge and her supporters under the convenient guise of an alleged interest in Middle-east politics. To claim, like Chris Davies MEP, that there is a “worldwide Jewish conspiracy” or to say, like Tonge did, that our Party’s finances are “in the hands of the Jewish lobby” is nothing less than blatantly anti-semitic.

  • Where do YOU stand ColinW on the so called ‘occupied territories?

  • I see that the usual suspects are being wheeled out, as in Liberal Democrat News, to cry ‘racist’ without engaging on the real issues.

    I note, for example, that none of them have said anything about the ridiculous position of a group supposedly ‘representative of the party mainstream’ to have Jenny Tonge expelled/thrown off the Lib Dem benches.

    It’s interesting that these people are allegedly Liberal Democrats who nevertheless persist in supporting all actions of the Israeli Government, legal or otherwise – including the killing of civilians and deliberate targeting of infrastructure for destruction.

    Before they cry ‘racist’, maybe they ought to think about their own positions.

  • Laurence Brass 16th Oct '06 - 2:55pm

    I am happy to advise Colin that I have always opposed Israeli occupation of Gaza and most of West Bank. I belong to a group called “Peace Now” and I rejoiced when the IDF troops vacated Gaza. You can imagine how those who share my views felt when we saw that the Palestinians in Gaza took advantage of the withdrawal not to improve their economic life but to send rockets over the border. What do they want to achieve? The “enemy” had gone already!

    One last point. How can Liberal Democrats ever support organisations (ie Hamas or Hizballa) whose whole purpose is to oppose everything we Liberals believe in. They subjugate women, hate gays, oppose democracy and want to turn the clock back hundreds of years. It’s a mystery to me.

  • Gary Bellamy 16th Oct '06 - 3:52pm

    Gareth – you are so far out of touch it is frightening! What Jenny Tonge has said is completely beyond the pale. I am as critical of Israel as the next man and as a liberal I think we often strike the wrong balance but to say that Mr Stollar et al shouldn’t be calling for JT’s withdrawal of the whip is simply wrong.

    As a non-jew I was abhorred by her comments and had many similarly non jewish people (who know I am a Lib Dem) say similar things to me. She makes the party sound out of touch with feeling on the street and is not liberal at all.

    If we allow racist comments like these AND THEY ARE RASCIST (see quotes from Inquiry into Antisemitism) prosper under the banner of “being liberal” we are no better than the socialist workers party/BNP in our rhetoric.

    This whole debate fails to recognise Israel as (a) the only democratic nation in the middle east, (b) being surrounded by neighbours who are seeking their destruction and (c) having to deal with two terrorist organisations (hamas and hizbolla) that are seeking (b) – when do we ever hear Jenny or indeed other supposed Lib Dem Friends of Terrorism/Palestine/Hamas either acknowledge or commend Israel for these points.

    GB

  • I notice that nobody here mentions the support of the current government of Israel for collective punishment in Lebanon to name but one current issue. It may be a democratic government – but how can that excuse activities carried out in its name that are simply barbaric?

    The reality is that anyone who tries to speak out for the Palestinians will be accused of being anti-Semitic. While I doubt any Liberal Democrat actually supports the likes of Hamas and Hizbullah, to deny that there is no cause for the wretched mess in Palestine (in particular) is an abrogation of responsibility (on which I notice all those on here taking the Stollar line are silent – surprise, surprise).

    What Jenny said was daft and deserves condemnation – but it is gesture politics of the most partisan and Manichean kind to call for her expulsion from a political party. When that call comes from people who are simply apologists for the collective punishment meted out most recently in Lebanon, it should simply be ignored in the same way that we ignore the weasel words of Nigel Griffiths.

  • So is Gavin Stollar going to explain why Jenny Tonge should be expelled from the party – and how that is consistent with principles of free speech? He seems to have gone very quiet on that.

  • Gavin Stollar 16th Oct '06 - 6:01pm

    Gareth,

    Although you would like to believe that your view is the dominant view in the Party but if the posts since I posted are anything to go by then you are incorrect.

    I seem to remember you and others said that Charles was wrong for removing Jenny from the front bench when she said what she did re: suicide bombers, again the Party and public opinion suggested otherwise, not to mention (dare I say) principle!

    Why should Jenny have the Lib Dem whip in the Lords removed? Well it’s quite simple, what she said was RACIST – FACT. I am willing to believe that she is not anti-semitic but her remark clearly WAS. That is not according to Gavin Stollar but to both a recent Parliamentary Inquiry into the subject and according to our Party leadership. If this is not enough then what is?

    I do not make calls for people to have the whip removed lightly and I also am in favour of free speech but this woman’s comments are being labelled racist from ALL sides! I reiterate another passage from the Inquiry (to further make the point):

    “No-one would seek to deny that there is well-organised support for Israel in Britain, but in some quarters this becomes inflated to the point where discourse about the ‘lobby’ resembles discourse about a world Jewish conspiracy i.e. racism/anti-semitism.”

    If you are happy for someone who espouses racist/anti-semitic comments to represent our Party in the House of Lords then that is your prerogative but I fear you are in the minority (again).

    GS

  • Gavin Stollar 16th Oct '06 - 6:23pm

    Colin,

    At a time when Israel’s security is guarenteed not to be compromised I would favour a swift withdrawal.

    Unfortunately, the recent withdrawal from Gaza does not fill me a great deal of hope (as Laurence points out above) ie Israel withdraws que Palestinian katusha rockets come over the border.

    GS

  • The difference is that the IDF is acting on behalf of the Israeli state.

    Rather than the Syrian or Iranian ones?

  • Er, no, not really. You seem to be claiming that Hezbollah is a non-state force, when it is the proxy of two enemy states of Israel.

    And you grossly insult the Irish government when you compare its position regarding the IRA to Lebanon’s toleration of Hezbollah.

  • Gavin, you quote in your aid the President and Press Officer (I seem to recall) of Lib Dem Friends of Israel.

    I rest my case.

  • hywelmorgan 17th Oct '06 - 9:55am

    Laurence Brass:
    You claim above that “To claim, like Chris Davies MEP, that there is a “worldwide Jewish conspiracy”…”

    I’ve checked with Chris who says that claims he said this are nonsense.

    His direct quote to me was, “Please tell this man from me that he is a LIAR, but that I invite him to accompany me to the prison camp / death camp the Israelis have made of Gaza. I want to hear what he says after that.”

    Could you please supply some proof of where Chris said this or withdraw it and apologise.

    Chris’s anti-racist credentials are in my mind beyond reproach and he is probably the person who made the single biggest contribution to ensuring the BNP don’t have an elected Parliamentarian in the UK.

    I can’t vouch for the accuracy or otherwise of other comments in this section but if you are peddling an outright lie it calls great doubt onto your other claims.

  • Gavin Stollar’s views remind me of those jumped up trots in student politics who would bang on endlessly about ‘defining their own oppression’ and ‘I’m more oppressed than you’ etc.

    What Jenny Tonge said can by no stretch of the imagination can be called racist, and anyone who knows her knows she is no racist.

    The idea that any comment mentioning financial interests or lobbying on behalf of Israel is playing to BNP/racist stereotypes of Jewish people is ludicrous and dangerously counter productive. The fact that there is this concerted witchhunt against her makes it more likely people will believe there is some Jewish/Zionist conspiracy at work.

    Politics is a rough game and people say and do things in the heat of debate that on sober reflection they probably wish they had done differently – it’s part of the democratic process.

    Instead of organising a false witchunt against Jenny Tonge – I’d recomend Gavin Stoller does two things – one he could take some advice from Chris Davies and start to beat the BNP in his own backyard of Epping and secondly he could work with his other friends of Israel to put some pressure (financial or otherwise) on that government to stop acting illegally immorally and counter productively and seek a peaceful solution to the Palestinian problem – and that means dealing with their democratically elected representatives – just like the UK governemnt did in northern Ireland.

    Out of interest Jenny has issued this statement…

    I will not be silenced
    from
    http://www.iwitness.co.uk/uk/1006u-01.htm

    BARONESS Jenny Tonge insists she will continue to speak out for rights
    of the Palestinian people despite Israeli groups accusing her of anti
    Semitism.

    A number of Israeli groups including the Board of British Jews and the
    Jewish Leadership Council have objected to comments made by the former
    Richmond Park MP at a meeting hosted by the Palestinian Solidarity
    Campaign. She is alleged to have said: “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.” She is also accused of
    repeating her support for suicide bombings.

    Gavin Stollar, spokesman for the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel
    said: “Jenny Tonge’s original support for suicide bombers in Israel got
    her sacked from the front bench. I think her vulgar repetition and
    rhetoric means that her position in the party needs to be seriously
    reviewed.”

    However speaking to the iWitness Mss Tonge reveals pressure from pro
    Israeli groups will not silence her.

    She said: “At the meeting we were discussing why Israel gets away with
    flouting international law? The Israeli action in Lebanon was illegal,
    as is the collective punishment being handed out to the people in Gaza
    and the continued occupation of Palestine. The reason they get away with
    it is because if anyone speaks out they get accused of anti Semitism and
    no one wants to be associated with that tag.

    “It is not anti Semetic to criticise the Israeli government as it is not
    anti American to criticise George W Bush or anti Muslim to speak out
    against Islamic extremists. I know of many Jewish people from groups
    such as One Voice and Jews for Justice for Palestinians who are appalled
    at what the Israeli Government has done in the past and what it
    continues to do. It is our duty to raise the profile of such groups.”

    Ms Tonge joined the Lib Dems in 1959 and was elected as an MP in 1997
    and re elected in 2001 with a majority of 4,964. However in January
    2004 she was asked to step down from front bench politics after stating
    he understood what drove some Palestinians to turn into suicide bombers.

    Speaking to the iWitness she continued: “I have never supported suicide
    bombings or any other kind of violence whether it be from groups or
    Governments. What I said was that if I was a Palestinian who had to
    endure decades of humiliation, starvation, brutality then I might
    consider becoming one. I am trying to understand what drives people to
    strap bombs onto themselves. The reality is that anyone who tries to
    speak out for the Palestinians will be accused of being anti Semitic and
    as a result some people have given into the pressure. I can assure
    everyone that I for one will continue to speak out against the brutality
    shown by the Israeli government.”

  • Can we just nail one further myth here. Jenny Tonge may have empathised with Palestinian suicide bombers: that is very difference from what she did not do i.e. support suicide bombers.

  • Gavin Stollar 17th Oct '06 - 11:38am

    Dan – I am an active member of “Redbridge and Epping Forest Together” and if you think that I am not doing enough to combat fascism then perhaps the extract below (taken from http://www.stopthebnp.org.uk) might convince you (but probably not):

    “The BNP is still smarting over a Standards Board ruling in June that it was acceptable to call the BNP “nazi”. Cllr Terry Farr had complained when Gavin Stollar, a Liberal Democrat councillor, said, “We don’t want nazis in our town”. Rejecting his complaint the Standards Board said that Stollar “expressed his views on a rival political party within the normal and acceptable limits of political debate”.

    Stollar, who was a general election candidate for Brentwood and Ongar, had made the comment after the BNP held a conference in Brentwood in January. It was not directed at any individual BNP member.

    Gareth – engage in the debate my friend, don’t simply discredit what I say without dealing without challenging the issues I raise, interesting that you choose not to challenge my take on matters though.

    As for Chris Davies – if you think it is ok to call for a constituent to “wallow in their own filth” (you can check with him that he said that!!!) after questioning his views on the Middle East then you are about as credible as he is.

    All these people seeking to defend our ‘friends’ Jenny and Chris fail to recognise on every single occasion (without exception) OUR PARTY has made a stand against them. If you disagree with Charles’ sacking of Tonge originally – RESIGN, if you disagree with the Chris Davies’ sacking – RESIGN, if you disagree with Ming’s recent public slap down of Tonge – RESIGN.

    Your Party cannot be getting such things so very wrong all the time, can it? And if they are then what are you still doing here? I’m absolutely sure that George Galloway’s mob would be delighted to receive you. You can be sure Jenny and Chris would not be told off for saying what they have done with George at the helm.

    The bottom line here is I am proud to be a Lib Dem and Charles Kennedy, Tom McNally, Navnit Dholakia, Ming Campbell are/were the leaders of our Party and I trust their judgment, if you don’t, perhaps YOU are in the wrong Party.

    I rest my case…

  • I’m starting to understand why the middle east situation won’t be resolved in my lifetime…

  • Gavin Stollar 17th Oct '06 - 11:48am

    Also before I go, interesting that we have not heard back from the Lord Greaves. He makes wild allegations and then retreats without trace.

    Tony, I say again, do drop me a line with your evidence of Jewish money controlling the Liberal Party, I would be most interested to hear what you have to say.

    It’s easy, you can email – [email protected]

  • Gary Bellamy 17th Oct '06 - 11:52am

    Pleased to see “save Jenny” has now disappeared. The whole debate is ridiculous. What Tonge said was wrong, end of story.

    I concur with much of what Mr Stollar says. His arguments are justifed and well reasoned.

    Galloway’s Party seems to be more suited to many people posting on this site.

  • Gavin Stollar said…

    ‘All these people seeking to defend our ‘friends’ Jenny and Chris fail to recognise on every single occasion (without exception) OUR PARTY has made a stand against them. If you disagree with Charles’ sacking of Tonge originally – RESIGN, if you disagree with the Chris Davies’ sacking – RESIGN, if you disagree with Ming’s recent public slap down of Tonge – RESIGN’

    Hmmm – so if you disagree with me get out of my party. How very mature and Liberal.

    You may not like people disagreeing with you Gavin – but it’s called a debate and we are a democratic party that tolerates a variety of views. You may not agree with them, but tough. I don’t agree with your views, but I’ll defend your right to express them – at least do your opponents that courtesy and end this stupid and illiberal witch hunt.

  • Gavin Stollar’s postings appear to be the sort of immature, quasi-Student Union drivel I was glad to leave ten years ago. Of course he does nothing to elaborate on his ridiculous call for Jenny Tonge to be expelled from the Party.

    His demands that anyone who expresses pro-Palestine views should resign (in capital letters), er, don’t sit well with a party that condemned the actions of the Israel government in inflicting collective punishment on Lebanon at its democratic conference just 4 weeks ago.

    Now I’ve been around a little longer than Gavin. My old local party had to root out a racist element – not gesture ‘racism’, Gavin, but the real, ugly kind. But this party does not conduct itself by the sort of centralist diktat that removes Parliamentarians on the leader’s say-so. Remember Howard Flight? Gavin, your attitude to party democracy appears more suited to the Tories.

    Gavin’s vulgar repetition and rhetoric (his words) discredit the Party and bring it into disrepute. Perhaps he should grow up and concentrating on dealing with the proper anti-Semites in his own back yard.

  • Gary Bellamy 17th Oct '06 - 12:56pm

    Gareth,

    You appear to feel that if you patronise Mr Stollar your argument will somehow gain more credance. As I said when I first posted, I am critical of Israel where I feel it is justified but find your logic on discrediting Mr Stollar’s position somewhat flawed. He has outlined why he feels Tonge should go in three or four postings above – did you miss that?

    This has guy clearly been fighting the BNP in Epping and even gone as far as to put his head above the parapet to say so ref: the article he quotes. Just because his views do not meet yours you seem to feel patronising will somehow win you more friends.

    I say again, I fear the majority would align themselves with Mr Stollar and not you Gareth. Jenny Tonge has form and for all the many reasons stated above, she should go.

    GB

  • Gary,

    What is your qualification for being the sole arbiter of public opinion or indeed opinion within the Liberal Democrats?

    And what are your criticisms of the current Israeli government?

  • Gary Bellamy – you are Gavin Stollar and I claim my five pounds!

  • Gavin Stollar 17th Oct '06 - 1:51pm

    I think Mr Bellamy has summed up my thoughts eloquently enough for me not to comment further.

    I commend the leadership on the decisive action taken and will continue to press to get Jenny Tonge removed from the Lib Dem benches of the Lords.

    If we are unsucessful you can bet your bottom dollar that she will fall foul of a racist remark again soon enough, this time however the leadership will have the standing orders in place to be rid of her once and for all.

    End of postings…

  • I have come late to this discussion, but am finding it difficult to comprehend that some of the posters here really are Liberal Democrats.

    I grew up in a part of Loindon that has a large Jewish population. I had many Jewish school friends, joined in with festivals and other parts of their religion. I have the greatest of respect for Judaism as a faith and for its members. I would find it very hard to be described as anti-semitic.

    However I cannot see what the problem is with Jenny’s comments. Her opponents seem to be using the worst of student union politics and Ming seems to have fallen for it. Saying that anyone who is against much of what the State of Israel is doing is anti-Jewish and therefore racist is simply the worst sort of Trot-style knee jerking.

    Jenny did not say that she supported suicide bombers. She said that she could understand why they did what they did in the position that they are in. As a mother, I can understand why the father of Holly Wells wants to kill Ian Huntley. If it had been my daughter, I may have felt the same. But it doesn’t make it right.

    I don’t think many of us have all the information needed to totally prove or disprove the comments that Jenny made at conference. But as far as I am concerned, they are not out of keeping with party policy or the preamble to the constitution. Jenny is a liberal in the best traditions and a fair-minded, compassionate and intelligent member of the party of many years standing. Just the sort of person that apparently GS and friends would like to send to Respect. If she is forced out, there will be many of us forced to consider our own positions.

  • We all live in the UK (I think!), thank goodness. To put a bit of perspective on the intemperate and “student union” nature of the debate before I get so bloody old I can’t even remember the real thing!

    If we lived in Israel, or worse, in Gaza, in Southern Lebanon, or the West Bank, we would not have the luxury of all this being somewhat academic and theoretical. For the UK end of this row (it isn’t a debate), why can’t we all accept that we are anti-racist. That is why many of us came into the liberal movement, Lib Dems etc. I have met people who are not always the pure milk of anti- or non – racism in the party, and it is not tolerable, but for those who have campaigned hard against racism I think it is very blinkered to condemn them because they “have their language wrong”, eg. “in the financial grips of…”, “conspiracy…” etc. Agreed, people need to watch the words that are used (eg Thatcher’s ‘swamping’) where they have entered the language as a sort of code. But everyone gets caught out like that from time to time!

    On the real debate, on the Middle East and the need to get agreements – when there are conflict situations you have organisations expressing views that we would condemn, and rather not hear from the comfort of the Union bar. Everyone here, for instance, has condemned both Hamas and Hizbollah. Compare that to the situation on the ground, where Hamas has been elected as the Palestinian Govt, and Hizbollah has been feted by many Lebanese people as a powerful defender. It no doubt is the case that both these organisations are Islamist (although to keep describing them as mere pawns of Iran or Syria seems to lack balance). But what is obvious is that they are strong community organisations as well as militias, and we, along with Europe, would be wise to put pressure on Israel to include these groups in discussions (when such take place – presumably when the next US President takes office). The lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan are all too clear – people get more violent, and more extreme, the more they are kept out of the loop.

    On specifics – Gary Bellamy top of the student debating class – playing to Gavin’s ego – “Mr. Stollar….” and putting down Gareth “Gareth…” Result – continuing row.
    Colin W – Entry to the EU for Israel??! Yes, I know they are in Eurovision, and various European championships, but surely that’s for the reason that several of their neighbours won’t accept them in their area events! We should be working towards ensuring neighbourliness, not accepting existing hatreds.

  • hywelmorgan 17th Oct '06 - 3:23pm

    Dan above said:
    “I’d recomend Gavin Stoller does two things – one he could take some advice from Chris Davies and start to beat the BNP in his own backyard of Epping”

    I don’t agree with a lot of what Gavin has said but I would say his credentials in challenging them are pretty much much unimpeachable so I think that’s a pretty unfair suggestion.

  • Hywel – I said beat and not challenge. People can carp on the sidelines (or in the Council chamber), but spend all their time fighting their friends rather than their enemies.

    Chris Davies has probably done more on the ground on a practical level to defeat the BNP in the North West of England. All the while the Lib Dems in Brentwood have gone from majority control to 7 councillors with the BNP making strong advances. I know whose approach I prefer…

    I think it’s fair comment.

  • Matthew Foster 17th Oct '06 - 6:57pm

    I agree that some of the contributions above have been unhelpful but it is good to see healthy debate on an issue as important as the Middle East getting a bit of an airing (something I would encourage).

    The only point I would like to add to the forum is that although the Party has made a statement against Jenny Tonge’s comments the wider issue here is how the Party is perceived on the Middle East in general. Where I have a problem is that we are always condemning Israel for this that and the other but we never seem to be commending for anything. I know for instance that phone calls were made by the IDF (a first in warfare I believe) to the blocks of houses where the Hizbollah were hiding to advise residents to get out due to imminent bombings – not reported in the press.

    I do not believe that Israel purposely targets civilians and if we were faced by hostile neighbours from all sides how would we react? I think that Israel is scared and as very young country feels threatened when all its neighbours want to push it into the sea. I agree that many of its actions appear to be overreactions etc but I can seldom recall any Lib Dem commending Israel for any action it takes. Balance I guess is my issue and I think when people in the Party like Gavin and others see the Party displaying more balance in our public pronouncements perhaps our credibility on the issue will be raised a few notches.

    All interesting reading although the only person I take issue with is Colin W – no need to swear and be discourteous. Gavin is entitled to his view as much as the rest of us and it is quite intriguing to see that our party has a pro-Israeli point of view, something I commend.

    Matt

  • Clearly a debate that needed to be had, however.

    I think on Mark’s thoroughly sensible note, it’s time (I’m sure some would say it’s past time!) to shut down the public debate on this issue. Members may carry on the discussion on our discussion board if you want to say “and one more thing!”

One Trackback

  • By Pickled Politics » Defend Jenny Tonge? on Mon 16th October 2006 at 4:54 am.

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