Jenny Tonge: contexts and responsibilities

2 Mar 2012 by CST

Jenny Tonge and the Liberal Democrats have parted company over her saying

Israel is not going to be there forever in its present form.

Let us be very clear, Jenny Tonge was not hauled over the coals by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg for actually being an antisemite, nor for saying something antisemitic. Rather, it was simply that after everything that had gone before, enough was enough. Nick Clegg took responsibility, and acted upon his assurances to his party and to the Jewish community, that he would not tolerate any more outbursts.

Tonge's outburst occurred within many overlapping contexts. 

From a broad Jewish perspective, the overall context concerns the post-2000 upward trend in antisemitic race hate attacks and terrorist threats; and how closely these trends shadow Middle East conflicts. This occurs in an atmosphere in which practically any lie and hatred against Israel or Zionism may be uttered. For Jews, the situation is dangerous, demoralising and isolating. As far as CST is concerned, this is why Nick Clegg was correct to act.   

More narrowly, Tonge's words occurred within her own specific context. For Nick Clegg, and indeed for most Jews, this was the many hateful things she had previously said. There was, however, also the context of when, where and with whom the outburst occurred.

The 'where and when' is important: at Middlesex University towards the end of an Israel Apartheid Week that had seen a ratcheting up of tensions between anti and pro Israel students across UK campuses. This included a pro-suicide bombings speaker on campus; campaigning for a pro-suicide bombings agitator in Israeli custody; and minor violence flaring after LSE students were subjected to a fake security checkpoint.

Then, the 'with whom': alongside Ken O'Keefe, an ex-American marine with a fiery line in rhetoric, both its content and its delivery. Jenny Tonge sat alongside O'Keefe as he told a student audience that Israel "must be destroyed"; that Israel and Mossad were responsible for 9/11 and other "false flag" terrorist attacks; and also as he repeatedly said "you" whilst facing opposition from pro-Israel activists (who bravely filmed much of the event) and saying that Jews bear responsibility for Israel's actions, just as ordinary Germans bore responsibility for Nazi crimes in World War 2.

If you look at the footage here (scroll down where it says 'Clip 2', it is 1min 08secs in), Tonge seems to wince as O'Keefe makes the 9/11 remarks. Who knows, perhaps if Tonge had intervened and told O'Keefe that the rhetoric was too angry and had gone too far, then she might well still be in the Liberal Democrats. She could have told Nick Clegg that her Israel statement was a truism, after all, what country on earth persists "forever in its present form"; and she could have convincingly pointed to her intervention against O'Keefe as evidence of decency.  

Or, is that being too generous to Jennny Tonge? After all, one of her previous outbursts was to say that there should be an inquiry as to whether or not Israeli rescue teams flew to the Haiti earthquake in order to harvest body organs. (She did apologise if this caused offence.)

And then, there is the rest of the immediate context. As I have done above, Tonge's defenders have taken the single sentence "Israel...in its present form" and are saying that there is nothing special about it. (Usually, when you take something out of context it makes it look worse, not better. Here, the opposite is the case.) Look at the whole of the relevant paragraph, and you can see why the context is so crucial:

Israel is not going to be there forever 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. Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.

Did you catch that? Read the 3rd sentence again, "one day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough". So, currently the Israel lobby dictates the actions of the USA. Note also that the Israel lobby and the American people are two different things entirely: indeed, they are set against each other and "they" (presumably the Israel lobby) "will reap what they have sown."

One presumes that this Israel lobby that dominates the USA is not unconnected with (yet) another of Tonge's previous outbursts, the one where she said

The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they've probably got a grip on our party.

It is sad, ironic and pathetic that Tonge and her defenders will take Nick Clegg's action as proving her above statement about "pro-Israel...financial grips...a grip on our party". They will ignore all of the context and heap hatred upon hatred. Nevertheless, if that is the price of making political parties and British campuses more decent places than they currently are, then so be it.


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“Since 2003, CST has been a stalwart supporter of ODIHR in its efforts to effectively monitor antisemitic hate crime in the OSCE Region. With its rigorous methodology and innovative partnerships with the British police, it is viewed by many as representing the gold standard for NGO responses to all forms of hate crime. I wish CST all success in its exciting new phase of work.”

Michael Georg Link
OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights