A meeting that disgraces Parliament
6 November 2013
Two days ago a meeting took place in the Houses of Parliament that highlights the worst elements of pro-Palestinian campaigning in this country, and brings shame on Parliament and on all who took part in the meeting.
The meeting was organised by the Palestine Return Centre (PRC), to discuss their campaign to obtain a government apology for the Balfour Declaration. The speakers included the following people:
- Lord Nazir Ahmed: who was suspended from the Labour Party in March 2013 for apparently claiming that a Jewish conspiracy was responsible for his 2009 imprisonment for dangerous driving. Ahmed resigned from the party in May.
- Baroness Jenny Tonge: who has previously claimed that the "western world" is in the "financial grips" of the pro-Israel lobby"; was sacked from the Liberal Democrat front bench in the House of Commons in 2004 after saying that if she were a Palestinian, she might consider becoming a suicide bomber; was sacked from the Liberal Democrat front bench in the House of Lords 2010 after suggesting that an inquiry be held into whether Israeli soldiers harvested human organs under cover of relief efforts for the earthquake in Haiti; and finally resigned from the party after refusing to apologise for a remark that "Israel is not going to be there forever."
- Sameh Habeeb: head of the PRC media department and coordinator of the PRC's Balfour Declaration campaign, who as editor of the Palestine Telegraph website repeatedly published antisemitic material: including Holocaust denial, 9/11 conspiracy theories and vile antisemitic cartoons. In 2010 Palestine Telegraph published a video by former Ku Klux Klan head David Duke; even Baroness Tonge thought this was a step too far, and resigned as a patron of the website.
- David Ward: the Liberal Democrat MP who used Holocaust Memorial Day in January 2013 to attack "the Jews" for "inflicting atrocities on Palestinians"; and was temporarily suspended by the party in July after tweeting "At long last the #Zionists are losing the battle - how long can the #apartheid State of #Israel last?"
Baroness Tonge's contribution to the meeting typifies the kind of language that passes unremarked in such circles. In this youtube video (see 7:30 onwards), you can see her tell the audience about the time she was invited to take part in a Students' Union debate on the topic: "Israel was a force for good in the world". She goes on:
If you just imagine, if they had actually even obeyed their own Ten Commandments, let alone half of the stuff that the prophets in the Old Testament were preaching about, if they had only done that, Israel could have been a force for good in the world.
Tonge frames her criticisms of Israel in religious terms. She attacks Israel on the basis of its Jewishness, for not meeting her expectations of Jewish behaviour. She introduces this comment by stating that her first interactions with Israel were as a "regular, church-going, Christian Anglican"; which emphasises the religious basis of her criticism. Tonge went on to insist that her remarks were "against the Israeli government, not the Jewish people", but her comments about the Ten Commandments and the Old Testament are not the regular criticisms of a government's policies that a politician might make about any country; they are an attack on Jewish ethical and moral behaviour.
This meeting was a gathering of the usual suspects sharing the usual hate. In that sense it is unremarkable; but that, surely, is precisely the problem. Lord Ahmed left his party in disgrace over a conspiracy theory about Jews - not even "Zionists", but Jews - and is still welcome to speak. Sameh Habeeb published Holocaust denial articles and a David Duke video, and is still welcome as campaign organiser. It is hard to know what a person must say or do regarding Jews to be unwelcome at a meeting like this; or to be shunned by the wider pro-Palestinian movement; or for a venue to refuse a booking; or for people in the audience who do not want antisemitism in their movement to protest.