Yellow

The Jenny Tonge affair is not yet cold and its details have been amply documented in the press and are still being discussed throughout the blogosphere. At the time of writing, Baroness Tonge has been dismissed from her role as Liberal Democrat spokesperson for health, but has not had the whip withdrawn, been dismissed from the party or removed from the House of Lords. In the interests of fairness, it must be observed that the latter two options, whilst not impossible, are relatively complicated courses of action.
The question which needs to be asked is ‘does it matter?’  So what if a peer of the realm has made remarks more befitting of a medieval blood libel? There’s certainly nothing new about Jenny Tonge making statements which are grossly offensive to most Jews. So what if the leader of Britain’s third largest political party has given her a token slap on the wrist but has reneged on his previous promises to act if she made antisemitic remarks on his watch? Nothing very novel there; politicians make promises they have no intention of keeping all the time and after all, Tonge got to the elevated position in which she finds herself today after (and some may say, because of) a similar scandal in 2004. So what if Nick Clegg has pronounced the troublesome Baroness ‘not anti-Semitic’ despite the public outcry? Surely we are used by now to people telling us what we should or should not consider antisemitic even when it is quite clearly not their call to make. So what if a member of democratic Britain’s highest lawmaking and governing institution is publicly promoting libels identical to those which have been broadcast by a corrupt hereditary third world dictatorship.
Well, what matters in my view is that by and large until now it was still feasible to say that antisemitism in the UK, although indisputably on the rise and increasingly threatening in the context of the daily lives of British Jews, was still a kind of antisemitism which for the most part came from below. In other words, it was a symptom of a malaise which afflicts some ordinary (albeit very loud) citizens rather than being something generally acceptable to those leading the country. The significance of the latest Tonge affair is that we now have indisputable evidence that a member of Britain’s highest government institution sees nothing wrong in, and feels comfortable about, promoting an antisemitic blood libel. More importantly, neither her party leader nor the other members of the parliamentary body of which she is a member appear to comprehend the gravity of this fact. The lack of appropriate censure by either Clegg or the House of Lords can only convey to the average citizen living under the jurisdiction of that body that the crudest, most ancient type of antisemitic blood libel is nothing exceptional in the eyes of the leaders of 21st century Britain.
Whilst the number of true antisemites in the UK may still be thankfully relatively moderate, they gain strength and legitimacy from the silence of bystanders such as Nick Clegg who, instead of summoning the courage to stand up to antisemitism, try to dismiss it when it is obviously staring them in the face. What Clegg and the rest of the Liberal Democrat party, as well as the members of the House of Lords, need to remember is that the rising tide of antisemitism in the UK does not only poison the atmosphere for its Jewish minority; it is also the environment in which they are allowing their children to grow up. Do they have the courage to aspire to a better society than the one presently polluted by antisemitism or will they continue by their silence to acquiesce to antisemitic libel, as promoted by Jenny Tonge, being made a hallmark of British governing bodies? Yellow may be the Liberal Democrats’ campaigning colour in these upcoming elections, but it doesn’t have to be an adjective for British leadership.

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