Jenny Tonge in the Independent: unrepentant on antisemitism

Shah admirably acknowledges what Jenny Tonge would not: that you can style yourself an anti-racist and genuinely care about the ideals of equality and social justice but, when it comes to Israel, still be drawn towards narratives, rhetoric and tropes associated with classic antisemitism.

Baroness Jenny Tonge caused an uproar last week when she gave a speech in the House of Lords and claimed that Israeli policies serve as a “major cause” of ISIS.

Of course, far from being a one-off, Tonge has a long record of engaging in extremist anti-Israel rhetoric and echoing explicitly antisemitic narratives.

  • In 2004, at a Palestine Solidarity Campaign meeting, Tonge said that if she was a Palestinian, she would consider becoming a suicide bomber herself.
  • In 2006 Tonge blamed Israel for suicide bombings…in Iraq!
  • In 2006, Tonge said: “The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the Western World, its financial grips. I think they’ve probably got a certain grip on our [The Liberal Democrat] party”.
  • In 2009, at an anti-Israel rally in London during the Gaza war, Tonge said: “The way Israel behaves is just not kosher. Jewish people should be totally ashamed of themselves that they are not doing more to stop them. It’s absolutely disgusting.”
  • In 2010, during a speech in the House of Lords, she said the West’s treatment of Muslims was due to the power of the pro-Israel lobby and “Holocaust guilt”.
  • In 2010, she said that Israel should set up “an inquiry” over allegations that its medical teams in Haiti “harvested” organs of earthquake victims for use in transplants.
  • In 2011 Tonge helped bring Islamist cleric Raed Salahpromoter of the antisemitic charge that Jews use the blood of non-Jews to bake their “sabbath bread” – into Parliament.
  • In 2012, at a meeting which took place in Parliament with the Palestine Return Centre, she asked: “How can the Israelis treat the Palestinians the way they do after what happened in the Holocaust?”
  • In 2012, Tonge (at an anti-Israel event at Middlesex University) said that “Israel is not going to be there forever” and warned that eventually Israel “will lose its support and then they will reap what they have sown”. She also sat silently by at the same event while Ken O’Keefe claimed the Mossad was “directly involved” in 9/11, and compared Jews to Nazis.

Yet, despite this shameful history of antisemitism and Jew-baiting, the Independent published a letter by Tonge on July 25th, putatively to defend herself from the latest accusations.  Though much of the letter addresses specific criticism from Campaign Against Antisemitism regarding the antisemitic organ theft charge, and is nearly unintelligible, here’s the section where she defends her latest smear about Israel and terror:

As for [Gideon Falter’s] assertion that “dictating to Jews what their relationship should be with the Jewish State of Israel is unacceptable”, I dictate to no one. I merely ask that they travel more widely and hear the opinions of Muslims and non-Muslims all over the world, as I do in my international development work, and they will find that my interpretation of the effect of Israeli government policies is absolutely true. It is fuelling terrorism.

She concludes thusly:

As stated by my party, I no longer take the whip in the House of Lords, nor am I a party spokesperson, but I am still a Liberal Democrat; the party that has always campaigned for justice, human rights and international law.

So, not only does Tonge double down on her assertion that Israeli Jews are responsible for fuelling international Islamic terrorism, but has the audacity to conclude by couching her hateful views as somehow a byproduct of her passion for justice and human rights.  Indeed, Tonge’s “social justice” brand of Judeophobia is a perfect illustration of the the antisemitism scandal current plaguing the Labour Party.

Many caught up in the row seem to believe that – regardless of the particulars of what they said about Jews or Israel – they couldn’t possible be guilty of antisemitism by virtue of the fact that they are self-styled “anti-racists” and, therefore, couldn’t possible be compromised by such bigotry.

Interestingly, however, one Labour politician caught up in the antisemitism row eventually came to understand that even anti-racist campaigners can, when discussing Israel, engage in such racism.  Labour MP Naz Shah, in a Haaretz op-ed, addressed her previous suspension from the party for suggesting that Israeli Jews should be “transported” to the US to “solve” the Israeli-Palestinian problem.

Shah not only apologized to the Jewish community, but also explained that she now understands how antisemitism often appears in discourse around Israel.

She wrote:

I took a long hard look at myself and asked if I – who has campaigned for equality of race and gender my whole life – have so little understanding of modern anti-Semitism that I had hurt and offended Jewish peopleMy understanding of anti-Semitism was lacking. I didn’t get it. I don’t believe in hierarchies of oppression but I’d never before understood that anti-Semitism is different – and perhaps more dangerous – than other forms of discrimination, because instead of painting the victim as inferior, anti-Semitism paints the victim as, in a way, superior and controlling.

Shah admirably acknowledges what Jenny Tonge would not: that you can style yourself an anti-racist and genuinely care about the ideals of equality and social justice but, when it comes to Israel, still be drawn towards narratives and tropes indistinguishable from the antisemitism historically associated with the far-right. 

Tonge appears to have decided – like other ‘progressives’ we’ve commented on – not even to debate the merits of accusations of antisemitism, but instead to pronounce her a priori innocence on the grounds that if the words in question came out of her mouth, you just KNOW it isn’t antisemitic.

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