Baroness Tonge quits Lib Dems over anti-Semitism row

The gathering at the British Parliament's House of Lord marked the launch of a campaign for the UK to apologize over the 1917 Balfour Declaration.

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October 27, 2016 13:01
british big ben parliament

Flags are seen above a souvenir kiosk near Big Ben clock at the Houses of Parliament in central London. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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The Liberal Democrats on Thursday suspended the membership of former MP Baroness Jennifer Tonge two days after she hosted an event, at the British Parliament’s House of Lords, which has been called out for airing anti-Semitism.

The Israeli Embassy in London slammed the event for giving voice to "racist tropes," including accusations of Zionist power over the parliament and Jewish responsibility for the Holocaust. The meeting was held at the second chamber of the UK Parliament in Tuesday night.

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A spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said in a statement to The Jerusalem Post: "The party has suspended the membership of Jenny Tonge. We take her comments very seriously and have acted accordingly.”

He declined to comment further or to confirm whether said comments were related to Tuesday's event, which was picked up by the UK Times. The Israel Embassy in London said in response to Tonge's suspension, “anti-Semitism should never be tolerated.”

Soon after Tonge's suspension was confirmed, she announced that she had quit the party. In a Facebook post she wrote that she had decided to resign "more or less the same time as they decided to suspend me!" She confirmed that her suspension was linked to Tuesday's event.

According to the Jews News, reports of the event made waves in the House of Commons. The British online newspaper cited Leader of the House of Commons David Lidington telling MPs he was “genuinely horrified” by reports of the remarks made at the meeting, and expressing hope that the party would launch an investigation into the event and take any appropriate disciplinary action.

Tuesday's gathering marked the launch of a campaign for the UK to apologize for the 1917 Balfour Declaration on the 99th anniversary of the British Declaration in support of a Jewish home in the Holy Land. Speakers included President of the Palestinian Return Centre Majed Al-Zeer, Historian and writer Karl Sabbagh, Ambassador of the Palestinian Mission to the UK Professor Manuel Hassassian and Honorary President of Palestine Solidarity Campaign Betty Hunter.



In a video posted to Twitter by Israeli Embassy in London spokesman Yiftach Curiel, an unnamed participant at the event can be heard suggesting that an anti-German protest by a US rabbi influenced Hitler’s decision to carry out the genocide of the Jews. Blogger David Collier, who attended the meeting, identified the speaker as an ultra-Orthodox member of the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta group.

He told the meeting that in the 1930s, Manhattan-based Rabbi Stephen Wise “made the boycott on Germany, the economic boycott, which antagonized Hitler, over the edge, to then want to systematically kill Jews wherever he could find them. He became a madman after this boycott.”

In his rant, the speaker also told the audience to note a phrase attributed to Rabbi Wise by Holocaust deniers, which claims that in 1905 he told the New York Times there were “six million bleeding and suffering reasons to justify Zionism.”

“I cannot stress strongly enough the implication of the instruction to ‘note the number,” said Collier. “This is from a Holocaust denial script. The suggestion used on neo-Nazi sites is that this quote is evidence that the Jews had already decided on the six million figure 40 years before the holocaust.”

The speaker also compared Zionism to the terrorist group Islamic State, saying “ISIS is a perversion of Islam just as Zionism is a perversion of Judaism.”

Tonge later responded to criticism that she had not interrupted that member of the audience, saying, that he "made a 'rant' against Israel quoting some very confused history which I confess I did not hear or understand! I then called the next member of the audience and moved on. The contribution was ignored by the audience after a few claps of relief! Apparently this is my sin!"

The Israeli embassy condemned the convening as “a shameful event, which gave voice to racist tropes against Jews and Israelis alike.”

Another participant at the meeting accused the late Zionist leader and former Israeli president Chaim Weizmann of performing “a confidence trick” in 1917-1918. “He made the British establishment think that world Jewry had power that it just didn’t have. The trouble is, 100 years on, I am not talking about world Jewry, I am talking about ‘that segment’ which we call the ‘Zionist movement’ has that power, and it has it over our own parliament,” he said.

A separate comment that those in attendance shouldn’t fear being called antisemitic and “if anyone is antisemitic it’s the Israelis themselves,” was met by applause. “Hard to believe but this happened at the House of Lords this week,” Curiel Tweeted.

Collier told The Jerusalem Post Thursday that there were “classic anti-Semitic tropes going on throughout the whole evening and they don’t see it, which makes it insidious and quite scary.”
According to Collier, when Mike Abramov, one of two other Zionists at the event spoke up in defense of Israel, a woman sitting next to him remarked “there is always one.”

“Even when I mentioned that Israel was the only democracy in the Middle East this was discounted by a member of the panel because an incident occurred where an Arab MK [Haneen Zoabi] was accused of being a terrorist. But she was an MK... which is irrelevant to the panel,” Abramov told the Post.

“The anti-Israel stance is intellectualized in order to put a case forward that the Palestinians have done nothing wrong. It is all the fault of Israel,” he added.

The evening concluded with Tonge reiterating that Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions were the best avenues to exert pressure on Israel, and urging pro-Palestinian activists to bombard the government with letters advocating their cause.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to the report

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