(photo credit: )
An Israeli scholar has firmly rejected comments by controversial UK Liberal Democrat politician Jenny Tonge, who recently accused Israel of driving the Palestinians to their current impoverished situation and claimed that this issue was being used to fuel Islamic extremism.
"Ever since 1948, Palestine has been used as a battle cry and a propaganda weapon for Islamists worldwide," she said in a speech in the House of Lords last month. "I have witnessed this in some African countries and, more recently, in Bangladesh. Palestine is what the West does to Muslims. That is the message. The Palestinians have been brought to their knees. A cultured and well-educated society with high skill levels has been reduced to a Third-World country. The statistics are there for all to see."
Tonge also alleged that the IDF was disrupting school exams in Nablus, resulting in a generation of illiterate and unskilled Palestinians.
"Even education is being destroyed as children are terrorized by raids on their schools," she said, claiming that the products of such a system would be "capable of very little except low-wage labor. The economy cannot be rebuilt unless Israel changes its policies."
But Dr. Jonathan Spyer, research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, disputed such assertions, which he said betrayed an "appalling ignorance of Islamist movements. Radical Islam is a political idea, some of whose proponents use the method of terrorism. This idea sees world events as shaped by a struggle between the forces of authentic Islam, and those of the non-believers. It uses a long list of supposed Muslim grievances as a way to mobilize support," he told The Jerusalem Post.
He noted that al-Qaida had been formed to overthrow the Saudi Arabian government in opposition to the US presence there in the 1990s. "Al-Qaida hardly mentioned the Palestinian issue prior to 2001."
"The idea that this trans-national idea, which feeds off many local issues, is somehow 'traceable' to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and would be settled by the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel - an outcome which the Islamists in any case reject - is an absurd one. It's used by people like Tonge in order to hold Israel to blame for radical Islam's war in the West."
Baroness Tonge was sacked as a member of Parliament and as the Liberal Democrat spokeswoman in 2004 after expressing support for Palestinian suicide bombers.
Daniel Seaman, director of the Israeli Government Press Office, told the Post on Thursday that at a recent meeting in Jericho, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas told Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that the PA could not control Hamas.
"Any disruption is down to the extremists of Hamas who are operating in the area. Israel is operating in the area to protect its citizens. If exams are being disrupted, this is unfortunate. However, exams can be retaken. Lives cannot be brought back," Seaman said.
Tonge also questioned how things could get better. "The new government talks of rebuilding the economy in Palestine and of getting the Palestinians back to work, which is very welcome, but how will they do that with road blocks, checkpoints and Bantustans divided by settler-only roads?" she asked. "I am not anti-Semitic, but I am appalled by the racist, apartheid state of Israel. I use the word 'apartheid' in its literal sense; it means separation, because that is what is going on."
Tonge was challenged by Labour's Lord Parry Andrew Mitchell, who took exception to her labeling of Israel as an apartheid state. "Perhaps we have all forgotten what an apartheid state was like," he said. He added that Israel "has an Arab Minister in the government and in the cabinet. There is no ban on races mixing with each other. If you go to any hospital in Israel, you will see Arabs, Israelis and Druze, whether they are being treated or whether they are doctors and nurses."
In particular, the Weizmann Institute, of which I am the UK chairman, has Arabs and Arab professors who mix closely [with Israelis]. 'Apartheid' is a very dangerous word; it has all sorts of meanings, and it is absolutely untrue to say that of Israel."