York PEN, Baroness Tonge and the Politics of Hatred


On Monday night, Baroness Jenny Tonge is speaking at the University of York, at an event organised jointly by members of the University’s English Department and York PEN.


Despite a barrage of complaints by members of the Jewish community and anti-racism activists, as well as a letter from Baroness Deech to the York vice-Chancellor advising against the event, Tonge’s appearance is still due to go ahead.

York PEN has explained away criticism by stating: “That Tonge’s recent comment about the historical inevitability of political change in the Middle East was interpreted by some as anti-Semitic reveals the hyper-sensitivity regarding this – undoubtedly sensitive – issue.”
This is a wicked distortion. York PEN is quite clearly referring to Tonge’s claim that Israel “won’t be around forever”, a remark that seems mild compared to her other outbursts. By diminishing Tonge’s iniquities to this one quip, they trivialize the worries of the Jewish community and sanitize Tonge’s hateful rhetoric.
As well as predicting Israel’s demise, Tonge sat through a tirade by co-panellist and notorious anti-Semite Ken O’Keefe. She said nothing as O’Keefe ranted and raved that the Jewish people were Nazis and that Jews were complicit with the September 11 attacks.
In 2010, she was sacked for her endorsement of a claim by the terror group Hezbollah, who invoked the old anti-Semitic trope that Jews were stealing organs, in this case aimed at the Israeli rescue teams in Haiti following the devastating natural disaster, for which Israel’s speedy humanitarian response was praised all across the world.
The left-wing journalist Nick Cohen has written that “Baroness Tonge stands as an example of a malaise which has gripped hundreds of thousands of people who are playing with ideas previous generations would have described as fascist without hesitation. Instead of supporting the PLO-led Palestinian Authority, which for all its corruption and faults represents the best hope of a liberal democratic Palestine, she supports the clerical fascism of Hamas, and has gone to the Ba''athist tyranny of Syria to describe its leaders as ‘shrewd, plausible and actually very likeable’.”
Earlier this year, Tonge lent strong support for an opinion piece by Hamas terrorist leader Ismail Haniyeh in the Independent newspaper - a man who has endorsed the killing of Jews worldwide and wishes Israel obliterated. 
And yet, for Lucy Potter of York PEN, these points are all superfluous, and Tonge’s only mistake was forecasting the inevitable changes brought about by the chaos of ideas within the tumultuous Middle East.
Furthermore, York PEN seems happy to echo anti-Semitic canards itself. The same article by Lucy Potter, whom one can conclude is either racist or just stupid, opines: “In the States, in particular, it is a commonplace that no President will be elected without the ‘Jewish vote’. While this is not so apparent in Britain, might there be a case for seeing the support of Israeli lobbyists in terms of election politics?”
The paranoia over ‘Jewish power’ never goes away. Moreover, given the Jewish community’s disposition to voting Democrat, it seems Republican presidents for decades have managed to be elected without the “Jewish vote”.
York PEN seems content to provide a platform for a woman who is proud of her support for racists, terrorists,  homophobes and psychopaths; and they dismiss criticism of their own stupidity by alluding to Israeli propaganda and Jewish hysteria.
PEN claims a passionate dedication to rational discussion and free expression, and yet they focus on the non-existent but putatively absolute power of Jewish lobbyists and puppet-masters, while ignoring the billions of dollars of Arab and Iranian wealth spent in the West that censors criticism of Arabist and Islamist tyranny, undermines Western democratic systems, lobbies hard for oil interests and warns against Western support for a secular, democratic opposition in the Middle East.
So principled is PEN’s dedication to free expression, that they have banned open discussion at this anti-Jewish event on Monday, informing us that, “It was decided amongst the group that, due to time restraints on the lecture, we would not ask anyone in specific to come and ask questions after the lecture. However we would like the York PEN group to put together a couple of incisive and relevant questions which could be put to Baroness Tonge after the lecture.”
Genuine racism must be defined by the victim; not the perpetrator. The Jewish community has made it perfectly clear to York PEN - and those within the university who are enabling this bigoted woman - that this event facilitates racism of the worst kind.
Anti-Semitism isn’t all about the hooligan in the street who daubs the Swastika on the synagogue door. In fact, the purest and vilest form of anti-Semitism is the racism of things; not the racism of people. It is the bigotries, stereotypes and hatreds enabled by institutions and ideas – legitimised through double standards and a wilful defiance to the fears of others.
The University of York and York PEN are facilitating bigotry. Their claim to provide an impartial platform for free discussion is obviously untrue. Their responses have been acts of whitewashing - proven by their apologism and defence of Tonge and their allusions to complainants'' crticisms as unwarranted hysteria.