This is a guest post from Ed Fordham

I still remember the day in 2009 when our canvass team came back from a night out on the doorsteps and asked me: “Who is Jenny Tonge? We have just been canvassing and had the most awful time over this person who apparently is a Liberal Democrat…”

I explained calmly and with a wry smile that Jenny was former MP and member of the House of Lords, and that she held strong views and was not afraid to voice them. “But this was real fear,” said one of the canvassers, “these residents were not going to vote Liberal Democrat because of the views she articulates.” It was not a one-off incident.

So how does someone go from being a passionate and thoughtful campaigner, through to being an MP, a member of the House of Lords and then become a poster figure of fear and hatred on a topic as controversial as Israel/Palestine?

I remember well, for example, Dr Jenny Tonge’s passionate plea at a Conference for measures to tackle air quality – especially in London and for cyclists. She cares deeply about issues and can voice those concerns with passion and force. But sadly, there my respect ends.

I also speak on issues about Israel and Palestine – I am fascinated by history, politics and religion, I love the Middle East and its mix of heat and dust. I consider myself a friend of Israel (which, for the record, is a very different thing to being a supporter of its Government!). But I also know that the cocktail of religion, politics and history is a dangerous one. This is a topic that requires knowledge, facts, understanding and balance – yes passion, but passion for shared agendas not deeper wounds and accusations.

Somehow, in the quest for a resolution to the Middle East dilemmas Jenny has become the illustration of what is wrong about the debate on the Middle East. Passionate and forceful, but with a loud tint of prejudice, anger, hatred and perhaps even an endorsed threat.

What happened at Middlesex University was not a one-off incident. It was the latest in a long line of provocations. But when I was on the hustings and people said things I found vile about Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and Muslims, I felt it right and correct to distance myself, to try and add value to the conversation and show some understanding of the depth of the problems. On this assessment Jenny failed herself and the Liberal Democrats. It was correct that she left.

I consider myself to be pretty close to the political conversation locally and nationally. But I have been really struck at the widespread relief from members at Jenny’s departure from the Lords Parliamentary Party. These are rank and file members who are not close to foibles and pitfalls of the Israel/Palestine debate.

Nick Clegg inherited this problem. Jenny was an issue under Charles Kennedy and Ming Campbell, so this is not a new issue. Nick has been consistent and clear – he is a friend of Israel, recognising its right to exist, he is a pursuer of peace in the Middle East and a critic of wild and unchecked screams on this topic. He was right to act on this occasion and with such clarity.

I could not myself have shared a platform with some of the people with whom Jenny did – and she knew beforehand how controversial and aggressive they can be. So next time someone associates Israelis as Nazis, or denies Al Qaeda, or links Mossad with 9/11 – I’ll be condemning them, as I have done before. It’s a shame Jenny didn’t when she had the chance, and this time it was her last chance. She had had plenty of chances before and passed them by.

Ed Fordham was the Liberal Democrats parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn in 2010

41 Responses to “Guest post: My Thoughts On Jenny Tonge”

  1. Biodegradable says:

    Unfortunately it wasn’t her last chance (to condemn antisemites), and it seems she hasn’t really left the Lib-Dem fold either.

    Baroness Tonge: Appearing at the LibDem Spring Conference

    • Ed Fordham says:

      it would be odd for her to not to try and push her agenda given her willingness to speak out

      and lots of people speak at all the party conferences – including people from other parties and none… (including people I wouldn’t invite or go and listen to!)

      Ed

  2. Anthony Aloysious says:

    I share the author’s feelings about the need for the debate to be balanced.

    I also believe that there is a desire by most people in the world to see a comprehensive peace in the Middle East but this vision has not been helped by Israel’s current Prime Minister Mr Netanyahu, who continues to build settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

    To put the conflict into context with respect to international law and the feelings of the world, may I convey the following.

    Last November, there were a further 6 UN Resolutions on Palestine and the Middle East. In fact, there are over 150 UN Resolutions (including 181, 191 and 194) – all remain unimplemented in full.

    Furthermore the ruling of the International Court of Justice in the Hague pertaining to the ‘security barrier’, which is 3 times the length of the Berlin Wall, has been sadly ignored by Mr Netanyahu. Perhaps if the ‘security barrier’ had to be built at all, it would have been better to construct on the 1967 borders. Nonetheless once this ‘separation barrier’ and the settlement enterprise is completed, Palestinian communities will be separated into pockets of territory that lack contiguity, surrounded by settlements only accessible by settler only roads. ‘Natural growth’ settlements too were not acceptable as part of Phase I of the internationally agreed Road Map (2003) either.

    There are 130 nations in the world that recognise Palestine including India, China, Russia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Brazil. Day by day, the ‘security barrier’ and settlements erode the possibility of a two-state solution and the viability to bring about a comprehensive peace.

    Lastly UNESCO’s recognition last year of Palestine (supported by France, Spain, Ireland and Norway amongst many European nations) was still a positive step forward and a counter balance to those who deny Israel or Palestine’s right to exist. Dignity and peace is paramount for both peoples and recognition of both states ensures that those in the rejection camps are marginalized even further.

    • Jewess says:

      Hey Anthony, I’ll vote for removing the separation barrier and installing it around Europe so that “the most of the people in the world” that you mentioned are prevented from funding the Palestinians and Hamas and Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran from conducting the ongoing and unrelenting terror that continues to kill innocent Jews and Christians in Israel and other sections of this planet. And, Anthony, 150 UN resolutions = 150 ways of publicly celebrating Jew hatred of the most despicable kind by some of the world’s worst human rights abusers. Just sayin’.

  3. Israelinurse says:

    “Dignity and peace is paramount”.

    Indeed it is, Anthony, but when you twist facts to the extent that you have done above, there is nothing dignified in that and nothing which either helps the Palestinian people or respects them as having agency.

    “Perhaps if the ‘security barrier’ had to be built at all”. Do you know why it was built, Anthony? Do you know that the government at the time actually opposed its construction, but that it was pressure from the ordinary people who were sick and tired of seeing their loved ones blown up on buses and in shopping malls which made the government change its mind?

    And who instigated, paid for and carried out those suicide bombings, Anthony? It was the Palestinian Authority (using EU and other foreign funding) together with numerous terrorist organisations proscribed by your government. Don’t you think that some sort of responsibility should be borne by those who start a war, including a war of terror?

    And if you are going to quote the ICJ, then at least do so accurately. It was not a ruling, but an ‘advisory opinion’- albeit a deeply flawed one – and it has absolutely no legal standing.

    Equally disingenuous is your statement that Israel’s current government “continues to build settlements”. No new settlements have been built for at least 20 years and there is no such thing as “settler only roads”.

    You want to quote the Roadmap? No problem. But first go look at its initial clause. It concerns Palestinian incitement. Now go to a website called ‘Palestinian Media Watch’ and see how PA sanctioned incitement against Israelis and Jews in general continues to this day in mosques, schools and on PA-run TV.

    Like the subject of this post, Jenny Tonge, you can only see Palestinians as victims and Israelis as all-powerful evil-doers. That outlook does justice to neither side.

    Don’t you think it’s high time that you stopped relating to Palestinians as though they were children or some sort of anthropologically interesting curiosity?

    They are people striving to build a nation and part of that process is taking responsibility for their own past choices such as the choice to attack a young nation in ’48, ’67 and ’73. The choice to start two Intifadas. The choice to fund, support and harbour terrorist organisations. The choice to refuse multiple peace offers. The choice to break existing agreements such as Oslo.

    The two state solution is the only solution and it is still very viable indeed. All the Palestinians have to do is to say ‘yes’. Assuming, of course, that is what they actually want.

    • Biodegradable says:

      Well said Israelinurse, you’ve saved me the trouble of putting the record straight regarding the ICJ “advisory opinion”, which isn’t a “ruling”.

      I would also add that the “over 150 UN Resolutions”, which itself seems to be a “disproportionate” number, were almost all promoted by Arab countries.

      “Lastly UNESCO’s recognition last year of Palestine (supported by France, Spain, Ireland and Norway amongst many European nations)”

      Indeed. Spain, Ireland and Norway are amongst the most openly antisemitic European nations, and “Palestine”‘s aim is to use its membership of UNESCO to claim that Israel is engaged in the “Judaisation” of historic Jewish sites which the “Palestinians” claim as Muslim.

    • telavivit says:

      Bravo Israelinurse.
      Just another “little” detail, Mr. Aloysious-
      “Perhaps if the ‘security barrier’ had to be built at all, it would have been better to construct on the 1967 borders.” The 67 lines were armistice lines and not recognized borders, as per the insistance of the Arab side.

    • Duvid Crockett, King of DeLancey Street, /Home of gefilte fish and kosher meat says:

      Superb, as usual Israelinurse.

      Well, it seems that Mr. Ed,the talking horse of the 1950s US TV series and Clegg exculpator, is crudely attempting here to pave the way for himself to stand again for Parliament at the next election in Hampstead and Kilburn constituency. We shall not forget his fruitless twisting and turning machinations at the last election

      Don’t vote for him or the Lib Dems ever again.

      • Hannifer says:

        It might stop at the officers who siengd out the cars for non-sanctioned use. No matter what the film maker isn’t at fault unless it was expressly stated that the cops were breaking the law when they participated in the filming.

  4. B says:

    have to say, Ed, your canvassers aren’t very well briefed if they’ve not heard of Jenny Tonge .. though I am surprised – dare I say skeptical – that your constituents are so aware and aroused by her and her views. Given they are so concerned by the middle east conflict I wonder what their views are on the coalition’s disregard of Israel’s settlement expansion over the remaining slivers of Palestinian land in defiance of the Road Map.
    You’ve not given an example of “vile” – personally I found fairly vile your colleague Matthew Harris’s suggestion that the fact Netanyahu is offering a sliver of Palestine as a state is OK as he believes Jordan is in some sense Palestine (he also notes for some reason that Palestine has never been a state, I have to wonder if thats because he believes it never should be) http://matthewfharris.blogspot.com/2010/02/sir-alan-beith-letter-in-independent.html
    Is your concern not the rights and wrongs of the middle east conflict (the West’s refusal to recognise the existence of a Palestinian state for example) but the “real fear” of loss of votes ?
    Rest assured then that I’m not voting for my Lib Dem MP anymore and a main reason is the Lib Dems anti-Palestinian stance.

  5. JayKay says:

    Well said Israelinurse. I wish someone would pay for this to be placed in all UK National newspapers to try to counter the virulently anti Israel media propoganda in the UK. And I am sorry Mr Fordham, nothing will ever get me to put an X in a LibDem box. Clegg acted too late and did far too little. The party is rife with the views espoused by Tonge as is British society frankly. People like her and Deborah Orr repeat a modern blood libel and no one challenges them.

    Sadly, the only country in the World that is not permitted to defend itself is Israel. A tiny state surrounded by enemies that would be more than happy for Iran to drop a bomb. How dare those uppity Jews still be here when the rest of the World has been trying to wipe them out for 2000 years. The UN is a joke and wholly biased against the Jewish people and it’s one lifeboat for survival.

  6. B says:

    I have to say israelnurse that your remarks (“Equally disingenuous is your statement that Israel’s current government “continues to build settlements”. No new settlements have been built for at least 20 years “)
    are disingenuous.

    For the last 20 years the number of illegal settlers has multiplied as existing settlements have expanded in defiance of the Road Map. And yes there are now new settlements too http://www.dfa.ie/home/index.aspx?id=87215

    • Biodegradable says:

      Like I said, Ireland is among the most openly antisemitic nations in Europe.

      Here’s the truth about Givat HaMatos, note that it originally consisted of caravans in 1991 when it was first “settled”, hardly new.

      Note also; “1800 housing units have been built there for the Arab population in Jerusalem. The city plans to remove the remaining caravans and build 4,000 housing units in an area of 1,060 dunams. Of these, about 1,800 units will be given to Arabs as an expansion of Beit Safafa toward the southeast.

      But don’t let facts get in the way of your dislike of Israel.

      • Biodegradable says:

        Sorry, those facts I quoted can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Givat_HaMatos

      • B says:

        so to deflect from israelinurses disinformation you resort to a slur on Ireland
        I think there’s a difference between a caravaan park and a permanent settlement and there are other examples of new settlements http://www.middleeastmonitor.org.uk/news/middle-east/3168-israel-approves-new-settlement-bloc-near-bethlehem
        and http://www.imemc.org/article/63100
        in addition to the accelerating expansion of existing settlements, ignored by israelnurse, but also in violation of the road map.

        my dislike of Israel ?? o please,trademark slurs.
        its my dislike of expansionist regimes and disinformation that is the issue.

        • Biodegradable says:

          That Ireland is virulently antisemitic is not a “slur”, it’s a matter of public record. See here for an example: http://www.thecommentator.com/index.php/article/252/modern_ireland_the_perfect_liberal_state_progressive_european_and_jew_hating_

          There’s plenty more, just google “Ireland, antisemitism”.

          Your first link to Middle East Monitor uses typical anti-Israel terminology; “The Israeli occupation authorities”, “Occupied Jerusalem” so I think we can discard that as a source of factual information.

          Your second link is to the “Middle East Media Center” who’s logo shows “Palestine” as the whole of Israel. So I believe that your dislike, to put it very mildly, of Israel is also a fact and not a “slur”.

          Next you’ll be accusing me of stifling debate. LOL!

          • B says:

            you’re not seriously claiming those sites made up Israel’s creation of those new settlements ?
            you claim bias and then cite thecommentator as proof (“public record” ?? beautiful !!) that Ireland is antisemitic ? a more right wing pro Israel rag I can’t imagine.

            and not a word on the main point – israelnurses attempt to rebut charges of settlement expansion by claiming “No new settlements” when a) that is wrong and more importantly b) existing settlements have expanded massively (in defiance of the road map). as (s)he and you are both fully aware.

          • Biodegradable says:

            Dear B,

            The article in The Commentator is written by an Irishman. He quotes statistics from a study carried out by an Irish priest, Father Micheál Mac Gréil.

            Are they anti-Irish?

            Some of my best friends are Irish so I can’t be anti-Irish.

            Does that sound familiar?

    • Israelinurse says:

      There is a difference – which should be perfectly clear but apparently isn’t – between the actual towns and villages some like to call settlements and the people who live there.

      Of course the population has grown in the last 20 years – it does everywhere. And with that the number of houses will naturally grow too. But all that is happening, as has been said above, within existing municipal boundaries.

      It therefore makes no difference whatsoever.

      Everybody knows that in a final peace agreement the big population blocs in Judea & Samaria will stay. Smaller villages or those more difficult to defend will be evacuated. There will be some sort of land swap to take all the above into account.

      That’s what has been on the table for the last 20 years. It is also all that’s ever going to be on the table.
      Anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves and obviously does not really seek a peace agreement and an end to the conflict.

      And by the way, B, if you really want to discuss this subject rationally and accurately, then citing sources such as Daud Abdullah’s MEMO is not the way to go. A source run by someone who signed the Istanbul Declaration, together with a senior member of a ‘charity’ which belongs to the Hamas-funding ‘Union of Good’ is hardly to be considered objective or reliable.

  7. Shmuel says:

    “my dislike of Israel ?? o please,trademark slurs.
    its my dislike of expansionist regimes and disinformation that is the issue.”

    Expansionist? Then why we are always withdrawing from territory? Lebanon, Gaza, Sinai and we also hand most of Hebron to the Palestinians etc…

    Stupid idiot!

    • B says:

      withdraw ?
      kinda like Saddam “withdrew” from Kuwait – you were forced out b/c you couldn’t afford the cost of occupying that land any more.
      not a comment from you on Israel’s settlement expansion ? my main point ??

      • Jonathan Goodson says:

        Your comments about new settlements are disingenuous because your links pertain only to parts of Jerusalem and, contrary to your claim, actually prove the point that Israel has not built any new settlements for 20 yrs in the WBank or Gaza (up to 2005 when Israel evacuated it).

        In other words, Israel has stuck to its agreement in the Oslo accords that it would not allow any new settlements to be created in the WBank (or Gaza) or allow existing settlements to expand beyond their current boundaries, leaving what to do with those existing settlements as an issue for final status negotiations; indeed, in 2001 in talks with Arafat at Taba and in 2008 in negotiations with Abbas Israel offered to evacuate the vast majority of the settlements, with land swaps for those near the Green Line that Israel needed to keep for practical and/or security reasons.

        Jerusalem was never a part of the Oslo agreement on not expanding the settlements because in theory Israel has long viewed it as its permanent undivided capital, though in practice of course it offered to divide the city in negotiations with Arafat in 2001 and again in 2008 in talks with Abbas.

    • Freya says:

      - a little more colpemx, this huge resource contains a very large number of pictures which come under various different licenses. you need to check with each image that it’s available for use, whether it’ available for use in commercial context, can be altered, or requires attribution

  8. Chas Newkey-Burden says:

    In related news, the CST’s wonderful Mark Gardner has written of how an anti-Israel boycotter boasts of also boycotting “loads of kosher stuff” here: http://blog.thecst.org.uk/?p=3498

    I have a column in this Thursday’s Jewish Chronicle. I’ll post the text on OvG when it goes live on their website.

  9. Jonathan S says:

    Oh dear. Ed, you need to stop pretending Tonge is the lone anti-Israel voice in the lib dems. She’s not, she’s just one of the loudest and most ridiculous. Nick Clegg called for the EU to “stop arming Israel” when it was defending itself against the years of constant rocket attacks it had suffered from Gaza. However, I don’t ever remember seeing him write about how the EU has been shown to be funding hate education in Palestinian schools, or calling for an end to that. Similarly, many Lib dem MPs opposed the change to the Universal Jurisdiction laws which had been abused and highjacked by anti-Israel extremists to try to prevent Israelis from entering the UK. Thank goodness those Lib dems were about as successful at getting their way as Tonge.

    Even your own declaration that you support Israel’s right to exist illustrative of an absurd misunderstanding of the problems Israel has to deal with. Of course Israel has a right to exist. Why on earth would anyone need to declare a belief in that? To imagine it proves their balanced interest in a secure future for Israel is beyond naive. It’s like declaring that peanut butter has a right to exist.

    • Ed Fordham says:

      The old carnards keep coming
      But I guess you are consistent in attacking me regardless what I say… given the issue was Jenny appearing to be challenging the very future existence of Israel, my assertions are not entirely innappropriate…
      [sigh]

      As for your views on Clegg – perhaps you puzzlement speaks for itself. He handled this properly and di what he said he would do handling a problem he had inherited.

  10. Jonathan S says:

    PS: By the way, Ed, If Clegg really is such a friend to Israel and the Jews, as you suggest, and if Tonge’s latest idiotic outburst “was not a one-off incident… [but] the latest in a long line of provocations”, why on earth did Clegg give her a chance to ‘apologise’ and withdraw the remarks? If he had any spine, he’d have withdrawn the whip immediately (and it still would have been some years too late for this repeat offender).

  11. Jaykay says:

    Ah yes, puts a lie to the usual canard of the Tonges of this world, “I’m not anti Semitic/Jewish, but anti Zionist” These scum delude no one save themselves. A Jew hater is a Jew hater, no matter how they try to dress it up

  12. Jonathan Goodson says:

    OK, Ed, it’s good that Tonge has at last been sacked and so two cheers for Nick Clegg on that score.

    But I too can’t buy the idea that Tonge’s departure is somehow the end of the Lib Dems’ Israel/Jews problem. Tonge’s statements on Israel and Jewish support for Israel have been so vile for so long that the only rational explanation for the tolerance shown towards her is that she has significant grass roots support within the party which, presumably, remains.

    • Ed Fordham says:

      Jonathan,

      Genuinely not sure how to measure ‘significant’- the conference has been measured on it’s actual policy on Israel – it’s the fringe debate that has been noisy and distracted I’m afraid
      Not sure we will ever see the end of the issue as a problem for all of the parties, but I’m just trying to ensure that there are clear, cogent and active support for moving the debate forwards within the Lib Dems and I’m far from alone…

      Ed

    • Ed Fordham says:

      i’ve given two links below on Nick Clegg’s standing on this but this is measured and thoughful from Martin Bright (not just cos I’m mentioned :-) )
      http://www.thejc.com/comment-and-debate/analysis/41047/support-may-come-surprise

  13. Jonathan S says:

    Fringes?! Clegg is the party leader! And large numbers of Lib dem MPs wanted not to change universal jurisdiction to stop its abuse in usage against Israelis. How is this a fringe problem? The lib Dems are the most anti israel of the three ‘main’ parties by most measures.

  14. Jonathan S says:

    Oh and let’s not forget clegg this year declaring israel was responsible for “deliberate vandalism” in the peace process. Yeah, never mind the rockets. It’s all about israel’s “vandalism”.

    It’s really weird to see this strange attempt to hide the mainstream lib dem anti israel feelings on your blog, Chas. there’s lots to say about Tonge’s departure, but to try to claim the lib dems have a generally good record on israel is weird.

    Is Sara Teather a fringe figure too? Isn’t she Minister of State for Children and Families? Sounds kinda non-fringe to me.

    She personally told me israel should negotiate with Hamas, but rolled her eyes in despair when I asked her if she’d even read their founding charter, still in place today, calling for the death of all Jews and the total eradication of Israel. She confessed that she hadn’t ever read it. But why let such facts get in the way of her prejudice?

    • Ed Fordham says:

      I asked Chas for the column space and not sure where anyone”to try to claim the lib dems have a generally good record on israel is weird.”
      It’s simply a column that reacts to the JT news – which is news right? it’s not a comprehensive all encompassing assessment and it’s not the place to try it…

      • cityca says:

        Ed,

        If you really want to know where Tonge is coming from, let’s not forget her disgusting comments about the IDF Medical Rescue Mission to Haiti, ‘harvesting organs’.

        She should have been thrown out of the party years ago and WRT your comments about fringe opinion, both Ashdown and Ming Campbell have shown themselves to be hostile to Israel. Are they on the fringe?

        The Lib Dems have demonstrated time and again that they are not just not friends of Israel, but that they are perfectly happy to keep within their ranks, some truly obnoxious haters, and not just of Israelis.

        Finally, could I just reiterate Jonathan’s point by the way – no-one speaks of Pakistan’s right to exist (although perhaps they should), so I cannot understand why anyone should even begin to question the legitimacy of a state that is not only based on historical fact, but was agreed by the major powers in the 1920′s and was again voted for by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948.

        It is not only legitimate and has a right to exist, but it is probably more legitimate historically than many of it’s neighbours – certainly more than ‘Trans’Jordan.

  15. Andi Ali says:

    As a lib dem while not agreeing with evrything Jenny Tongue says, I did not support her removal from the party – indeed I would rather see Clegg removed as leader. He hs done nothing for the Palastinians and everything for Israel. Example he refused to back Palastine membership of the UN in Septemeber and memebership of Unesco….

  16. Jill says:

    Anthony, ‘perhaps” if your statement had to be posted at all, it could have contained real knowledge, actual facts and evidence of a at least some reading.

    All you’ve done is recycled a bunch of antiIsrael Arab and UN propaganda talking points.
    Think you’ve garnered respect here for your oh-so-politely-displayed ignorance?

    No way, sonny boy.
    You’ve just been exhiibt 166453 – another Paliprop moron with a bent for pontificating.

    Now, for homework:
    go read the Hamas Covenant
    Go read the PLO charter (written by the KGB)
    Just go.

  17. Jill says:

    Reading the commenters here whoa re antiIsrael, it’s interesting that noone is “anti’ any other country.
    no one feels it bnecessarty to say they are ‘anti” China, or Spain or Saudi Arabia, etc. Oh no, they’re neutral abotu every other country.
    But they are anti-Israel.
    They try my patience – just a load of Jewhaters.

  18. Andi Ali says:

    Dont talk rubbish Jill. Israel maintains a brutal and racist occupation in the West bank as well as one built on apartheid polices. We should be harder not softer on Israel despite what pratts like Fordham think in our party.

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