Jenny Tonge’s Israel remark simply stated an immutable law of historyBy
Tonge has made idiotic pronouncements in the past but saying Israel will not last for ever in its present form is not one of them
Jenny Tonge, a GP and local councillor who got lucky in 1997 when she became a Lib Dem MP (now a peer), has a track record of idiotic public pronouncements in her support for the Palestinian cause.
But should she have been effectively kicked out of her party over her latest controversy, the one in which she said Israel “is not going to be there for ever in its present form”?
I understand why many Israelis and some of their more ardent supporters around the world might get upset about such remarks. Israel feels as threatened by its neighbours as some of its neighbours feel threatened by Israel – the double minority problem – and only yesterday I read about the retaliatory rocket attacks which Israeli cities are certain to face from Lebanon and Syria, as well as Iran, if it launches air strikes against Tehran’s nuclear facilities.
Chilling stuff and people like Tonge are both foolish in some of the things they say and careless about some of the company they keep. But Israel not to last for ever in its present form? That’s surely a no-brainer? Isn’t official Israeli policy committed to (modest) land-for-peace trades if the two-state solution, which almost everyone knows is the answer, comes about? That would change Israel “in its present form” a bit.
There’s a larger point here as well as the narrow local politics and their geopolitical ramifications where the ever-helpful peer ventured – on a university campus – that the US will eventually “get sick of” providing $70bn (£44bn) a year to support what she called its floating aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean. Well, that’s an unremarkable conclusion too, albeit not a candidate for Tactful Remark of the Year.
With the possible exception of imperial China, no state lasts for ever, however large or important. One hundred years ago it looked touch and go for China too. Barely 20 years ago the mighty Soviet Union, heir to tsarist expansionism, looked pretty permanent. Speaking for myself I’ve always thought that making Hawaii the 50th US state – I remember the day it happened – was probably a mistake. It will be hard to defend one day. When? I don’t know, but look at the map.
Britain is not the state it was 100 years ago – those 26 Irish counties have gone their own way – and Alex Salmond has plans for another large chunk of the state, though he’s wrong to assert – as he does – that both independent Scotland and England would both be EU successor states on equal terms: rump Britain would be the EU member, Scotland would have to apply to join.
Strange to say, we have hung on to the Channel Islands – the last fragment of William the Conquerer’s Norman domain – when geography suggests the French should have mopped them up at some point as they did Angevin Aquitaine and Calais. There’s no logic, only permanent flux, as France knows from its own history – its borders have been changed by force in living memory.
We can all cite such examples, the world is a restless place. So why be so neurotic about a not very important Lib Dem peer – sacked from her frontbench health job over similar exotic heresy back in 2010 – shooting her mouth off on Middlesex university’s London campus? I fear I must refer you to the website of my old sparring partner, Guido Fawkes, who can usually manage self-publicity without my help.
Fawkes highlighted Tonge’s participation courtesy of a group I hadn’t previously heard of called Students Rights – you’ll find its website here – which says it tracks extremism on Britain’s university campuses, a problem about which both police and university authorities have too often been complacent.
It seems there was a bad-tempered public meeting at which known Jewish activists were excluded but others manage to disrupt some speakers – “Zionist campaigners”, as Tonge’s own statement calls them, a curious choice of language, I’d say, one which gives a modest insight into the GP-MP’s mindset.
She shared a platform with a chap called Ken O’Keefe who apparently believes that 9/11 was a US/Mossad plot (ho, ho, ho) and that Israel “in its current form should be destroyed”.
That’s muscular language from an armchair general, language which ratchets up Tonge’s own words. We weren’t there and don’t know the context in which the passionate peeress spoke – as she herself says – but it doesn’t sound a very attractive occasion. I attend both Jewish events and – less often – Palestinian ones and they are mostly very wholesome in my limited experience.
The real issue is here is surely free speech. If anyone – say Abu Qatada or the chap with the hook whose name I usually manage to forget – incites violence against Israelis or anyone else the law is there to have them arrested, charged and (with luck) convicted. But vulgar abuse and historical prediction – especially when stating an immutable law of history – should be things we can live with.
Nick Clegg called on Tonge to apologise. She didn’t so he took the party whip away from her. So she resigned from the party. That’s just the kind of escalation which doesn’t help anyone. We need protagonists who feel so strongly on this issue to talk more to each other, not to display excessive and exclusive virtue.
from Michael White