Peer rejects ultimatum from Nick Clegg, saying she stands by comment that ‘Israel will not be there for ever’
An outspoken Liberal Democrat peer who declared that Israel would not last for ever has resigned the party whip after rejecting a call from Nick Clegg to apologise.
Lady Tonge told the leadership in a phone call that she could not accept the ultimatum from the deputy prime minister because she stood by her remarks.
Her move, which came as the Board of Deputies of British Jews condemned Tonge’s remarks as “sinister and abhorrent”, means she no longer holds the Lib Dem whip in the Lords.
Nick Clegg said: “These remarks were wrong and offensive and do not reflect the values of the Liberal Democrats.
“I asked Baroness Tonge to withdraw her remarks and apologise for the offence she has caused. She has refused to do so and will now be leaving the party.
“The Liberal Democrats have a proud record of campaigning for the rights of Palestinians, and that will continue, but we are crystal clear in our support for a two-state solution.”
A Lib Dem spokesman said: “Jenny Tonge does not speak for the party on Israel and Palestine. Her presence and comments at this event were extremely ill-advised and ill-judged. The tone of the debate at this event was wholly unacceptable and adds nothing to the peace process. The Liberal Democrats are wholehearted supporters of a peaceful two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine issue.”
The Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel said: “LDFI applaud Nick Clegg’s decisive action in sacking Baroness Jenny Tonge. Nick rightly gave Jenny Tonge the chance to apologise and retract her recent statement on Israel and she declined. The rest is history. I hope this now draws a line under the continual smearing of Lib Dem party policy on Israel and the Middle East by former Lib Dem Baroness Tonge. I’m pleased to say she is now somebody else’s problem.”
Tonge, who was sacked as the Lib Dem children’s spokeswoman in the Commons in 2004 when she suggested she could consider becoming a suicide bomber, sparked the row after raising questions about the future of Israel.
The peer told a meeting at Middlesex University last week: “Beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there for ever in its present form. One day, the United States of America will get sick of giving £70bn a year to Israel to support what I call America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East – that is Israel. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough.”
She added: “Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews condemned her remarks. In a statement issued before Tonge’s resignation by Jon Benjamin, its chief executive, the board and the Jewish Leadership Council said: “We call for the whip to be removed immediately from Jenny Tonge by the party leadership. Given her longstanding, pernicious views on Israel, her comment that Israel ‘is not going to be there forever’ is both sinister and abhorrent. There is no place for someone like Jenny Tonge in mainstream political parties in this country and it is time for the Liberal Democrats to act quickly and decisively, once and for all.”
Tonge was criticised across the spectrum. Gavin Stollar, chairman of the LDFI, said earlier: “LDFI strongly condemns Baroness Tonge’s latest outburst not only because it is wrong but because it is contrary to Lib Dem party policy. Jenny Tonge is an irrelevant, siren and marginal voice in the Liberal Democrat party and we call on her to resign the Lib Dem whip.
“If she truly believes the things she says, how can she justify being a member of a party whose policies are diametrically opposed to her views on Israel and the Middle East, a subject on which she talks on almost a daily basis?”
John Woodcock, the chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, said earlier: “This is the latest in a series of outrageous remarks from Baroness Tonge – words of excuse or apology in response are no longer enough. Nick Clegg needs to take disciplinary action against his offensive peer to reassure people the government remains serious about a two-state solution.”
Ian Austin, a former Labour minister, said earlier: “There is a cross-party consensus that a two-state solution is the only way to bring peace to the Middle East. At the very least, Nick Clegg must make Baroness Tonge withdraw these remarks.”
Tonge’s remarks were made last week and disclosed on the Guido Fawkes website.
from Nicholas Watt