Israeli ambassador condemns peer who quit party whip after refusing to apologise for saying country would not last for ever
Israel’s ambassador to Britain has issued a defiant message after a Liberal Democrat peer said the country would not last for ever “in its present form”.
Daniel Taub said Israel had “no intention of going anywhere” after Lady Tonge warned the country to “beware” because the United States would eventually end its support for its ally in the Middle East.
The ambassador spoke out after Tonge resigned the party whip after rejecting a call from the party leader, Nick Clegg, to apologise or leave the Lib Dem grouping in the Lords. 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.
Clegg acted after the Guido Fawkes website ran a video clip of Tonge at a Middlesex University meeting last week, where she said: “Beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there forever 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. Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.”
The Israeli ambassador, who was speaking at a dinner organised by the Community Security Trust, said: “We have had some troubling reminders, even most recently hearing shockingly a member of the House of Lords saying that Israel will not be there for ever. I’m sure I speak for everyone here when I tell Baroness Tonge we have no intention of going anywhere.”
The chancellor, George Osborne, who was at the same dinner, said: “I’ve got a message for Jenny Tonge. The state of Israel is going to be around a lot longer than you are, Jenny.”
Clegg said: “These remarks were wrong and offensive and do not reflect the values of the Liberal Democrats … 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.”
The chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, said the remarks were “dangerous, inflammatory and unacceptable” and “have no place in civil public discourse”.
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, blamed “Zionist campaigners” for the furore. The peer said: “The comments I made have been taken completely out of context. They followed a very ill-tempered meeting in which Zionist campaigners attempted continually to disrupt proceedings. They mouthed obscenities at the panellists, to the extent that university security attempted to remove them from the premises.
“The comments I made were in protest at the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and the treatment of Israeli Arabs. I am disappointed the leadership of my party did not consult me before issuing a press release and seems always to abet the request of the pro-Israel lobby.”
The Liberal Democrats Friends of Israel said it applauded Clegg’s sacking of 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.”
from Nicholas Watt