Liberal Democrat leader acted ‘hastily and ill-advisedly’ says peer punished for saying Israel ‘would not be there forever’
Liberal Democrat peer Lady Tonge has expressed disappointment that party leader Nick Clegg “very hastily and ill-advisedly” disowned her after she said Israel “would not be there forever”.
Tonge, a former Lib Dem MP, was forced to give up the party whip this week after the deputy prime minister told her to apologise or resign over her comments, made to students at Middlesex University. Tonge stood by her remarks.
Asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if she thought Clegg’s ultimatum had been justified, Tonge said: “I think [he acted] very hastily and I think ill-advisedly. He’s going to have a lot of flak about it, I do know that.
“Of course, I always have an enormous amount of flak and I am quite used to that. But I have also had an enormous amount of support.”
Clegg acted after the Guido Fawkes website ran a video clip of Tonge at a Middlesex University meeting last week, where she said that Israel would not last forever in its present form.
“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,” she said.
Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, said Clegg was right to demand that Tonge apologise or leave the Lib Dem grouping in the Lords because her comments sought to “delegitimise Israel”.
He told Today: “The problem with Baroness Tonge is that she represents an extreme anti-Israel view.
“She attempts to delegitimise Israel, her criticism is disproportionate and it is also damaging not just to Israel but to her own credibility.
“I agree with free speech and she is welcome to go and say all these conspiracy theories on Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park … but she represents the Liberal Democrats, and it was right for Nick Clegg to ask her to apologise because what she was saying was trying to delegitimise Israel.”
He added: “People like Baroness Tonge have these conspiracy theories but say very little about what goes on in Damascus, in Syria, every day. It is incredibly relevant because no one ever asks if Syria is going to exist or if Syria should not exist.
“But in the case of Baroness Tonge it is conspiracy theories and an attempt to delegitimise Israel.
“What I am trying to say is that the criticism of Israel – and it takes a lot to unite Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and the foreign secretary – her criticism is far more disproportionate and takes little account of what is going on.”
Tonge said “facts on the ground” had inspired her comments.
“I base my comments on what is happening to Palestinians in those areas, let alone what is happening now in East Jerusalem.
“Everywhere you look and go, you see the brutalisation of Palestinians. That is not conspiracy, that is facts on the ground.”
She added: “You know, it has been said by many, many people, to say that if Israel continues with the policies it’s pursuing at the moment towards the Palestinians, let alone in the wider Middle East, if you combine that with the fact that Israel has lost its allies like Turkey and Egypt and is making enemies all over the Middle East, if you add to that the fact it just cannot carry on pursuing the policies, doing the things it’s doing, and expecting to survive.
“At the moment it survives because it has the backing of America but that may not go on forever. The American people may get fed up of backing this state that angers everyone and irritates everyone.”
Tonge was sacked as the Lib Dem children’s spokeswoman in the Commons in 2004 when she suggested she could consider becoming a suicide bomber.
from Hélène Mulholland