Antisemitism in Political Parties

Jenny Tonge

2012-present: Independent peer

2005-2012: Liberal Democrat peer

1997-2005: Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Richmond Park

Incidents

  1. On 19th June 2003, it was reported that Baroness Tonge had compared the living conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza strip to those suffered by Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War.
  2. On 23rd January 2004, it was reported that Baroness Tonge had told a meeting of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign: “This particular brand of terrorism, the suicide bomber, is truly born out of desperation…I think if I had to live in that situation, and I say this advisedly, I might just consider becoming one myself.”
  3. On 21st September 2006, it was reported that Baroness Tonge had said: “The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they’ve probably got a grip on our party.”
  4. On 1st February 2010, The Palestine Telegraph (an online news site based in Gaza which frequently publishes antisemitic content and of which Baroness Tonge was a patron) published false claims that an Israel Defence Forces emergency aid hospital in Haiti was secretly harvesting organs and selling them on the black market. On 11th February 2011, it was reported that Baroness Tonge had lent credence to those allegations, saying: “To prevent allegations such as these — which have already been posted on YouTube — going any further, the IDF and the Israeli Medical Association should establish an independent inquiry immediately to clear the names of the team in Haiti.”
  5. On 26th January 2015, Baroness Tonge submitted a written question to the House of Lords, asking whether the Government planned “to encourage Jewish faith leaders in the United Kingdom publicly to condemn settlement building by Israel and to make clear their support for universal human rights.”
  6. On 7th April 2016, Baroness Tonge shared an article by Gilad Atzmon entitled: “On Labour Capitulation”. The article asserted: “ Jewish Power is the capacity to silence the discussion on Jewish power. British Labour is the present target of an intensive exercise in Jewish power. The Jewish Lobby and media are openly silencing criticism of Israel and Jewish power.” Gilad Atzmon is an Israeli-born British jazz musician and author who is widely considered to be an antisemite, who has denounced what he calls “the Holocaust religion”, suggested that the Grenfell fire was the work of ‘Jerusalemites’, and whose claim that a leader of Campaign Against Antisemitism fabricated cases of antisemitism for financial gain led to him being successfully sued for libel.
  7. On 25th October 2016, Baroness Tonge hosted a meeting in the Houses of Parliament, at which an audience member suggested that Jewish people were responsible for the Holocaust. The speaker asserted that a boycott of Nazi Germany initiated by American Jews was responsible for antagonizing Hitler to the point of wanting to “systematically kill Jews wherever he could find them.”
  8. On October 27th 2016, following the meeting she had hosted in the House of Lords, it was reported that Baroness Tonge had been suspended by the Liberal Democrats but had then resigned from the Party before any disciplinary process could be instigated. She was reported as saying: “I am at last free of being told what I must and must not say on the issue of Palestine, lest it offends the Israel lobby here, who like to control us, as they do in the USA. They are trying to destroy the Labour Party with spurious accusations of antisemitism and now they have set their sights on the Lib Dems.”
  9. On 5th February 2017, it was reported that Jenny Tonge had written to the Community Security Trust, a charity tasked with preventing attacks on Britain’s Jewish community, after they published data indicating that incidents of antisemitism had risen to record levels. She reportedly wrote to the charity: “Do you NEVER consider that the actions of the Israeli government are contributing towards this rise? Sadly, many people do not distinguish between Jewish people and Mr Netanyahu and his colleagues.” She accused the charity of a “perpetual victim mentality” and further commented that if they “spoke up against the abuse if [sic] human rights, flagrant disregard of international law and the Geneva Convention” then levels of antisemitism might be lower.
  10. On 2nd May 2017, it was reported that Baroness Tonge had shared an image on Facebook by the controversial Brazilian cartoonist Carlos Latuff, which compares the situation in Gaza with the Holocaust. It shows two men caught, side by side, on a barbed-wire fence. One is wearing the distinctive striped uniform with a yellow star of a Jewish concentration camp prisoner in World War Two; the other wears the traditional Arab keffiyeh scarf and his coat bears the word ‘Gaza’. Both are shown with their limbs disposed in such a way as to form the shape of a swastika. Above the ‘Jewish’ victim are the words ‘Never Again’ (a phrase which is particularly associated with Holocaust Memorial Day and the prevention of any such repeated atrocities); under the ‘Gazan’ victim are the words ‘Over Again’.
  11. On 26th August 2017, Baroness Tonge shared a post on Facebook which consisted of a statement about the power of the “Israel Lobby” taken from an interview given by the musician Roger Waters to RT. The post included an image: an antisemitic caricature of a hook-nosed Jewish man, clasping his hands together. The image seems to have originated from a regular contributor to a notoriously antisemitic far-right blog. The Facebook user from whom Baroness Tonge shared it has since erased the caricature and the signature (Alice.F.) of the post’s original author.
  12. On 28th August 2018, Baroness Tonge shared an article by Eve Mykytyn (whose writings are regularly published on the blog of Gilad Atzmon, see [7] above) entitled: “Exposed! How Britain’s Anti-Semitism [sic] scaremongers operate.” The article alleged that, “under the guise of fighting anti-Semitism [sic]”, the Campaign Against Antisemitism had “managed to maneuver British society into abdicating its core liberal values, intimidate the prosecutorial and judicial system, and silence criticism of Israel in both social media and the mainstream media.” As well as suggesting that the CAA is “a group of consciously deceptive Zionists who deliberately deceives the British public,” the author further asserts: “the CAA and others work to enforce Jewish power precisely as it is defined by Gilad Atzmon: ‘the power to suppress criticism of Jewish power’.” Baroness Tonge commented: “This article is agonisingly long but I ended up asking myself ‘who runs Britain’. The Campaign Against Anti Semitism [sic] apparently.”
  13. On 31st August 2018, Baroness Tonge shared an article on Facebook entitled “Is Israel’s hand behind the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn?” Within the article it was alleged, inter alia that the Jewish Labour Movement “has become a proxy for the Israeli state,” and one unnamed Labour activist was quoted as saying: “Corbyn is up against an unholy, ad hoc alliance of right-wing MPs in both the Labour and Tory parties, the Israeli government and its lobbyists, the British security services and the media.”
  14. [a] On 14th September 2018, Baroness Tonge shared an article on Facebook which related how the PCS Union leader Mark Serwotka had suggested that Israel might have been responsible for creating the Labour antisemitism crisis to divert attention from its own actions. She commented: “Thank goodness someone is brave enough to put PALESTINE back in the public eye.”[b] In the discussion which followed, the former Liberal Democrat MP  David Ward commented: “Well it is a combination of supporters of Israel who want to silence its critics and the Tory Party and its supportive press who fear Jeremy Corbyn. Neither want to see a pro-Palestinian Prime Minister. The false accusation of being antisemitic is powerful and for the supporters of Israel successfully moves criticism of Israel on to the safer ground of forcing someone to defend the vile allegation and away from the substance of the criticism.” Baroness Tonge liked’ this.
  15. On 27 Oct 2018, following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting in which eleven people were murdered, Jenny Tonge wrote on Facebook: “Absolutely appalling and a criminal act, but does it ever occur to Bibi and the present Israeli government that it’s [sic] actions against Palestinians may be reigniting anti-Semitism?” It should be noted that Baroness Tonge had previously blamed Israel for rising levels of antisemitism in the UK.
  16. On 26th January 2019, it was reported that Baroness Tonge had shared an image on Facebook the previous day. The image showed Death personified as a spectral ‘grim reaper’ whose robes bear the stars and stripes of the American flag, and whose bloodstained scythe represents the Israeli flag: its upper and lower borders are edged with blue and a Star of David can be seen in the middle. Death is shown knocking at a closed door — the last in a succession along a corridor — above which is written: “Venezuela”. The other doors all stand open with blood staining their thresholds; the names “Afghanistan”, “Iraq”, “Libya”, “Syria” and “Ukraine” are inscribed above them. When it was reported to Baroness Tonge that the image was antisemitic, she first claimed not to see the Israeli flag, then insisted: “Criticising the Israeli government is NOT anti Semitic [sic].”
  17. On 13th December 2019, following the result of the UK general election, Baroness Tonge wrote on Facebook: “The Chief Rabbi must be dancing in the street. The pro Israel lobby won our General Election by lying about Jeremy Corbyn.”18. On 27th February 2020, during a speech in the House of Lords, Baroness Tonge said that the Prime Minister should: “not allow our country to fall under the shadow of the United States of America and its puppet master, Israel.”

Analysis

Campaign Against Antisemitism’s analysis is that Baroness Tonge’s actions and statements amount to breaches of the International Definition of Antisemitism and qualify as antisemitic discourse according to our methodology.

By comparing the living conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza strip to those suffered by Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Second World War [1], and by sharing an image which directly compared the suffering of Jews in concentration camps during the Holocaust with Gaza [10], Baroness Tonge was “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.”

By exculpating the actions of suicide bombers who have killed Jews in Israel [2], she was “justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.” We note that suicide bombers in Israel and elsewhere are primarily motivated by radical Islamism, and in Israel have, for example, included British citizens who have travelled there expressly to carry out such atrocities.

By lending credence to allegations that Israeli forces were secretly harvesting organs [4], Baroness Tonge was endorsing what is recognised as a modern version of the ancient blood libel. In doing so, she was “using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g. claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterise Israel or Israelis.”

By suggesting that Jews in Britain should condemn the actions of Israel [5], by suggesting that it was the role of British Jews to oppose the actions of the Israeli government in order to prevent their own persecution [9] and by suggesting that Israel was ultimately responsible for attacks against Jews in the US and the UK [15], she was endorsing a view which “Hold[s] Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel”.

By allowing a speaker at a meeting which she was chairing to assert that Jews had been responsible for provoking a genocidal response from Adolf Hitler [7], she was tacitly endorsing a form of Holocaust revisionism that perverts the history of Nazi persecution of the Jews in the 1930s to be disseminated — namely, that Hitler was compelled to take action against Jews because of a boycott called by Jewish communities, rather than those communities having reacted with a boycott to Nazi persecution of German Jewry.

By suggesting that the “pro-Israeli lobby” (which necessarily includes Jews) controls the western world through finance [3]; by asserting the existence of an “Israel lobby [in the UK], who like to control us, as they do in the USA”, and asserting that they were attempting to “destroy the Labour Party with spurious accusations of antisemitism” and that they had “set their sights on the Lib Dems” [8]; by sharing an antisemitic caricature [11]; by sharing articles referring to “Jewish power” [6], [12]; by asserting that a Jewish charity might control Britain [12]; by sharing articles which variously accuse Israel, Jewish MPs, Jewish groups and the media of fabricating Labour’s antisemitism crisis in order to undermine Jeremy Corbyn or prevent criticism of Israel [13], [14a]; by sharing an image in which Israel is wrongly represented as complicit in American foreign interventions [16]; by claiming that “the pro Israel lobby” had won the General Election “by lying about Jeremy Corbyn” [17]; and by calling Israel the “puppet master” of the United States of America [18], she was “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”

By endorsing the assertion that false accusations of antisemitism are made by supporters of Israel (a group which will necessarily include Jews) in order either to prevent Jeremy Corbyn forming a government or to shield Israel from criticism [14b], she was endorsing the deployment of the so-called ‘Livingstone Formulation’, by accusing Jews who cite evidence of antisemitism of lying, conspiring or having deceitful motives in doing so, when there is clear evidence that there have been breaches of the International Definition of Antisemitism. This further constitutes “making mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective.”

Outcome

On 23rd January 2004, it was reported that Baroness Tonge’s comments concerning suicide bombers [2] had been condemned as “completely unacceptable” by then Liberal Democrat leader, Charles Kennedy, and having been sacked as the party’s spokesperson for children, Baroness Tonge reportedly told the BBC that suicide bombers’ actions are “appalling and loathsome”.

Following her 2006 comments about the supposed “financial grips” of the “pro-Israeli lobby”, on 13th October 2006 it was reported that Baroness Tonge had been severely reprimanded by the then Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, who said that her comments had “clear antisemitic connotations”; however, she remained unapologetic, refusing to comment further. There was no further disciplinary sanction against her.

Following her comments about supposed organ harvesting, on 12th February 2010 it was reported that Baroness Tonge had been dismissed from her position as health spokesperson in the House of Lords. The then Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, called her comments “wrong, distasteful and provocative” and said she had apologised “unreservedly” for any offence she had caused.

On 29th February 2012, it was reported that Baroness Tonge had rejected Nick Clegg’s call for her to apologise for her remarks about Israel made at Middlesex University, and that she had resigned the party whip.

She continued to sit in the House of Lords as an independent Liberal Democrat.

On October 27th 2016, following the meeting she had hosted in the House of Lords, it was reported that Baroness Tonge had been suspended by the Liberal Democrats but had then resigned from the party before any disciplinary process could be instigated. On 5th May 2017, it was reported that Baroness Tonge had apologised for posting the image in [10], blaming it on having been recovering from a heart attack. She was reported as saying: “I removed that post as soon as I focused on the cartoon. I had not seen the striped pyjamas at first and quickly realised how offensive it was. I apologise.”

On 28th August 2017, in response to admonishment by an activist regarding incident [11], she wrote that she would delete the post, although she suggested that the caricature could, in fact, be “an Arab looking horrified”.

In September 2017, Campaign Against Antisemitism approached Baroness Tonge for comment on incidents [1] – [7] and [11]; she responded: “All my comments over the years have been directed at the Government of Israel and not at Jewish people. I am not, and have never been, antisemitic but I am fiercely anti-injustice. Campaign Against Antisemitism is conflating the two.”

On 8th March 2018, it was reported that Baroness Tonge was a member of the notorious Palestine Live Facebook group, which had been discovered to include posts relating to Holocaust denial and a variety of antisemitic myths.

On 28th October 2018, it was reported that Baroness Tonge was facing calls for her to be removed from the House of Lords following her comments relating to the Pittsburgh massacre. The Campaign Against Antisemitism said that the Liberal Democrats, having secured her seat in the Lords, should now “actively campaign for her removal”. Likewise, the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Bristol West, reportedly tweeted: “If there is a way to remove her from the Lords it should be pursued immediately.”

On 29th October 2018, it was reported that the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, of which she was a longstanding patron, had written to her expressing “deep concern” over her comments, and saying that it would be considering “further steps”.

On 30th October 2018, Baroness Tonge announced on Facebook that she had resigned as a patron of PSC in order to “save them embarrassment”, commenting that it was a “sad day”.

On 16th December 2019, it was reported that nearly 90 peers had condemned Baroness Tonge’s comments in [17] in a letter written to The Daily Telegraph, reportedly describing them as “both shameful and in clear contravention of Britain’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism”. The letter continued: “Baroness Tonge has brought Parliament into disrepute and we demand that she withdraws her remarks and issues a full and unqualified apology without delay.”

On 2nd March 2020, it was reported that Lord Pickles, the Government’s Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, had called for Baroness Tonge’s remarks in [18] to be investigated, saying he had “not the slightest doubt that she has breached IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance]’s modern definition of Antisemitism”, and continuing: “It is shameful that the only place where Jew-baiters are immune from the consequences of their bigotry is the Chamber of the House of Lords. The House Authorities must address this anomaly.”

In May 2020, Campaign Against Antisemitism wrote to Baroness Tonge requesting her comments on the matter above. She responded: “I am not nor ever have been antisemitic. To accuse me of such a foul sentiment you must first prove my intent to hold such a view and not merely take words out of context and mis interpret [sic] them. I campaign for the human rights of the Palestinian people and for international law to be upheld, which is why I criticise the Israeli government and its supporters.”

Rating

Campaign Against Antisemitism has rated the Party’s handling of this matter as “unsatisfactory”. Our rating system is explained in our methodology. This case was last updated on 4th June 2020.

Justice, justice, you shall pursue - צדק צדק תרדף
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