Jenny Tonge quits Lib Dems after suspension for alleged antisemitic comments

House Of Lords

Jenny Tonge, a former Liberal Democat peer, has quit the party after she was suspended over alleged antisemitic comments.

She said she had resigned from the party “about the same time” as she was suspended as a party member by its leader on Thursday. 

Earlier, a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said: “She has been suspended. She was not a member of our group in the House of Lords; she was an independent peer, she has had her membership suspended.

“We take her comments very seriously and have acted accordingly.”

Tonge was Lib Dem MP for Richmond Park from 1997 to 2005, but has sat as an independent in the Lords since she was suspended in 2012, also for allegedly antisemitic comments.

Thursday’s move came after Tonge hosted a meeting at the House of Lords this week at which Israel was reportedly compared to terror group Islamic State and Jews were blamed for the Holocaust. The remarks were made by a speaker at the meeting, which was organised by the Palestinian Return Centre, which live-streamed the event on its Facebook page.

The Israeli embassy in London said the meeting was a “shameful event which gave voice to racist tropes against Jews and Israelis alike”.

Tory MP David Davies called in the House of Commons for a debate “on the use to which these premises may be put following reports that outrageously a member of the House of Lords presided over an event at which Israel was compared to Islamic State, and the Jews were even blamed for their own genocide”.

Tonge also recently released a letter in which she blamed a rise in antisemitism on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. She published the letter online and said she had submitted it to the Guardian, which confirmed it had been received on 16 October.

The letter said: “It is surely the case these [antisemitic] incidents are reflecting the disgust amongst the general public of the way the government of Israel treats Palestinians and manipulates the USA and ourselves to take no action against the country’s blatant disregard of international law and the Geneva conventions.”

The peer has a long track record of making trenchant criticisms of Israel. In 2004, when she was an MP, she was sacked from the frontbench by then party leader Charles Kennedy after she suggested that she would become a suicide bomber if she was Palestinian. At the time, Israel had endured repeated suicide bombings carried out by Palestinians during the second intifada. She was made a peer the following year.

Last month, the current Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, was questioned by the home affairs select committee as part of its investigation into antisemitism over Tonge’s continued membership of the party.

Earlier this month, the committee published a report on antisemitism, which called on all political parties to tackle what it described as a “pernicious form of hate”.

But MPs focused criticism on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. “The failure of the Labour party consistently and effectively to deal with antisemitic incidents in recent years risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally antisemitic,” they concluded.

The report adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”.

However, MPs added it was not antisemitic “to criticise the government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent”. Neither was it antisemitic “to hold the Israeli government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.”

Powered by article was written by Harriet Sherwood Religion correspondent, for The Guardian on Thursday 27th October 2016 18.25 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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