News has broken today of comments made by the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tonge at an event hosted by the Free Palestine Society at Middlesex University last week. Highlighted by Student Rights, the story has since been picked up by the Guido Fawkes blog, the Guardian and here at the Huffington Post. Furthermore there have been numerous subsequent calls for her party to condemn her comments, and for her to either resign or repudiate her remarks.
Sharing a platform alongside Ken O'Keefe, a former US Marine who has praised Hamas for their success in eradicating collaborators in the past and who stated at the event that 9/11 was carried out by Mossad, Baroness Tonge told the audience that "Israel is not going to be there forever" and that one day "Israel will lose its support and then they will reap what they have sown".
These comments, which could be interpreted as threatening and genocidal by students, have caused outrage, with politicians such as the chairman of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel (LDFI) group Gavin Stollar stating "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".
He continued by saying that "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 upon which she talks on almost a daily basis?"
The Labour Leader Ed Miliband also voiced his outright opposition to her remarks, tweeting that there is "no place in politics for those who question existence of the state of Israel. Nick Clegg must condemn Jenny Tonge's remark & demand apology". This followed Labour MP Ian Austin telling the Guardian that "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".
Student Rights have contacted the office of the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to ask if he will keep a promise made in 2009 in which he said he would discipline Baroness Tonge next time she made anti-Semitic remarks yet there has been no word at the time of writing on whether the party whip will be withdrawn. However, a statement has been released which states that "Jenny Tonge does not speak for the party on Israel/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".
This is unlikely to satisfy people who feel that Baroness Tonge has stepped over the line one too many times with these remarks. In February 2010 she was sacked as Liberal Democrat Health spokeswoman by Nick Clegg for giving credence to allegations that Israeli Defence Force (IDF) relief workers were harvesting human organs from victims, saying that "To prevent allegations such as these - which have already been posted on You Tube - 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".
Prior to this she was also sacked as the Liberal Democrat Children's Spokeswoman by Charles Kennedy in 2003 after she stated of Palestinian suicide bombers that "If I had to live in that situation - and I say that advisedly - I might just consider becoming one myself". She resigned as an MP after this incident, yet in 2006 was severely reprimanded by Sir Menzies Campbell after saying that she felt the Pro-Israel lobby had "got its grips on the world", something which Campbell said had "clear anti-Semitic connotations".
It is utterly shameful that a Liberal Democrat peer would sit quietly and not challenge a 9/11 'truther' when he declared that "if Israel is inherently a racist state, if it is inherently an apartheid state, then I want no part of Israel, it has no place in this world. And it must in its current form, if you want me to use some inflammatory language, in its current form should be destroyed". However, the position of authority that she is invested with makes her own comments far more serious than the ravings of a delusional individual like O'Keefe.
The applause that followed her comments, as well as the post on the Middlesex University Free Palestine Society Facebook page which called O'Keefe a "legend", give an insight into the vitriolic atmosphere which has developed around this highly charged issue on campuses. Students have even come to blows, as happened at the London School of Economics on 20th February, and anti-Israeli sentiment being whipped up by speakers like these is clearly a serious problem.
Baroness Tonge should be ejected from the Liberal Democrats for these remarks yet, whilst student societies and university authorities refuse to balance events on subjects as emotive as this, we will continue to see such stories.
UPDATE: Shortly after this piece was submitted Baroness Tonge left the Liberal Democrats following an 'apologise or resign' ultimatum from Nick Clegg. She also released a statement in which she claimed that "the comments I made have been taken completely out of context". I would urge readers to watch the videos of this event and decide for themselves.'Suggest a correction