Peer chooses to resign rather than apologise over her criticism of Israel

Baroness Tonge speaking at the launch of the third Palestine Memorial Week organized by the Palestinian Return Centre at the Houses of Parliament on Jan 16.

Lib Dem Peer Jennifer Tonge has resigned as whip of the Party after refusing to apologise for saying Israel “is not going to be there forever on its present performance.”

Baroness Tonge, 71, drew criticism from her party Leader, Nick Clegg, and Labour’s Ed Miliband after telling a university audience that the country would “reap what it’s sown” in the Middle East.

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The Lib Dems quickly released a statement branding her remarks “extremely ill-advised and ill-judged.”

Tonge was issued an ultimatum by Clegg of apologising or resign, she choose the latter.

Miliband condemned her remarks, writing on Twitter: “No place in politics for those who question existence of the state of Israel.”

Clegg said: “These remarks were wrong and offensive and do not reflect the values of the Liberal Democrats.

“I asked Baroness Tonge to withdraw her remarks and apologise for the offence she has caused. She has refused to do so and will now be leaving the party.”

In her speech to students at Middlesex University on February 23, Tonge said: “Israel is not going to be there forever on its present performance 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.”

“It will not go on for ever. Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.”

Afterwards Tonge said her comments were “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.”

She added: “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.

“Israel is acting against international law, the Geneva Conventions, and human rights. They do this with impunity and if our political parties will not take action then individuals must.”

The Lib Dem Friends of Palestine offered their support to the beleaguered Peer and condemned the party leadership for acting before speaking to Tonge, who they say was a victim of “a witch-hunt based on trial by blog.”

In a statement to The Muslim News the group said Tonge had confirmed to them that “her intention was to imply that Israel’s wilful failure to uphold and respect the human rights of Palestinian Muslims and Christians is behaviour which is likely to lead to its self-destruction. This failure by Israel applies both with regard to its own Arab citizens (whom it discriminates against) and to the people of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (who have endured Israeli occupation for nearly 45 years). We consider that her words, when interpreted in this context, were entirely reasonable.”

Palestinian Ambassador in London, Professor Manuel Hassassian, echoed that sentiment and commended Tonge for standing “on the right side of justice”.

He also told The Muslim News Tonge “is paying the price for exposing the true face of Israel” and for fairly observing “Israel’s on-going policy of settlement expansion and territorial acquisition, ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinian population, Judaisation of East Jerusalem and settlement buildings in the West Bank as integral territories of a future Palestinian state.”

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