After the recent anti-Semitism scandal in the British Labour Party, it would be reasonable to assume that most in Britain’s political class would take extra care to avoid causing any more controversy on that subject. Parliamentarian Baroness Jenny Tonge just can’t help herself.
In recent weeks Baroness Tonge seems to have gone out of her way to openly flirt with anti-Semitism, and all the while her party—the Liberal Democrats—have attempted to avoid expelling her. Finally, at the end of last week, the party did suspend her, but just as the Baroness announced her resignation from the party anyway.
The problem is that Jenny Tonge will remain a member of the House of Lords, while the sinister ideas that she promotes from her protected position, there will continue to seep into wider society. The consequences of which could end up being more of the kind of violent scenes witnessed at London’s UCL campus last week.
Following the publication of Labour’s inquiry into the problem of anti-Semitism within its own ranks, Baroness Tonge responded by sharing an article by the notorious Gilad Atzmon. The article accused that Labour had capitulated to the “Jewish Lobby” and claimed that the party was subject to an “exercise in Jewish power.” The Liberal Democrats responded by insisting that while sharing articles about Jewish power might be thought offensive, it was not anti-Semitic, and, as such, they would not expel Baroness Tonge from their party.
A few weeks later, a parliamentary committee published its own report into the problem of growing anti-Semitism in the political life of the UK. In response, Baroness Tonge penned a letter to the Guardian. But the newspaper refused to publish it. In that letter, Tonge claimed to welcome the inquiry but went on to portray rising anti-Semitism as an understandable response to Israel’s manipulation of Britain and America. According to the leaked version Tonge wrote of the report:
“It is difficult to believe that a 75% increase in anti-Semitism it reports, have been committed by people who simply hate Jewish people for no reason. It is surely the case that these incidents are reflecting the disgust amongst the general public of the way the government of Israel treats Palestinians and manipulates the USA and ourselves.” Still her party took no action to expel her.
The following week Tonge hosted an event in Parliament arranged by the Palestinian Return Centre, a group the Israeli government and a number of NGOs have accused of being linked to Hamas. The event had been convened to call on the British government to apologize for the Balfour Declaration. In the course of the event the usual comparisons between Israel and ISIS were made, but, more shockingly, an audience member made the suggestion that the Jews had provoked the Holocaust by boycotting German goods in the 1930s. Tonge, who was chairing the event, not only failed to challenge these mad and hateful suggestions but took the mention of boycotts as an opportunity to promote the BDS movement.
While her party couldn’t ignore this and issued a suspension, Baroness Tonge almost beat them to it and announced her resignation. A resignation that came with her usual trademark denial of anti-Semitism, accompanied by yet further anti-Semitism.
Tonge stated “I have never been anti-Semitic, and never will be. I am anti-Injustice”. But she also welcomed her exit from the Liberal Democrats explaining, “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 anti-Semitism, and now they have set their sights on the LibDems.”
On the same evening that Jenny Tonge issued her anti-Semitic resignation statement, havoc was unfolding at the UCL campus where Jewish students had been attempting to hold an event with a former member of the IDF. Around a hundred anti-Israel demonstrators were trying to force their way into the event, while also trapping the Jewish students in the room. The police were called and, eventually, Jewish students were escorted out in groups by security while a mob screamed abuse at them. During the scuffles that broke out, two female Jewish students reported being physically assaulted.
One of the student protestors explained the logic of the demonstration when she said, “we are in the 21st century, and we do not need no Jewish majority state.” Everyone knows that she and her fellow protesters have never once demonstrated against a speaker simply because they were visiting from one of the world’s many Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist-majority states. It’s quite obvious which kind of bigotry it is that she and her movement represent.
The question we are left with is what is to be done about any of this. We can ask whether campus security should have a better way of dealing with demonstrators seeking to hound Israelis off campus, or if Britain’s political system should leave someone like Tonge in the Lords, unelected and unaccountable. But challenging the popularization of the underlying ideas is far less straightforward. Indeed, it remains unclear whether Britain’s opinion formers are either willing or able to undertake the necessary work to reverse the revival of contemporary anti-Semitism.