By Stuart Littlewood – London
In another blow to British free speech the parliamentarian Baroness Jenny Tonge, a good friend to Palestinians for many years, has been betrayed by her party colleagues and sacked.
Jenny Tonge dared to comment on allegations circulating in the media about Israel harvesting human organs during their emergency rescue operations in Haiti. To prevent these allegations going any further, she said, "the IDF and the Israeli Medical Association should establish an independent inquiry immediately to clear the names of the team in Haiti.”
The allegations included reports that the former head of Israel’s forensic institute admitted Israeli pathologists harvested organs from dead Palestinians and others without permission but this nauseating practice had ended in the 1990s. Yet Jenny Tonge’s remarks brought a storm of protest from her own colleagues as well as Zionists. One of them said: "She is misguided to call for any investigation. On this basis, there could be calls for an investigation to discover the ‘truth’ in the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
Another said: "We understand why the idea would be offensive to the Jewish community."
Yet another said: “Jenny’s comments were damaging within the community and also to the wider debate about the Middle East."
A fourth, eager to cash in on the hysteria, commented: “It’s abhorrent that anyone should suggest that something as perverse and sick as this should be investigated.”
The Israeli embassy, never known to miss a trick, said that the allegations were “not fit to grace even the sickest of publications”, an oblique reference to The Palestine Times which had published Jenny Tonge’s remarks.
After discussions between her party leader, Nick Clegg, and the LibDem leader in the House of Lords, she was ordered to "stand down" as health spokesperson following what Clegg called "her unacceptable comments suggesting an inquiry into highly offensive allegations against the IDF humanitarian operation in Haiti. The comments were wrong, distasteful and provocative and I recognise the deep and understandable distress they have caused to the Jewish community… I regard her comments as wholly unacceptable."
You have to ask yourself why the IDF, notorious for inflicting wholesale death and destruction on impoverished people who can’t defend themselves (especially in Gaza where they have nowhere to run), shooting children, machine-gunning fishing boats, blocking humanitarian aid, abducting civilians in the middle of the night, bulldozing homes, stealing land at gunpoint and suppressing peaceful protesters, would suddenly be interested is saving life in Haiti – praiseworthy though such a humanitarian conversion might be. For 62 years they have been bent on destroying life. Many, therefore, will see no reason to be concerned about hurting the Israeli military’s feelings.
And many will question why Clegg deemed it necessary to grovel to Zionist opinion and take such savage action against Jenny Tonge when Israel is known for its lawlessness and apparently has form with regard to this “distasteful” organ-stealing business.
Jenny Tonge has been sacked before and the knives of her enemies are constantly sharpened in the hope of making a permanent end of her. In 2004 she was talking about Palestinian suicide bombers and said: "If I had to live in that situation – and I say that advisedly – I might just consider becoming one myself." Everyone went mad. A senior Conservative said her comments would "sicken those across the world who have lost loved ones to suicide bombers".
Charles Kennedy, the then party leader, dismissed her as children’s spokesperson, saying: "Her recent remarks… are completely unacceptable. They are not compatible with Liberal Democrat party policies and principles. There can be no justification, under any circumstances for taking innocent lives through terrorism."
Quite so. But Kennedy, it seems, couldn’t bring himself to mention the casualties and terror inflicted by Israel’s daily high-tech military strikes on an occupied civilian population.
No knives are sharper than those of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel. The stated purpose of this organisation is to maximise support for the State of Israel within Parliament, influence the party’s Middle East policy so that it favours Israel, and rebut attacks on Israel in the media, Parliament and the party.
In 2006, Jenny Tonge told a fringe meeting at her party’s conference: “The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they have probably got a certain grip on our party.” As if to prove her point the LibDem Friends of Israel immediately issued a press release saying: “In the coming days and weeks we will work closely with colleagues inside the Party to ensure every avenue is explored towards removing Baroness Tonge from the Liberal Democrat benches in the House of Lords.”
The Liberal Democrat leader at the time, Menzies Campbell, said he dissociated himself from her “offensive remarks” and “their clear anti-semitic connotations”. However, as people are beginning to realise, what she said was patently true and the pro-Israel lobby’s infiltration of Parliament and public life is a serious threat to us all.
For example, our most important security bodies – the Intelligence & Security Committee, Foreign Affairs Committee and Defence Committee – are all headed by senior Friends of Israel. How can that be in our national interest?
The Liberal Democrats are good with words. The party’s website claims:”Liberal Democrats will put British values of decency and the rule of law back at the heart of our foreign policy… We want to see rules upheld and international law observed.”
The party’s constitution says Liberal Democrats believe that "human rights represent fundamental standards of humanity and that all states have a duty to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms…" It says: "We are supporters of international law… Liberal Democrats welcome the extension of international law to hold individuals to account for crimes against humanity. If governments engage in large-scale violations of human rights, or are unable or unwilling to protect their populations from catastrophes, then this responsibility must be fulfilled by the international community…"
The Preamble to the constitution makes even better reading…
“We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals, we acknowledge and respect their right to freedom of conscience and their right to develop their talents to the full… We look forward to a world in which all people share the same basic rights, in which they live together in peace and in which their different cultures will be able to develop freely…. Upholding these values of individual and social justice, we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality. Recognising that the quest for freedom and justice can never end, we promote human rights and open government…
“Our responsibility for justice and liberty cannot be confined by national boundaries; we are committed to fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur and to promote the free movement of ideas, people, goods and services.”
Is it a question of collective amnesia? Have these fine principles been deleted to accommodate the pro-Israel lobby? If neither, why on earth do the party’s leaders get so upset when a colleague criticises a rogue state that believes in none of those things that the LibDems are supposed to hold precious?
You would think they’d pat Jenny Tonge on the back and say, "Good for you, girl, we’re right behind you." But no. They prefer to let an Israel fan club to flourish under the Liberal Democrat banner.
– Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk