Jenny Tonge resigns Lib Dem whip over controversial “Beware Israel” remarks

by Stephen Tall on February 29, 2012

A quick follow-up to our story, Jenny Tonge resigns

Baroness (Jenny) Tonge has this afternoon resigned the Lib Dem whip after coming under intense pressure following the widespread reporting of remarks she made last week declaring that Israel “will reap what they have sown” once the USA gets “sick of giving £70bn a year to Israel to support what I call America’s aircraft carrier in the Middle East”.

It is by no means the first time Baroness Tonge has landed herself in hot water for her out-spoken views on Israel:

  • She was sacked by then leader Charles Kennedy as the Lib Dem children’s spokeswoman in the Commons in 2004 after she suggested she could consider becoming a Palastinian suicide bomber.
  • Two years later, Charles’s successor Ming Campbell rebuked her for comments that some regarded as anti-semitic when she said, “The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips.”
  • In 2010, Ming’s successor Nick Clegg sacked Baroness Tonge as the Lib Dems’ health spokeswoman in the Lords after she apologised unreservedly for disseminating unsubstantiated claims that Israeli troops sent to Haiti after its earthquake were trafficking organs.

Her latest comments, made on a visit to Middlesex Univerity, were reported to be as follows:

“Beware Israel. Israel is not going to be there for ever in its present form. 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. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough. … Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.”

According to the Guardian, the party’s initial response was to disassociate the Lib Dems from Baroness Tonge’s remarks, but not ask her to withdraw them:

A spokesman said: “Jenny Tonge does not speak for the party on Israel and 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. The Liberal Democrats are wholehearted supporters of a peaceful two state solution to the Israel- Palestine issue.”

However, in the afternoon it emerged Nick Clegg had delivered an ultimatum that either she should withdraw and apologise for her comments, or have the Lib Dem whip removed. Baroness Tonge decided she would not apologise, and so resigned the whip herself (and I understand may have resigned from the party itself, though I don’t know that for sure).

There’s a strong sense in the party’s highest echelons today that she has been given more than enough second chances, and that her repeated inflammatory interventions are damaging the party’s position on a highly sensitive issue.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.