Tolerating anti-Semitism could make Lib Dems the Corbyn-lite party

Lib Dem peer Baroness Jenny Tonge chaired an event on Tuesday 25 October, in the House of Lords to campaign for a British apology for the Balfour Declaration of 1917.

A man made a speech from the floor saying that it was a Jewish boycott of Germany which had ‘antagonized Hitler over the edge to want to systematically kill Jews wherever he could find them’.  The man was saying that Zionist Jews, and their campaign against Nazi Germany, was responsible for causing the Holocaust.

Jenny Tonge sat respectfully through this speech and thanked the man warmly.  It was as if she had only heard one word that he had said: ‘boycott’.  She replied by saying that the campaign for a boycott of Israel is ‘very very important’, but she said nothing about his anti-Semitic argument.  This was followed by warm applause around the room.

All the evidence over the last ten years shows that the boycott campaign – the campaign to single out only Israel for exclusion from the human community – brings with it anti-Semitic rhetoric and it fosters a culture of tolerance for anti-Semitism.

The video is avaialable here, on Guido Fawkes’ blogThere are reports of the event in The Times  , and on David Collier’s blog 

Jenny Tonge herself made a similar point last week in response to the Home Affairs Select Committee report on anti-Semitism.  She wrote that it is difficult to believe that the rise in anti-Semitism could be explained by people hating Jews for no reason.  She wrote that anti-Semitism is on the rise because of the ‘disgust amongst the general public’ for ‘the way the government of Israel treats Palestinians’.  For her, anti-Semitism is not hating Jews for no reason; it is hating Jews for good reasons.

And she went on to indulge in anti-Semitic conspiracy theory herself, saying that anti-Semitism was also caused by people’s disgust at the way Israel ‘manipulates the USA and ourselves’ – as though little Israel was stronger than the great western powers, and also disgracefully manipulative.  See the full text of Tonge’s letter on her own facebook page, which you can view here.

Jenny Tonge has been doing this for years as you can read about here.  At her party conference in September 2006, she said: ‘The pro-Israeli Lobby has got its grips on the Western World.’  She went on to explain exactly what sort of grips she was referring to: ‘its financial grips.’  Tonge employed the ostensibly antiracist language of the ‘pro-Israel lobby’ to articulate anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

Both of the major political parties are currently in crisis.  Labour is moving away from democratic and rational politics into a populism in which left wing anti-Semitism is becoming more and more prominent.  While the Tories are moving away from democratic and rational politics into a xenophobic populism which threatens to harm the UK economy and to bring down the democratic institutions by which Europe has kept the peace since the fall of Nazism and Communism.

The Liberal Democrats have the opportunity to hold the democratic and rational centre of UK politics.  But so long as anti-Semitism is tolerated within the party they will be unfit to do so.  Antisemitism is never just an error, it is always an indicator of a more profound political problem.
This afternoon we are hearing that Tonge has finally had her membership of the Liberal Democrats suspended.  For ten years the party ignored what campaigners against antisemitism were saying.  For ten years the party hoped the issue would go away.  The Liberal Democrats have to learn how to recognize antisemitism and how to oppose it; it must be able to move quickly and confidently when it needs to on this issue.
About the Author
David Hirsh, Sociology Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London Author of the new book: 'Contemporary Left Antisemitism'.
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