Saturday, 5 July 2008

British peer defies Israel lobby

News Release

In a House of Lords debate on Wednesday 3 July, Baroness Jenny Tonge lashed out at the Israelis for their relentless expansion of settlements on Palestinian land in defiance of Geneva Conventions and criticized the international community for failing to take action.

She warned her parliamentary colleagues that the world will never be free of terrorism unless a just solution to the Israel-Palestine problem is delivered.

The debate was initiated by Lord Turnberg. Seventeen peers put their names down to speak but were limited to only two minutes each.

Making full use of this meagre time-slot, Baroness Tonge pressed home her key message: "If Israel is not persuaded to obey UN resolutions and especially start to dismantle the settlements in the West Bank, anti-Semitism will again stalk Europe. Israel will never have peace; the world will never be free of terrorism unless this problem is resolved.

"Attacks on Afghanistan, Iraq - Iran next - they are not the answer. They have created more terrorism. The answer is a peaceful and just settlement for Israel and the Palestinians, and Israel holds ALL the cards."

She said she was was horrified by the treatment of Mohammed Omer, the prize-winning journalist, who had briefed parliamentarians in London before returning home to Gaza, only to be beaten unconscious by Israeli security guards at the Allenby Bridge crossing while an official from the Dutch Embassy, which had arranged his travel, waited outside. "I am horrified by the rockets from Gaza terrorizing Israelis," she went on, "and by the helicopter gunships on their deadly missions, by the monstrous security wall, the checkpoints, the permit systems..."

The Baroness roundly condemned the power of the Israel lobby, as active here in Britain as in the USA, and the threat of AIPAC, Friends of Israel and the Board of Deputies of British Jews. "The vindictive actions against people who oppose and criticize the lobby, getting them removed from positions they hold, preventing them speaking... I understand their methods." She spoke of "the constant accusations of anti-Semitism, when no such sentiment exists, to silence Israel’s critics".

She has bitter experience. In 2004 Member of Parliament Jenny Tonge, as she was then, outraged her party leader and Friends of Israel in all corners of Parliament when, addressing a meeting of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, she said of Palestinian suicide bombers: "If I had to live in that situation - and I say that advisedly - I might just consider becoming one myself." She was promptly sacked from her position on the Liberal Democrat Party's front bench by Charles Kennedy and the Israel lobby immediately distorted her remark to read: “If I were Palestinian, I’d be a suicide bomber.”

In a debate in the House of Commons a few months ago Dr Kim Howells, the minister for the Middle East and a former chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, again misquoted her and said, in an attempt to blacken her character: "That is not what a responsible representative in a democracy should say; such a statement contains elements of the insanity that drives people to do that."

The Baroness, however, is determined not to allow Israel's apologists to muzzle her. "Given more time in this debate, I would have expanded on the influence of the Israel lobby because it directly influences our foreign policy and is deeply embedded in our public life as well as Parliament."

As for what ought to be done, she says: "The UK should be pushing the European Union to suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement, which accounts for 60 per cent of Israel’s trade, until such time as Israel shows respect for human rights and complies with international law. That is something we could do independently of the USA. It is absurd that we have just upgraded the agreement to Israel's greater benefit."

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