1 March 2012
Like many others, I was appalled when I heard about the disgraceful comments Baroness Tonge made during an event at Middlesex University last week, which was part of the ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ held on different campuses. In addition to that the police are investigating offensive comments made by the American activist Ken O’Keefe who was part of the same panel, and called for the ‘destruction of Israel, the UN, the US and British Empire’. Baroness Tonge didn’t try to distance herself from the comments.
This rhetoric can’t be tolerated and has no place in the political and public discourse, and Baroness Tonge’s statement last night shows just how dangerous and inflammatory her comments are. She claims that it was taken ‘out of context’ and blames ‘Zionist campaigners’ that disrupted proceedings. She was asked by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg to apologise but refused and therefore resigned from the party.
It is not the first time that Baroness Tonge’s comments cause uproar. In 2010 she claimed Israel should investigate allegations that its medical teams in Haiti trafficked organs of earthquake victims for use in transplants. In 2004 she was sacked as Liberal Democrat children’s spokeswoman when she suggested that she could consider being a suicide bomber and raised questions about the future of Israel.
The European Jewish Parliament, of which I am a member, was inaugurated two weeks ago in Brussels and it aimed to deal with the big challenges the European Jewry faces. Among those challenges are antisemitism and the delegitimisation of Israel in Europe. Abhorrent comments such as those made by Baroness Tonge and by others show how serious our challenge is in the UK and in Europe.
The Community Security Trust last year recorded 586 antisemitic crimes in the UK, nearly half of which were in Manchester. Among the incidents across the UK in 2011 were 92 assaults, 63 incidents of vandalism, 394 reports of abuse and 29 direct threats. In one of the most extreme incidents last year, a Jewish family who filled their tank up in the petrol station were verbally abused, hit and left injured. It shows that antisemitism remains a serious problem which can be exacerbated if not tackled properly and it’s the responsibility of all of us to stress that racial hatred of any kind has no place in our society.
Tal Ofer is member of the European Jewish Parliament and of Progress