To be perfectly honest I think the reaction to Jenny Tonge’s comments has been a bit over the top. The woman has often expressed herself poorly on the issue but the accusation levelled at her, that she is some sort of raging anti-semite, is indicative of the pointlessly hyperbolic way that the Israeli Palestinian question is debated by both sides of the dispute.
In what I thought was a reasonably fair take on the subject, although elsewhere it has been attacked vehemently, Mehdi Hasan makes the point that Tonge has previous when it comes to making dodgy remarks about this most emotive of issues. Although I disagree with her I think she needs to be calmly argued with and have the fallacies and dodgy aspects of her argument exposed, rather than being shouted down as some sort of racist. Of course many of those doing the shouting are fixated with defending Israel at all costs and are using allegations of anti-semitism as a way of silencing a debate over frequently appalling Israeli policies towards many of their own citizens and neighbours.
It is a consequence of the emotional way that the debate is often conducted that people on both sides resort to arguments and rhetoric that are inflammatory and in Tonge’s case, (probably unintentionally) play on the traditional Jewish conspiracy tropes.
The pro-Israelis demonise ‘Muslims’ and ‘Arabs’ just as violently.
Tonge’s difficulty is that she has shared a platform with people that certainly are anti-semitic, and she damages her argument and the cause she so passionately believes in by doing so.
Sadly there are many people with anti-semitic views who have jumped on the Israel-Palestinian bandwagon as a way of legitimising their ideas, and some people, who I think haven’t got a racist bone in their bodies, have allowed their stance to be coloured by people around them in the movement who probably are racists. It’s what happens when the socialist left is weak physically and intellectually. All sorts of crackpot ideas fill the vacuum.
I think it’s instructive to see what Tonge said and contrast it what was reported. All the headlines in the press have focused on this comment:
‘Israel will not be there for ever’
Now this does sound potentially very sinister. Whatever is wrong with her government’s policies Israel being wiped off the face of the earth would involve a slaughter that only the most rabid racist would support. But let’s take a moment and see if Tonge’s assertion that her comments have been “taken completely out of context”, shall we? This is the fuller quote from the Guardian report:
“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.” She added: “Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.“
Emotional? Yes? Silly? Certainly. Genocidal? No.
My first response is that Tonge’s scenario is an extremely unlikely one. The notion that at some point further down the line Israel may face an existential threat is actually a remarkably similar thesis to that put forward by the likes of Binyamin Netanyahu.
It all depends on what Tonge means by “in its present form”. If she means at some point the two-state or bi-national state has to come to pass then hopefully she is right. The status quo is morally untenable and the Palestinians need a just settlement to their justified national and democratic aspirations. The Israeli state as currently constituted is for many of its citizens an oppressive one (but not uniquely so, and what state isn’t oppressive?)
If she means that at some point Israel will face marauding Arab armies that will avenge the years of ‘oppression,’ then those views must be tackled. It is as unpleasant an idea as it is a far-fetched one.
I really don’t think she is saying that though, however badly she has expressed herself in what appears to have been a fairly tense public meeting. From the outside looking in she looks as if she has got a bit carried away when faced with a fairly hostile section of the audience determined to barrack and abuse her.
I also think she is right to point out the existence of a distinct Israel lobby in the US, Britain and EU that politicians are fearful of upsetting, and the danger that poses to our democratic process. The point is that it is one of many lobbies, and is not uniquely powerful.
Tonge’s words were certainly ill-chosen, but hardly the anti-semitic manifesto that some have presented them as.