Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg has sacked controversial peer Jenny Tonge as the party’s health spokesperson in the Lords over her demands for an investigation into allegations of body parts harvesting by the Israeli Defence force in Haiti.
Her remarks followed an article making the accusations in the online journal Palestine Telegraph, of which Baroness Tonge is a patron.
The sanction fell short of removing the whip from Lady Tonge because the Liberal Democrat leader did not believe her remarks were antisemitic. Mr Clegg has always said that Jenny Tonge would not be a member of the Liberal Democrat if he believed she was racist.
In a statement issued on Friday afternoon Mr Clegg said: “Following discussions with the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, Lord McNally, I have decided that Jenny Tonge will stand down as Liberal Democrat Health spokesperson in the Lords following her unacceptable comments suggesting an inquiry into highly offensive allegations against the IDF humanitarian operation in Haiti.
“The comments were wrong, distasteful and provocative and I recognise the deep and understandable distress they have caused to the Jewish community.
“While I do not believe that Jenny Tonge is anti-semitic or racist, I regard her comments as wholly unacceptable.
“Jenny Tonge apologises unreservedly for the offence she has caused.”
The problem isn’t that she is offensive – though she is.
It is that she used her position to spread the lunatic racist conspiracy theories that originated on a youtube video, was spread by the Islamic Republic of Iran’s propaganda station Press TV, and then picked up by the Palestine Telegraph, a revolting rag which prints articles by the extreme Right.
That’s the problem.
So, here’s the response from the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg:
Nick Clegg has defended Liberal peer Baroness Tonge, who said this week that Israel should set up an inquiry to disprove allegations that its medical teams in Haiti “harvested” organs of earthquake victims for use in transplants.
The party leader insisted that despite admitting her comments were “ludicrous, ”she was not “antisemitic or racist”.
The organ theft allegations were published last week in online journal, the Palestine Telegraph, of which Baroness Tonge is a patron.
In a statement to the JC, Baroness Tonge said: “To prevent allegations such as these… the IDF should establish an independent inquiry immediately to clear the names of the team in Haiti”.
Speaking exclusively to the JC, Mr Clegg said that Baroness Tonge had admitted herself that the comments were a “mistake”.
He said: “I’ve already made it quite clear that not only do I think it’s ludicrous and offensive but more than that, she’s admitted herself that she thinks it’s ludicrous to suggest an investigation is needed into something that is nonsense.
“She’s completely, totally wrong.
“My view is that a number of things Jenny Tonge has said are irresponsible and offensive but I do not believe she is antisemitic or racist. If I did, she wouldn’t be a Liberal Democrat.
“I believe it was stupid and wrong but not racist.”
Here are a few other statements which might be described as “irresponsible and offensive” but “not racist”. See if you agree…
“The Government of Jamaica must act quickly to set up an inquiry to dispel the rumours that I have just now read on Stormfront (on whose board of trustees I sit) that their citizens are sexually insatiable and have been raping white women.”
“The People’s Republic of China must set up an investigation to disprove the allegations, made on a video on youtube, that Chinese restaurants steal family pets and serve them up as chop suey to unsuspecting punters.”
“The Government of India should act swiftly to disprove the allegations in a BNP leaflet that was delivered to my house last night that their citizens are coming over here to take our jobs, homes and women.”
Let us not forget that the Liberal Democrats know all about dog-whistle politics. After all, they were the party which put out a leaflet in a white area of the Isle of Dogs, showing an aggressive looking black man, with fists raised, next to text describing a 74 year old lady, vulnerable on a “dangerous estate”.
(And Brett reminds me, the LibDem’s Simon Hughes ran against Peter Tatchell in Bermondsey as “the straight choice“. In every sense of that phrase: the irony!)