Mehi Hasan on Jenny Tonge and Ehud Olmert - can you spot the difference?

Condemn Tonge for her comments on the future of Israel if you want to. But you'll have to condemn Ehud Olmert too.

Gotcha! Don't you love it when journalists corner a politician or pundit with an outrageous or offensive quote, which makes afore-mentioned politician/pundit look mad, bad or both?

I don't. I find it frustrating, juvenile and, above all else, lazy. It tends to happens a lot when the issue under discussion is controversial and/or sensitive: e.g. the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Jenny Tonge, Lib Dem peer and ex-MP, is under fire right now for saying, according to the Guardian, "Israel will not last for ever". Labour MP Ian Austin has said Nick Clegg must

make Baroness Tonge withdraw these remarks.

Martin Bright, political editor of the Jewish Chronicle, tweeted:

I can only assume Nick Clegg will finally remove the whip from Baroness Tonge. That would be consistent with what he has said in the past

Even Ed Miliband's weighed in with a tweet:

No place in politics for those who question existence of the state of Israel. Nick Clegg must condemn Jenny Tonge's remark & demand apology

(n.b. One wonders what Marion Miliband makes of young Edward's remarks.)

Admittedly, Tonge has made some pretty dodgy remarks in the past about Israel and Israelis - which cost her a position on the Lib Dem frontbench - but this latest controversy seems rather manufactured. Her comment, in full, doesn't seem so controversial:

Israel is not going to be there for ever in its present form.

Shock! Horror! Tonge doesn't think Israel "in its present form" - that is, as a Jewish and democratic state that also happens to illegally occupy Palestinian land while denying Palestinians both self-determination and voting rights - can survive. After all, the demographics make a one-state, non-Jewish, binational state almost inevitable.

Hmm, I wonder who else has taken a similar view? Oh yeah. That's it: Ehud Olmert, Israel's former prime minister, who once talked of how "the State of Israel is finished" if it continues on its current, rejectionist trajectory. Outrageous, eh?

Here's the then Israeli premier's full quote from Haaretz in November 2007:

If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights, then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.

An article on the BBC news website was devoted to Olmert's words. Guess what it's headline was?

Olmert warns of 'end of Israel'

So condemn Tonge for her comments on the future of Israel if you want to. But you'll have to condemn Ehud Olmert too. Funny old world, isn't it?

And, on a related note, the truth is that a single, secular, binational, one-state solution is now a mainstream, much-discussed alternative to the Middle East status quo. Polls show it has the support of a third of Palestinians and, astonishingly, even a quarter of Israelis. It also has the backing of, among others, the late Edward Said, the late Tony Judt, Ilan Pappe, Shlomo Sand, Virginia Tilley, Meron Benvenisti, Ahmad Khalidi, Ali Abunimah, Noam Chomsky, Jeff Halper and Sari Nusseibeh. Oh, and, perhaps a little reluctantly, me too.

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Getty
Show Hide image

Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to fight anti-Semitism - now he needs to deal with Jackie Walker

The vice-chair of Jewish Labour and the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn on the party's need to tackle anti-Jewish feeling. 

For all those who have a stake in Labour’s future, the deterioration in the party's support from the Jewish community has been painful to watch.

How did we get to the point where incidents of anti-Jewish hate are being unearthed on a weekly basis? How did we get to the point at which an official rally against anti-Semitism within our own party was necessary?

Far too many individuals have been made to feel unwelcome. When one Jewish member feels hostility towards them for being Jewish, it should be a concern for us all. When the overwhelming majority of a community’s leaders, institutions and membership tell us they collectively feel affronted, deep soul-searching must take place.

In his conference speech, Jeremy Corbyn was passionate on the need to tackle all forms of bigotry. By using his platform to demand that Labour “fights hatred against Jewish people with every breath in our body”, he has set a new standard that all levels of the party must adhere to. He has talked the talk, now he must help Labour walk the walk.

The standard he has set must be applied without fear or favour. It can begin with the vice-chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker.

At conference, she told an event: "In terms of Holocaust day, wouldn’t it be wonderful if Holocaust day was open to all people who experienced holocaust?” and stated that "still haven’t heard a definition of anti-Semitism that I can work with". She also questioned why Jewish schools need special security.

It cannot be permissible for Labour members to allege that Holocaust Memorial Day has somehow become the sole preserve of the Jewish community at the expense of others. Similarly, Jeremy must act to distance the party from the slightest hint of complacency over the security of Jewish schools and community institutions.

Individuals such as Walker cannot be allowed to tar Jeremy and our party with a weak attitude towards minority rights. To allow such a situation to pass would be at total odds with the history and purpose of the Labour Party.

At the Jewish Labour Movement’s Rally against anti-semitism, colleagues from across the parliamentary Labour party were unequivocal in their message that things must change for good.

Shadow defence secretary Clive Lewis spoke for many when he said “socialism is the emancipation of all people, or none at all”. He is close to the leadership, so we hope his voice is heard loudly by those with the power to rebuild relations. It was also heartening to hear Naz Shah, the MP for Bradford West - formerly suspended comments she admits were anti-Semitic - speak about her experiences. She deserves huge credit for her engagement with the Jewish community over their fears and concerns, and the strength of reconciliation was there for all to see.

Most of all, Jeremy must be true to his words by offering reassurances to Labour stalwarts such as Louise Ellman, who has experienced dreadful episodes of harassment over the past year. For a veteran Labour MP to be targeted for her religion is insufferable and it cannot continue.

Our experiences in our diverse home of Hampstead and Kilburn means we understand the importance of non-Jews taking up the fight against anti-Semitism.

There have been further issues at conference, including heckling and abuse targeted at stalls. These incidents must be dealt with, but conference’s huge show of support for this fight must be acknowledged above all else. It will provide the impetus in the weeks and months ahead.

Ultimately, however, impetus will not be enough.

Jeremy Corbyn, rightly or wrongly, has been accused of dithering on this issue. He must now follow his conference speech with genuine action. Only then will his seriousness in repairing the relationship with the Jewish community become clear. Only then can we begin our road to convincing the public that Labour can once again be a party worthy of Government.

Tulip Siddiq is the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn. Mike Katz is the national vice-chair of Jewish Labour. 

Jackie Walker responded:

"A number of people made comments in a private training session run by the Jewish Labour Movement. As we all know, training sessions are intended to be safe spaces where ideas and questions can be explored. A film of this session was leaked to the press unethically. I did not raise a question on security in Jewish schools. The trainer raised this issue and I asked for clarification, in particular as all London primary schools, to my knowledge, have security and I did not understand the particular point the trainer was making. Having been a victim of racism I would never play down the very real fears the Jewish community have, especially in light of recent attacks in France. 

"In the session, a number of Jewish people, including me, asked for definitions of anti-semitism. This is a subject of much debate in the Jewish community. I support David Schneider's definition and utterly condemn anti-semitism. 

"I would never play down the significance of the Shoah. Working with many Jewish comrades, I continue to seek to bring greater awareness of other genocides, which are too often forgotten or minimised. If offence has been caused, it is the last thing I would want to do and I apologise."