UK Politics

Lib Dem Baroness Tonge quits over Israel remarks

Baroness Tonge
Baroness Tonge said she was disappointed with Nick Clegg's response

A Lib Dem peer has resigned from the parliamentary party after saying Israel "is not going to be there forever".

Baroness Tonge also told a university audience that the country would "reap what it's sown" in the Middle East - drawing criticism from party leader Nick Clegg and Labour's Ed Miliband.

She later resigned from the Lib Dem whip, saying the remarks had been taken "out of context".

A party spokesmen said her words had been "extremely ill-advised".

It is not the first time Baroness Tonge has had a run-in with the Lib Dem leadership.

She was sacked as a health spokeswoman in 2010 after she claimed Israeli troops sent to Haiti after the earthquake there were trafficking organs.

And, in 2004, when as Jenny Tonge she was still an MP, then Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy asked her to resign as children's spokeswoman after she said she "might just consider becoming" a suicide bomber if she was a Palestinian.

'Proud record'

Her resignation from the parliamentary party follows a speech at an event held at Middlesex University, in which she said Israel was not "going to be there forever in its present performance".

She added: "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.

"It will not go on for ever. Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown."

Labour leader Ed Miliband condemned the remarks, writing on Twitter: "No place in politics for those who question existence of the state of Israel."

Mr Clegg said: "These remarks were wrong and offensive and do not reflect the values of the Liberal Democrats.

"I asked Baroness Tonge to withdraw her remarks and apologise for the offence she has caused. She has refused to do so and will now be leaving the party.

"The Liberal Democrats have a proud record of campaigning for the rights of Palestinians, and that will continue.

"But we are crystal clear in our support for a two-state solution."

'Mouthed obscenities'

Afterwards Baroness Tonge said: "The comments I made have been taken completely out of context. They followed a very ill-tempered meeting in which Zionist campaigners attempted continually to disrupt proceedings.

"They mouthed obscenities at the panellists, to the extent that university security attempted to remove them from the premises.

"The comments I made were in protest at the treatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and the treatment of Israeli Arabs."

She added: "I am disappointed the leadership of my party did not consult me before issuing a press release and seems always to abet the request of the pro-Israel lobby.

"Israel is acting against international law, the Geneva Conventions, and human rights. They do this with impunity and if our political parties will not take action then individuals must.

"I have been asked to apologise but refuse to do so and resign the whip of my party."

The Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine group offered Baroness Tonge its "full support".

It said: "The condemnation was made before the leadership had heard her side of the story or even spoken to her. That action in itself worries us. She is entitled to an apology."

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