UK lawmakers: Baroness must apologize for saying Israel lobby behind Corbyn loss

88 peers demand retraction from Jenny Tonge, who has history of anti-Semitic statements and said chief rabbi must be ‘dancing in the street’ after Labour defeat

Baroness Jenny Tonge (screen capture: YouTube)
Baroness Jenny Tonge (screen capture: YouTube)

Nearly 90 lawmakers from Britain’s House of Lords on Monday called on Baroness Jenny Tonge to apologize for claiming the Conservative Party won Thursday’s election due to attacks on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by the “pro-Israel lobby” and that the chief rabbi would be “dancing in the street” over the result.

“We the undersigned believe that members of the House of Lords are required to conform to the highest standards of Public Life,” read the letter published in The Telegraph. “The use of language by Baroness Tonge in a published statement that the General Election outcome was a result of ‘the pro-Israeli lobby’ [and] ‘lying about Jeremy Corbyn’ falls well short of that high standard.”

The 88 lawmakers from across the parties added: “Her language is both shameful and in clear contravention of the United Kingdom’s adoption of IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism.

“Baroness Tonge has brought Parliament into disrepute and we demand that she withdraws her remarks and issues a full and unqualified apology without delay.”

A general view of the House of Lords chamber in session at the Houses of Parliament in London, September 5, 2016. (AFP/POOL/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

The letter came after Tonge, a British House of Lords lawmaker with a history of anti-Semitic statements, wrote on social media after the Labour Party’s defeat in the election: “The Chief Rabbi must be dancing in the street. The pro-Israel lobby won our General Election by lying about Jeremy Corbyn.”

Tonge told The Telegraph that her remarks were “a lighthearted remark, not intended to offend.”

British opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn after casting his vote in the general election, in Islington, London, England, December 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

“The reports I read during the election campaign were that people were being put off voting for the Labour Party in large numbers because of Jeremy Corbyn, who has been labelled as anti-Semitic by many opponents including the Chief Rabbi,” Tonge said.

Tonge added that she has known Corbyn for a long time and knows “without doubt” that he is not anti-Semitic.

“It was extraordinary for the Chief Rabbi, who only represents about half of synagogue attending Jews in this country, to endorse such political statements in the middle of an election campaign and he must have been very pleased with the result,” Tonge continued.

“I am sorry therefore if some people are offended by the thought of the Chief Rabbi dancing in the street. It was a lighthearted remark, not intended to offend,” she said.

Illustrative: Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis gives a speech as he attends a Holocaust Memorial Day Ceremony at Central Hall Westminster, January 27, 2015. (AP/Chris Jackson)

In an unprecedented op-ed published last month, Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said he was compelled to intervene in politics because Britain’s Jews were “gripped by anxiety” over the future of the community and of Judaism in the country amid the prospect of a Labour win.

Without explicitly calling on people not to vote for Labour, or mentioning Corbyn by name, Mirvis warned that “a new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour Party.”

On Friday, Mirvis warned that despite the election results, there was still anti-Semitism and other kinds of racism in Britain.

“The election may be over, but concerns about the resurgence of anti-Semitism very much remain,” Mirvis said in a statement. “Islamophobia, racism and other forms of prejudice continue to afflict our communities and, as has been well publicized, even our political parties.”

Labour suffered its worst result at the polls since 1935 last week. Ahead of the elections, many British Jews said the vote was particularly fateful for them because they believed that the Labour Party has become institutionally anti-Semitic under Corbyn, a pro-Palestinian politician who was elected to lead the party in 2015.

Corbyn has been accused of failing to deal with incidents of anti-Semitism within his party, widely alleged to be anti-Semitic himself, was criticized for his reluctance for the party to agree to a definition of anti-Semitism that included some anti-Israel language, and blasted for defending an anti-Semitic mural.

His ties to members of the Hamas and Hezbollah terror groups and photos of him laying a wreath at the grave of a Palestinian terrorist also sparked worries among UK Jews and Israelis, who feared that the Jewish state could lose its close alliance with the UK if Corbyn won.

Tonge, who was suspended from the Liberal Democrat party for anti-Israel rhetoric and later quit over the suspension, last year suggested that the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting was the fault of Israel’s policy toward Palestinians.

A makeshift memorial stands outside the Tree of Life synagogue in the aftermath of a deadly shooting in Pittsburgh, on October 29, 2018 in which eleven Jews were killed while at Shabbat services. (AP/Matt Rourke)

“Absolutely appalling and a criminal act, but does it ever occur to Bibi and the present Israeli government that it’s [sic] actions against Palestinians may be reigniting anti-Semitism?” she wrote on Facebook, using the nickname for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Tonge’s text was accompanied by a link to an article in the Israeli newspaper  Haaretz about the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pennsylvania’s second-largest city.

She later posted a quasi-retraction, citing a post by Robert Cohen, a British blogger on Israel and the Palestinians.

“I bow to this great article by Robert Cohen and acknowledge that to think that the Israeli government’s persecution of the Palestinian people had anything to do with the actions of this gunman, may have been too hasty. We must wait for his trial and testimony to try to understand better this ‘white’ supremacy movement in the USA,” she wrote.

In 2017, Tonge accused pro-Israel Jews of creating anti-Semitism in Britain by not criticizing the Jewish state.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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