By Jenni Frazer for the Times of Israel, posted January 30 2017
LONDON — Baroness Jenny Tonge, one of Israel’s fiercest critics in the UK, has claimed on Facebook that she was “interrogated” on the Jewish current affairs channel, J-TV, and that she had been “caught in a trap… by a very nasty character who was determined to blacken my name and stop me saying anything meaningful.”
In fact, in the nearly hour-long unedited conversation, the interviewer, Dr Alan Mendoza, allowed the member of the House of Lords a very free rein to express her views.
Tonge, who was suspended and then resigned from the Liberal Democrats in October 2016 after years of controversial statements on Israel, admitted that in talking about the “financial grip” of the pro-Israel lobby she “may have gone too far” and that her comments were “a bit over the top.”
Nevertheless, in what appeared to be an almost wilful response, Tonge repeatedly insisted that it was up to the pro-Israelis to prove her allegations wrong. She also said that she had been constantly misquoted or taken out of context, adding that when she notoriously expressed sympathy with and understanding of suicide bombers, she had also noted horror at their actions, but that the latter observation had not been reported.
She was referring to a row over comments she made in 2004, when she was sacked as a Liberal Democrat spokeswoman on children’s issues after suggesting she could consider becoming a suicide bomber.
Then-leader Charles Kennedy dropped her after she told a pro-Palestinian meeting in Westminster that if she “had been a mother and a grandmother in Palestine living for decades in that situation, I don’t know, I may well have become one myself.”
In 2010 she was removed as Liberal Democrat health spokesman in the Lords after stories emerged in Palestinian publications that members of the IDF had been harvesting body parts in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake.
Tonge subsequently told the Jewish Chronicle that “To prevent allegations such as these — which have already been posted on YouTube — going any further, the IDF and the Israeli Medical Association should establish an independent inquiry immediately to clear the names of the team in Haiti.”
In light of her comments to Mendoza, it appeared the baroness’s modus operandi was to say something controversial about Israel and then invite her critics to provide evidence to the contrary.
Repeatedly challenged by Mendoza about her lack of historical knowledge on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she at first said that she “hadn’t read many tomes” about the situation, and then amended this by saying she had read books by the Palestinian writer Ghada Karmi and the anti-Zionist Israeli historian Ilan Pappe — “now you’re going to tell me that I haven’t read books written by the right people, aren’t you?”
Tonge, who will turn 76 in February, is the former Liberal Democrat MP for the London constituency, Richmond, in the southwest part of the capital. It may have come as a surprise to many viewers of the J-TV conversation that the one-time medical doctor (who met her husband when they were both dissecting the same corpse) only made her first visit to Israel and Gaza in 2003, under the auspices of Christian Aid.
She told Mendoza that up until that first visit she had been a textbook Church of England supporter of Israel who deplored the horrors of the Holocaust. But, she said, she was “horrified” by what she saw and came away with the abiding sense of “humiliation” visited daily on the Palestinians.
The conversation between Tonge and Mendoza was relatively amicable as she spoke of her medical career and her entry into politics as an MP between 1997 and 2005.
But when Mendoza quizzed her about what she meant by the Israel lobby, she asked him if he had ever heard of AIPAC and suggested that there was unacceptable funding of Israel’s cause. She also spoke about the recent al-Jazeera programmes in the UK.
When Mendoza asked her if she really believed that secret funds were being used to pay British politicians by the pro-Israelis, she replied that “There could be,” adding that, “I’m making the allegation and asking people to prove [to] me that I’m wrong.”
It was “up to the lobby to clear their own name,” she declared, “not up to me.”
Mendoza rebutted her argument of assumed guilt by asking, “If I said that Jenny Tonge was a murderer, that’s manifestly not true. A number of people start saying it, that doesn’t make it true… it wouldn’t be for you to clear your name in that context, would it?”
“No, I think it would be up to me,” she replied.
“So you don’t believe in innocent until proven guilty, you believe in guilty until proven innocent, which is not the basis of our legal system in this country?” asked Mendoza.
Baroness Tonge considered this.
“That’s a good point,” she said.
And as though it were a conversational tennis match, she added, “30:15.”