Jenny Tonge’s speech as part of a debate at Oxford Union

Baroness Jenny Tonge, was one of four speakers at the Oxford Union on 31 January, who opposed the motion:

“This house believes that Israel is a force for good in the Middle East”

Those speaking for the motion included Richard Perle and Lord David Trimble, while Peter Tatchell and Ghada Karmi were among the opposition.

Baroness Tonge spoke as follows:

Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be speaking at the Oxford Union

I would have had great pleasure in supporting this motion if it had said:

“Israel COULD be a great force for good in the world.”

It is a beautiful country. Its citizens have immense scientific and entrepreneurial flair. Some years ago I visited the most magnificent and well equipped hospital, that I as a medic had ever seen – the Hadassah, in Jerusalem. The physicians and surgeons working there are among the world’s best.

Israeli companies and institutions have produced leading work in medicine, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications and computing.

Israel is a democracy, not perfect—show me one that is, and has a free press, which is much to be valued. Haaretz must rank with the great newspapers of the world.

I remember the joy and optimism in my own family when the State of Israel was created and the goodwill that poured in the direction of the Jewish people after the ghastly and unbelievable terrors of the Holocaust—which we must always remember.

How we all as teenagers longed to go there and work in a kibbutz and share the dream of making the desert bloom.

BUT, we were kept away from the real truths of the creation of the State of Israel.

The Nakba, which saw Palestinians, who had not been consulted or warned, driven from their homes and lands. Many who resisted were killed, over 500 villages were destroyed.

It was as if all the pent up fury against the Holocaust was poured out—But on a people who had had nothing at all to do with it and had lived in peace for hundreds of years with Christians Muslims and Jews occupying the same country of Palestine.

This event and attempts to ethnically cleanse Israel and more recently, the occupied territories, has continued with increasing ferocity and cruelty.

Palestinians have attempted on many occasions to defend themselves, in Lebanon, in Gaza and in the West Bank.

And defend is the correct term—action from the Palestinians most recently in the form of rockets from Gaza is usually precipitated by provocation by Israel. (Operation “Pillar of Cloud”, Israel’s recent attack on Gaza, was started after Israel assassinated Jabari, the lead peace negotiator from Hamas when he was on his way to sign a peace agreement.)

Israel’s actions over 60 years have set the scene for Israel to become a pariah state in the eyes of the people in surrounding countries and a force for BAD not GOOD in the Middle East.

It is worth recalling the words of Ben Gurion, Israel’s founding father speaking in 1955, who clearly understood the feelings of Palestinians when he said,

If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. We have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them?

But of course they DID make terms, and signed off 78% of their land to Israel, which was not enough for Israel as recent events like the building of settlements has shown.

The crime committed against the Palestinians is compounded by the support Israel has always had from USA, the UK and the West. WE have allowed Israel to flout UN resolutions time after time.

We ignore the fact that Israel violates International Law and the Geneva Conventions and denies Palestinians their Human Rights in the West Bank and Gaza. This was most recently demonstrated in Gaza in 2008/9 and acknowledged by the Goldstone Report which the Israeli government rejected.

Arab, Palestinian Israelis suffer discrimination and racism inside Israel.

No action is taken, no sanctions are imposed.

Israel remains a member of the UN and has the bald impudence to try to prevent Palestine becoming even an observer status member of the UN, carrying with it the authority to appeal to the International Criminal Court.

Is it any wonder that Israel has become a force for ill in the Middle East and is losing even those allies she used to have like Turkey and Egypt?

I spent eight years as International Spokesperson for my party in the Houses of Commons and wherever I went in the world where there was a Muslim population I was told that,

Palestine is what the West does to Muslims.

My most vivid example was in Bangladesh where this was said, that’s a long way from Palestine.
The West has not helped the rise of extreme Islam, of course, with the presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia, the bombing of Afghanistan, the invasion of Iraq and now the threats to Iran.
BUT as more and more Christians have fled the West Bank and Gaza, Israel is seen as directly attacking Muslims
And it is my contention that extreme Islamism has some of its roots in the persecution of the PALESTINIANS BY ISRAEL.

The late, Osama bin Laden, issued a fatwa against America and what he described as, and I quote,

Its religious and economic wars against Islamic countries, to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and the murder of Muslims there.

Bin Laden is dead, but the spirit lives on and has spread out of the Middle East in to the wider world. We should recognise this and try to do something about the causes of this terror it has engendered.
A major cause is the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to address another reason why Israel has became a force for ill, in the Middle East and the world.

Whenever Israel is criticised, its supporters, which I shall refer to as the LOBBY, try to silence Israel’s critics by implying, directly or indirectly that they are being anti Semitic. No other country in the world has such an effective rebuttal to its actions. By twisting words and misinterpretation they try to silence Israel’s critics, not by argument, but by abuse.

What a cowardly response this is. Silence your critics, discredit them, and do not argue with them, that is the mantra.

The added problem for the Lobby is that now that Israel has proclaimed itself the JEWISH and democratic state of Israel, many people cannot make the distinction between “Jew” and Israeli. They assume, quite wrongly, that all Jews support Israel because that is their home, where they can go and live at any time and therefore must be in some way responsible for Israel’s actions.

This means ladies and gentlemen, that, added to the accusation that Israel is a bad force in the Middle East and wider world, I contend that BY its actions against the Palestinians, now well known throughout the world, that country is generating hostility against many liberal and compassionate Jewish people in the Diaspora.
We should not be letting this happen.

Israel must be persuaded to become the force for good which it should be and opt for the two state solution on roughly the 1967 borders before it is too late.

I will conclude with another quotation, from Ehud Olmert this time on his return from the Annapolis Conference in 2007. He said:

The State of Israel cannot endure unless a Palestinian state comes into being, We are nearing the point where more and more Palestinians will say, “We are persuaded. We agree with Avigdor Lieberman. There is not room for two states between the Jordan and the sea. All we want is equal rights with Israelis.” On the day they reach that point we lose everything and I quake to think that leading the fight against us will be liberal Jewish groups who led the fight against apartheid in South Africa.

Ladies and Gentlemen, Israel on its current behaviour is a force for ill in the Middle East and the world.

I beg you to oppose the motion.