Karl Sabbagh speaking at the meeting chaired by Jenny Tonge
Al-Jazeera did not discuss the lobby’s work with the Lib Dems, but three members of LDFP witnessed it at work at a meeting in the House of Lords on 25th October. The purpose of the meeting was to launch a campaign to get HMG to apologize for not properly implementing the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which provided that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine . The Lib Dem Baroness Jenny Tonge, chaired the meeting and there were four speakers. Of particular interest was the British Palestinian Karl Sabbagh, who made a thoughtful and carefully reasoned argument for Britain to apologise for the Balfour Declaration and many of its subsequent actions. Interestingly, he contended that Britain’s mistakes were largely a result of its leaders’ search for a quiet life.
The meeting was grossly misreported in an article in The Times of October 27th, 2016, entitled Jews blamed for Holocaust at ‘Shameful’ House of Lords Event. It was written by Duncan Kennedy, who got much of his information from a pro-Israeli blogger present at the meeting. It unjustly held Tonge responsible for not challenging a practically unintelligible statement from an audience member, an orthodox Rabbi from an anti-Zionist sect. It was later found that this person had accused a leading American Rabbi of the 1930s of organising a boycott of Nazi Germany that had pushed Hitler over the edge. Kennedy did not mention the invited speakers or what they said, but he quoted the Israeli Embassy three times, notably its description of the meeting as a shameful event, which gave voice to racist tropes against Jews and Israelis alike.
The article was followed by untruthful and defamatory editorial pieces in The Times and The Sunday Times, and similarly inaccurate reports in other news media. One of the most tendentious pieces appeared in The Wall Street Journal, also part of the Murdoch Empire. There can be no doubt that a cheap Times scoop set a journalistic tone that spread rapidly throughout the media.
The flood of publicity unjustly defamed Baroness Tonge, leading to her suspension from the Lib Dems, and subsequent resignation. According to Tonge’s account, the Party contacted her before she saw the papers, telling her that she was being suspended pending an investigation. Anti-Semitism was mentioned, but she was not asked to explain or offered a meeting. She then resigned, feeling angry that she had not been consulted, and is continuing her career as an independent cross-bench peer.
The scurrilous misreporting of the meeting caused considerable ire among those present, and 30 of them have formally complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). It is unfortunate the Lib Dems did not check their facts with the numerous eye-witnesses.