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Why Jenny Tonge had to go for her comments on Israel

By Sunny Hundal
March 3rd 2012

Last week I tweeted that it was right for the Libdem peer Jenny Tonge to quit the Libdems over her remarks on Israel.

I want to clarify why I said this, mostly because I think it points to broader points around such issues.

Three factors matter:

Rule one – Apologise even if people interpret it wrongly
If lots of people are outraged and it looks like they have a good reason to do so, then at the very least accept that your intention was misconstrued. Apologise for any offence taken even if you didn’t mean it that way.

Everything from Jeremy Clarkson to the Diane Abbott controversies had elements that people found offensive, for good reason.

Jenny Tonge’s remark could also be seen as her saying she did not want Israel to exist. At the very least she could have seen that and accepted that. But she refused to apologise and accept her remarks may have offended some people. That alone meant she had to go.

Rule two – context and history matter
Conservatives trying to pretend that Ken Livingstone is homophobic is just opportunistic idiocy. But Jenny Tonge has a history of inflammatory remarks regarding Israel. That was the main reason her remark was seen in a different context than perhaps she meant it.

Let’s put it this way – if Douglas Murray says something (that can be interpreted as) inflammatory about Muslims, then he probably meant since he has a history.

Mehdi Hasan said similar things have been said by Israeli politicians, but that’s moot. When Jay-Z and Kanya West say ‘N***** in Paris‘ it has a different context to Marie Le Pen saying it.

Rule three – extremists don’t help debate
Ian Dunt at Politics.co.uk said:

There are several effective ways of closing down an argument. One of the most immoral is to give it the name of another argument which is not accepted. This is the trick that has been played with some regularity by Israel’s defenders.

This is true, but every issue has to be taken on its own merit. It is a mistake to assume that every incident of outrage should not be taken seriously. It is also a mistake to assume that extremists such as Jenny Tonge help the debate.

I know several Jews who stand up for Palestinian rights but wouldn’t want to associate themselves with extremists on the same issue. I also know Muslims who see where Israel is coming from, but don’t speak out because they think that side is dominated by people who hate Muslims. Having an issue dominated by extremists isn’t healthy for debate, and there are still too many extremists on either side.

It isn’t racist for example to point out that the Israeli government is dominated by extremists. Its foreign minister Avigdor Leiberman was called a “fascist” for good reason. I can’t imagine a scenario where Muslims think he’s got their interests at heart too.

Originally published in Liberal Conspiracy

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