I'm sure that resigning the Liberal Democrat whip in the House of Lords will cost the redoubtable Jenny Tonge a quantity of angst. However, she is doing exactly the right thing given the disgraceful denial of freedom of speech that exists around the conduct of the state of Israel. Even this paragraph will probably mark me down as a committed anti-semite as the only language a certain strand of Zionist zealot appears to understand is that of a totalitarian denial of any potential criticism of the Israeli right's conduct, resembling nothing so much as a toddler sticking its finger into its ears to shut out things it doesn't want to hear.
There is a co-ordinated campaign in each of the three main UK political parties, masquerading as "Friends of Israel", to ensure that discussion about the Middle East is framed in such a way as never to offend the Israeli government. These people are censors, deniers of freedom of speech and totalitarians whose conduct should be subject to the greatest possible scrutiny. For over a quarter-century, I have been on the receiving end of attacks for daring to suggest that the human rights of Palestinians are equally valid to those of Israelis, and that there is no inherent moral advantage in breaking international law and UN resolutions for either side of the conflict. The fact that Israel remains a US client state and dependent upon large sums of imported cash is not a moral judgement, more a statement of the blindingly obvious.
Clegg's desire to propitiate this monstrous farrago of well-funded propaganda risks yet further loss of support for an illiberal tendency to suppress discussion, debate and information. The constant drip feed of pro-Israel propaganda and the equation of any scepticism or criticism with fellow-travelling with Nazis is one of the most poisonous features of contemporary politics - an elaborate game of "don't kick me" analogous to the barmy attempt to make contemporary Britons apologise for colonialism and the slave trade, but with the added disbenefit of stoking a global political pyre through spreading disinformation and the defamation that any attempt to question the actions of the Israeli regime and its apologists is tantamount to calling for the return of the death camps.
So it's hardly surprising that my sympathies are with the noble Baroness and not with the stooges who have captured discourse in this country. Imagine my surprise to discover today that Cllr Brian Coleman, who, in order to fund a subsidised lifestyle in sheltered housing, currently takes home over £120,000 per annum per year to misrepresent Camden and Barnet on the GLA, chair the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority (with notable lack of progress and abysmal industrial relations), as well as sitting for the rich and selfish burghers of Totteridge on Barnet Council, where he presides over the most inept Environment and Transport portfolio imaginable (many Barnet blogs can provide evidence of this), is up before the Standards Committee next week.
Cllr Coleman's alleged offences are documented in the papers set out below:
They have yet to be upheld by the Committee - but it is to be hoped that the abusive nature of his approach to constituents who have questioned the involvement of Veolia in a major contract (linked to Israeli government contracts in the Occupied Territories) are indicative that he has not just breached the Code of Conduct but the boundaries of what should fit any person for public office. To equate anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is at best ignorant, at worst a facile bid to secure approval from one section of a diverse community at the expense of others. Apparently there are some Zionists who intend to show their support for Coleman's boorishness next week - hopefully to be counteracted by people whose views are that debate is promoted by allowing discussion, not abusing public office and treating citizens with the respect that they deserve.
But the Tories, "Friends" of Israel and other fellow-travellers don't see politics like that. Every time criticism of Israeli actions, including the illegal annexation of territory, human rights abuse and covert and overt violence against Palestinians is raised there is an orchestrated chorus of "burn the anti-semites" and, as has happened with Jenny Tonge, a campaign that does not rest until it has closed down discourse and besmirched the reputation of honourable opponents. Stalinism has nothing on this, which is ironic considering that I am now apparently a fellow-traveller of Trotsky (according to the bonkers and toxic Melanie Phillips) for opposing workfare, and will clearly also be equivalent to Goebbels for supporting Jenny Tonge's right to free speech and to express an opinion.
There will at some stage be an Israeli Spring. In the meantime, it is perfectly legitimate, democratic and pro-Israel to question both the practice and the policy that continues - and calling for adherence to international law is hardly the mark of a raving terrorist apologist. I'm looking forward to seeing "The Death of Klinghoffer" next week, partly because it's been condemned by some pressure groups for portraying Palestinian terrorists as having human characteristics. Ignoring what one sows is not a recipe for long-term survival, and all Jenny Tonge did was to express a view that whatever denial takes place there is no prospect of the status quo lasting either politically or economically. The sooner the totalitarian deniers wake up to this the better. In the meantime, perhaps Britain needs a cultural intifada to shut out the extremists and allow those of us who wish both Israelis and Palestinians well to get on with an adult discourse.