Baroness Jenny Tonge has told peers during a House of Lords debate on antisemitism that she was “saddened” not to be discussing “prejudice generally”.
The longstanding Israel critic and former Liberal Democrat MP also defended herself against the charge of being antisemitic, saying she was “sick” of the accusations and “filthy abuse” she received online.
Tonge opened her address by saying she felt like “Daniel in the lion’s den… I hope, like him, I will be spared”. She added: “I wish you to know I am not antisemitic. I have never ever been antisemitic and I never will be… I am anti-injustice.”
She acknowledged a rise in antisemitism over the last three years but also noted “a much greater rise in Islamophobic incidents over the same period, and that they are more frequent and severe… I am therefore saddened that we cannot discuss the rise in prejudice generally”.
Tonge said antisemitic attacks “surged” during and after Israeli military action in Gaza in 2014, adding: “Some people who commit antisemitic acts do not distinguish between ordinary Jewish people…and the Zionist Israeli government of what is now called the Jewish State of Israel. It is too difficult a distinction for many to make.”
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi, said antisemitism “has returned exactly as it did in the 19th century… Today there is hardly a country in the world, certainly in Europe, where Jews feel safe”.
Senior Labour peer Lord Harris described his party’s “abject failure” to deal with antisemitism, saying it was “shocking” and “humiliating” to find Labour subject to formal investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Echoing many other peers, he blamed a “failure of leadership” for the party’s inability to root out antisemitism more speedily and said Labour needed “cleansing” of it.
However Labour’s Lord Campbell-Savours rejected accusations that his party was institutionally racist or that Jeremy Corbyn was prejudiced. “People simply don’t understand what Corbyn is all about,” he said. “He is obsessed with human rights and sometimes he gets the nuances completely wrong.”
Tonge added that Corbyn “feels passionately about human rights and like me does not always express it in the right sort of way, but nevertheless he cares deeply”.
Former minister Baroness Altmann said the far-left had “taken over mainstream political leadership with its own version of anti-Jewish rhetoric; the arch-capitalists, bankers, enemies of the working class,” adding: “These antisemitic sentiments are not about the situation in Israel. They pre-date the Jewish state.”