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Jenny Tonge quits Lib Dems after suspension for alleged antisemitic comments

Peer who has sat in Lords as an independent since 2012 suspended over comments reportedly comparing Israel to Isis made at meeting she hosted

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukJenny Tonge, a former Liberal Democat peer, has quit the party after she was suspended over alleged antisemitic comments.

She said she had resigned from the party “about the same time” as she was suspended as a party member by its leader on Thursday.

Earlier, a spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said: “She has been suspended. She was not a member of our group in the House of Lords; she was an independent peer, she has had her membership suspended.

“We take her comments very seriously and have acted accordingly.”

Tonge was Lib Dem MP for Richmond Park from 1997 to 2005, but has sat as an independent in the Lords since she was suspended in 2012, also for allegedly antisemitic comments.

Thursday’s move came after Tonge hosted a meeting at the House of Lords this week at which Israel was reportedly compared to terror group Islamic State and Jews were blamed for the Holocaust. The remarks were made by an attendee at the meeting, which was organised by the Palestinian Return Centre, which live-streamed the event on its Facebook page. (In a subsequent statement, the Palestinian Return Centre said it did not tolerate any form of antisemitism or Holocaust denial statements.)

The Israeli embassy in London said the meeting was a “shameful event which gave voice to racist tropes against Jews and Israelis alike”.

Tory MP David Davies called in the House of Commons for a debate “on the use to which these premises may be put following reports that outrageously a member of the House of Lords presided over an event at which Israel was compared to Islamic State, and the Jews were even blamed for their own genocide”.

Tonge also recently released a letter in which she blamed a rise in antisemitism on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. She published the letter online and said she had submitted it to the Guardian, which confirmed it had been received on 16 October.

The letter said: “It is surely the case these [antisemitic] incidents are reflecting the disgust amongst the general public of the way the government of Israel treats Palestinians and manipulates the USA and ourselves to take no action against the country’s blatant disregard of international law and the Geneva conventions.”

The peer has a long track record of making trenchant criticisms of Israel. In 2004, when she was an MP, she was sacked from the frontbench by then party leader Charles Kennedy after she suggested that she would become a suicide bomber if she was Palestinian. At the time, Israel had endured repeated suicide bombings carried out by Palestinians during the second intifada. She was made a peer the following year.

Last month, the current Lib Dem leader, Tim Farron, was questioned by the home affairs select committee as part of its investigation into antisemitism over Tonge’s continued membership of the party.

Earlier this month, the committee published a report on antisemitism, which called on all political parties to tackle what it described as a “pernicious form of hate”.

But MPs focused criticism on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party. “The failure of the Labour party consistently and effectively to deal with antisemitic incidents in recent years risks lending force to allegations that elements of the Labour movement are institutionally antisemitic,” they concluded.

The report adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities”.

However, MPs added it was not antisemitic “to criticise the government of Israel, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent”. Neither was it antisemitic “to hold the Israeli government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, or to take a particular interest in the Israeli government’s policies or actions, without additional evidence to suggest antisemitic intent.”

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Lib Dems pull off shock victory in Richmond Park by-election as Zac is thrown out

James Giles

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A ‘shockwave to Downing Street’ has, last night, been pulled off by the Liberal Democrats, with Sarah Olney defeating Zac Goldsmith in the Richmond Park by-election.

Lib Dem challenger Ms Olney overturned Mr Goldsmith’s 23,015 majority to win by 1,872 votes. The result saw Ms Olney poll 20,510 votes to Mr Goldsmith’s 18,638, on a turnout of 41,367, or 53.6 per cent. The 21.74 per cent swing to the Lib Dems from Mr Goldsmith topped the 19.3 per cent swing the Lib Dems achieved from the Tories in the Witney by-election.

A Green Party spokesperson said: “The Green Party’s decision to stand down and the huge drop in the Labour Party vote show that people will vote tactically. It proves that there is a huge appetite and a need for proportional representation so that people can express a real preference at elections. In Sarah Olney, we now have an MP who will push for the electoral reform that we so urgently need. We look forward to working with the Liberal Democrats, Women’s Equality Party and the Labour Party in a Progressive Alliance for the 2018 local elections and the next General Election.”

 

Ms Olney said the shock victory was a rejection of the “Ukip vision” of Britain, and the politics of “anger and division”.

In her victory speech, she said: “The people of Richmond Park and North Kingston have sent a shockwave through this Conservative Brexit government, and our message is clear: we do not want a hard Brexit. We do not want to be pulled out of the single market, and we will not let intolerance, division and fear win.”

In a brief acknowledgement of the result, a clearly downcast Mr Goldsmith said: “This by-election that we have just had was not a political calculation, it was a promise that I made and it was a promise that I kept.”

Labour’s Christian Wolmar lost his deposit as he trailed a distant third with 1,515 votes, losing 8% of the Labour vote compared to 2015.

A Conservative Party spokesman said the result would make no difference to Brexit plans, stating: “This result doesn’t change anything. The Government remains committed to leaving the European Union and triggering Article 50 by the end of March next year. Commiserations to Zac Goldsmith on his defeat. We are sorry that he is no longer in the House of Commons.”

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: “The message is clear: The Liberal Democrats are back and we are carrying the torch for all of those who want a real opposition to this Conservative Brexit government.

“This was a remarkable, come-from-nowhere upset that will terrify the Conservatives. A year and a half ago, their man won by nearly 40% and had a majority of more than 20,000. In one fell swoop we have wiped that out completely.

“If this was a general election, this swing would mean the Conservatives would lose dozens of seats to the Liberal Democrats – and their majority with it.

Mr Wolmar said voters had disliked Mr Goldsmith’s “ghastly, disgusting” bid to be London Mayor in which Labour accused him of running a racist campaign against Sadiq Khan.

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