Sunday, May 27, 2012

Bad reporting. Bad rhetoric.

Baroness Jenny Tonge, recently resigned from the Liberal Dems after she refused to apologize for her antisemitic remarks, has been invited by a group of English students at York University to speak on party processes and censorship in the British Parliament. I assume she will speak on the need for more Nazis in positions of power.

A google search -- unsurprisingly, the activities of student groups are often deemed less than newsworthy -- reveals very little about the talk. There's basically this nearly unreadable piece at the Jerusalem Post. The remarks over which Baroness Tonge was forced out of the Lib Dems, however, were widely reported. For instance, this piece, from the BBC. (A search for Tonge reveals similar coverage or worse from the Beeb.) The sub-headline reads:
A Lib Dem peer has resigned from the parliamentary party after saying Israel "is not going to be there forever".
A lovely photo of a smiling Tonge is captioned
Baroness Tonge said she was disappointed with [leader of the Lib Dems] Nick Clegg's response [asking for her apology]
Even a fairly careful reader would have difficulty understanding what the hubbub was about. It would certainly seem to suggest to many what Baroness Tonge had previously suggested:
The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips.
The BBC article doesn't mention this previous outburst (and also doesn't mention when she blamed global warming on the Israel lobby), though it does mention that she had previously not been asked to resign from the party:
...after she claimed Israeli troops sent to Haiti after the earthquake there were trafficking organs
...after she said she "might just consider becoming" a suicide bomber if she was a Palestinian.
Only later in the article are her most recent remarks reported more fully:
She added: "One day the United States of America will get sick of giving £70bn a year to Israel to support what I call America's aircraft carrier in the Middle East - that is Israel. One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough. It will not go on for ever. Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown."
Reading the article, you wouldn't know that her figure of £70bn a year is off by over 2,300%. Or that the actual amount is a fractional percentage of the US budget that could hardly be a priority or even a tertiary concern for deficit hawks. Only a close reader would consider that she has implied that the American support for Israel is against the wishes of the American people and comes only because of the "financial grips" of all-powerful Jews. Unfortunately, the reported response from Nick Clegg clarifies absolutely nothing:
These remarks were wrong and offensive and do not reflect the values of the Liberal Democrats. I asked Baroness Tonge to withdraw her remarks and apologise for the offence she has caused. She has refused to do so and will now be leaving the party. The Liberal Democrats have a proud record of campaigning for the rights of Palestinians, and that will continue. But we are crystal clear in our support for a two-state solution.
And so, it is no surprise in this miasma that the student group should publish this piece accusing Jews of being overly sensitive:
There is also a particular sensitivity in both the UK and the US regarding any comment that has the potential to be (mis)interpreted as anti-Semitic. While this is clearly an important concern, with obvious historical justification, there is a question mark over the extent to which this is also driven by the pressure to get re-elected. In the States, in particular, it is a commonplace that no President will be elected without the ‘Jewish vote’. While this is not so apparent in Britain, might there be a case for seeing the support of Israeli lobbyists in terms of election politics? That Tonge’s recent comment about the historical inevitability of political change in the Middle East was interpreted by some as anti-Semitic reveals the hyper-sensitivity regarding this – undoubtedly sensitive – issue. On the other hand, the current inflammatory situation in the Middle East means such comments are perhaps likely to risk mis- or over-interpretation, and this is something of which politicians should be aware.
This is lousy rhetoric, the sort for which York University should publicly flog its English students. It's also blatantly untrue that American presidents cannot be elected without the support of the Jewish vote. Every Republican president since Coolidge won without the Jewish vote.

Surely, some of my lines will have made some readers positively apoplectic. If I am being overly sensitive and falsehoods about the power of Jewish voters are merely "(mis)interpreted as anti-Semitic", then it is simply the voice of reason that demands an apology from me. But at the core -- poorly reported here by the august BBC, which should find it easier to report on politics in its home country, and shamefully repeated by our future rhetors -- is the same old conspiracy theory about Jewish power. It is, in fact, the idea which uncontested made the Nazi genocide inevitable. If neither the BBC nor the newest crop of English students at one of the world's best universities can even recognize the main points of contention in a debate, then the same ideas will remain uncontested.

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