03 March 2012

Baroness Tonge, Israel and the pain of political correctness

Of all the various catalysts of political correctness, perhaps Israel is the most powerful. Anyone who seriously criticizes Israel or seriously supports the Palestinians is seriously in danger of being accused of such wickedness he or she must be dismissed from public discourse. Such was the fate of Jenny Tonge, Baronesss of Kew, recently a Liberal Democratic member of the House of Lords. Lady Tonge, during a heated debate at Middlesex University made the following remarks:
Israel is not going to be there forever in its present form. One day, the United States of America will get sick of giving £70-billion 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.
The "not going to be there for ever" phrase miffed a host of Britons, including the chief rabbi, Lord Sacks, who called the remarks "dangerous, inflammatory and unacceptable," and Liberal Democrat Party leader Nick Clegg who demanded she apologize. She refused, resigned as party whip, and Clegg then ejected her from the party, an act neither liberal nor democratic.

The irony of course is that Israel itself has no intention of being there forever in its present form. It continually accretes more land—taken illegally from the Palestinians—and Israelis have stated they are willing to swap land for peace in a two-state solution to the hostilites. Indeed many people, including according to recent polls a third of Palestinians and a quarter of Israelis, increasingly believe in a single, secular state covering modern-day Israel and the occupied territories. In short, Lady Tonge's expression was a reasonable, indeed factual, contribution to the debate.

And are these British critics forgetting their own recent history. The UK is itself in a different form from what it was a mere century ago. Most of Ireland has departed and the rest will surely follow, and Scotland is getting very itchy feet. Or perhaps they could take a look across the Atlantic. Three hundred years ago, the most powerful country in the world today didn't exist, and the nations that had occupied the western half of North American for millennia are now entirely gone except for scattered remnants. Change in the form of nations is an immutable law of history.

In Canada, things are not much different than in the UK. If a Canadian politician suggested that Canada wouldn't be around forever in its present form, no one would blink an eye, simply because we live with that possibility every day. But if the same politician suggested, as Lady Tonge did, that Israel wouldn't be around forever in its present form, he or she would be enveloped in a storm of protest similar to that suffered by the Baroness. And they would quite likely be tossed from whatever political party they were a member of. Our political and media elites are immersed in the same fog of political correctness on this issue as the Brits.

The insidious nature of this censoring was illustrated by Britain's Labour Party leader, Ed Milliband, who said there is "no place in politics for those who question the existence of the state of Israel." Chief Rabbi Sacks went further, saying, "Views such as those expressed by Baroness Tonge have no place in civil public discourse." In other words, if you contradict the politically correct view of Palestine, you are to be dismissed not only from the political arena but from public discourse. You are to be silenced.

Israel is a nation based on race and religion, a foundation inimical to the principles of Canadians. Questioning the justification of such a state does not make one a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or an Adolf Hitler, yet this is what the defenders of Israeli policies would have us believe. Questioning Israel's form is part and parcel of thinking seriously about the Middle East's, and possibly the world's, most toxic political problem. The last thing we need is for the discussion of this most dangerous of issues to be restricted by the biased boundaries of political correctness.

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