Free speech, is this a concept the LibDems have forgotten?

Baroness Tonge is a brave lady. For years she’s had the courage to speak out against Israel’s treatment of the people of Gaza and the Occupied Territories. She is a great supporter of the Palestinian cause.

Yesterday she said that “Israel would not last forever in its present form.” She’s almost certainly right. She went on to say, “One day, the American people are going to say to the Israel lobby in the USA: enough is enough. Israel will lose support and then they will reap what they have sown.” The American people are indeed beginning to wake up to the bully boy tactics of the Israeli lobby – currently doing everything it can to take America into a new Middle East war over Iran – and unless some sense can be made of the current contrived impasse in the peace process, Israel will most certainly reap what they have sown, as will the Americans.

Enter the mighty Clegg.  He immediately denounced what she had said without either meeting her or discussing the matter. He demanded that she withdraw her remarks. She refused.  The LibDem whip was removed.

Clegg’s reaction is difficult to comprehend. Does it mean that from now on any LibDem who has the whip is forbidden to say anything against Israel? If that’s the case, and there appears to be no other obvious explanation, it’s a very sad day for the Liberal Democrats. But maybe all is not lost. The Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine group offered Baroness Tonge its “full support”. It said: “The condemnation was made before the leadership had heard her side of the story or even spoken to her. That action in itself worries us. She is entitled to an apology.” There won’t be one, but maybe Mr Clegg will have an even rougher time at his Spring conference than he’s expecting. Here’s hoping.

And then there’s Mr Miliband. Labour didn’t cover itself in glory yesterday either. He bleated “There’s no place in politics for those who question existence of the state of Israel.” There’s no place in politics for those who deny free speech, Mr Miliband. Let’s hope you don’t follow Mr Clegg’s example.

One thing’s for sure, the Israeli lobby is alive and well in Britain. Our politicians are clearly scared witless to say anything against Israel. Scared not to instantly condemn anyone who dares to utter a critical word for fear of what might be unleashed against them. And then of course there are those ‘donations’, party and personal, that regularly land on the doormat  – providing they toe the line.

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