Tonge Wrong (Again) – Guest Post by Ben Goldstein

Baroness Jenny Tonge, who infamously declared in 2006 that “the pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips”, took part in a recent debate about the two-state solution at the Cambridge Union. In her speech, she argues in favour of a “one-state solution” and, in so doing, makes a series of erroneous claims.

She first argues that “successive Israeli governments have never wanted a two-state solution – they want the whole of the land”. It hardly seems possible that a former MP who consistently makes speeches about the Middle East could be so ignorant of Israeli history. How would Tonge describe Rabin’s attempts to create peace based on two states in the 1990s, or Olmert’s in 2007? How would, in fact, she describe the current Israeli government, which contains Tzipi Livni (whose entire election campaign was based on the urgent need for a two-state solution) and Yair Lapid (who said “there’s no other game in town but the two-state solution”)? While the extremes of the hard right and elements of the settler movement might maintain the fiction of a Jewish state from Jordan to the sea, the vast majority of the Israeli political establishment (and, indeed, the Israeli public) favour a two-state solution.

When confronted with the reality of the 2001 Taba negotiations (where both sides agreed in principle on two states based on 1967 borders) by an intervention from an opposing speaker, Tonge replied: “They didn’t succeed”. Unfortunately for her, this is not the point. To substantiate her claim that Israeli governments have “never wanted a two-state solution”, it is insufficient to point out that negotiations up until now have failed. She would further have to demonstrate that each failure was committed by Israel deliberately – a burden that, given, for instance, Barak’s offer of 91 per cent of the West Bank and all of Gaza to Arafat in 2000, she unsurprisingly does not fulfil.

Tonge next uses what she claims is a Ben-Gurion quote: “If I were an Arab leader I would never make terms with Israel. We have taken their country.” This quote is unrecorded, and is found in a book by Nahum Goldmann. The book was published in 1978; Ben-Gurion died in 1973 and could therefore not dispute the allegation. The alleged quotation certainly does not fit with the vast majority of Ben-Gurion’s other writings, which calls on Israel to treat Arabs as equals; he wrote, for instance, that if ‘the Arab citizen will feel at home in our state…then Arab distrust will accordingly subside and a bridge to a Semitic, Jewish-Arab alliance will be built’ (Ba-Ma’Araha Vol. IV, Part 2, pp. 260, 265, quoted in Fabricating Israeli History, Efraim Karsh, p.67).

Even if Tonge’s attribution of that quote to Ben-Gurion holds (which seems unlikely), it is unclear exactly what Tonge seeks to draw from it. On one reading, she may be claiming that the Arab states (à la Iran or Hamas) ought not to make terms with Israel. If so, it is rather puzzling how she envisages cooperation between hardline Israel-hating Arabs and Jews actually happening in her single bi-national state. Alternatively, she may be using the quote to illustrate that “even the Zionists admit that they stole Palestinian land”. Leaving aside the obvious simplicity of the colonial narrative of the creation of Israel (which ignores the existence of a native Jewish population, the Balfour Declaration, the Peel Commission and the UN vote of 1947), it is again unclear how this helps Tonge argue for a one-state solution. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of 1948, the question is whether a one-state solution is feasible now and Tonge gives us literally no reason to suggest that it is.

Thirdly, Tonge says that “non-Jewish residents of Israel are distinctly second-class citizens. There are forty differences in the rights they have compared with the rights Jews have.” The details of these alleged “differences” are never elucidated. While it is clearly true that Arab Israelis face societal discrimination much like minority ethnic groups in other countries around the world, it is simply not true that they have different rights to Jewish Israelis. The Israeli Declaration of Independence states that Israel will offer “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture”. That is why Arabic is an official language, and why there are Arab judges on Israel’s supreme court, Arab members of Parliament, Arab civil servants, Arab ambassadors, Arab army officers and Arab winners of The Voice Israel. Tonge’s assertion betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the reality of the position of Israeli Arabs within the state – wholly equal under the eyes of the law, even while facing some structural inequality.

Finally, towards the end of her speech, Tonge describes a one-state utopia, with Jews and Palestinian Arabs ‘living together peacefully’. There are two problems here. The first is that it is wildly fanciful. The idea that groups with two distinct national/religious identities will hold hands and sing Kumbaya, when Hamas’ charter calls for the killing of all Jews and the majority of Israelis view a Jewish majority as fundamental to their security, is wholly untenable. Secondly, the one-state solution removes the right of self-determination from both the Jewish people and the Palestinian people. Majorities of both desire a homeland for themselves – a Jewish homeland, with an Arab minority, in Israel and a Palestinian homeland, perhaps with a Jewish minority, in Palestine. In a one-state “utopia”, one of these groups will ultimately have that right frustrated.

Tonge’s words at the Cambridge Union – which, incidentally, voted overwhelmingly against her position – should thus persuade nobody: the one-state solution is no solution at all.

Ben Goldstein is a student at Lincoln College, Oxford, and is currently an intern at the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre.

25 Responses to “Tonge Wrong (Again) – Guest Post by Ben Goldstein”

  1. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    Ben Goldstein notes that Tonge (just like many other one-staters/anti-Zionists of many stripes) misuses a non-quote (there are many other such non-quotes around) to try and make her case. As he says, “…she may be using the quote to illustrate that ‘even the Zionists admit that they stole Palestinian land’. Leaving aside the obvious simplicity of the colonial narrative of the creation of Israel (which ignores the existence of a native Jewish population, the Balfour Declaration, the Peel Commission and the UN vote of 1947), it is again unclear how this helps Tonge argue for a one-state solution.”

    Ben leaves aside (through lack of space – but perhaps others at the debate raised these issues) much else besides that she fails to mention or to expand upon. To include the following would be not be merely damaging to Tonge’s case, but fatal to it. Thus, she isn’t, naturally, going to mention that, from the early 19th Century, Jerusalem had a majority Jewish population. Nor is she going to note that the Zionist influx from the late 19th Century was permitted by the Turkish rulers of Palestine, and the land bought by these incomers was purchased from mainly absentee Arab landlords. Nor will she remind her listeners of the inward migration of landless Arabs, drawn by the burgeoning economy being created by the Jews in the 1920s and 30s. (This latter claim can be checked out in an article from the Times of Israel that forms the basis of a guest post from me published today (9/7/13) on Anne’s opinions (

    Further, we all know that while the Jews of the Yishuv accepted, however reluctantly, the UN Partition Plan, the Arabs rejected it. Tonge won’t, either, tell any audience she addresses on this topic of the creation of the Arab militias after the UN Patrtition Plan vote, let alone their total failure to destroy the Jewish part of Palestine and the Jews advance into Arab areas, because they were responding to unprovoked attacks on them. She won’t, again, tell us about the utter failure of four of the 5 Arab armies to make any headway against the fledging State of Israel.

    Of course not. To do so would destroy her credentials as a darling of the BDS movement.

  2. Noga Says:

    “… it is rather puzzling how she envisages cooperation between hardline Israel-hating Arabs and Jews actually happening in her single bi-national state.”

    Not puzzling at all to those who take the effort to visit the places where the “one state solution” is aggressively advocated. As I found here, at Prof. Abukhalil’s website. He openly dreams about the day Palestinians take over Israel’s institutions, towns, cities, malls, universities, etc etc. Here are some of the fantasies he shares with his readers:

    “… once Palestine is liberated, I don’t think that Hebrew poet living under a Palestinian flag (and using the renamed George Habash International Airport) should be harassed unless they harm the security of the anti-Zionist state.”
    ” But your delusions are good for us: you won’t know what will hit you in the future in response to all the war crimes that you have committed against our people. ”

    “And once the Palestinian refugees are returned to their homes all over Palestine, I will make sure that you get decent rents in the formerly Palestinian refugee camps because we may be a bit short of space for the occupiers then. ”

    And then there is this:

    ” (Nothing incenses me or provokes me like watching scenes of “tourist” promotion for the enemy state of Israel: I scream in my inside. The stones are not yours. The flowers are not yours. The beaches are not yours. The clouds are not yours. The blueness of the sky is not yours. All will return to their owners. Then, everything will be more beautiful and more splendid.)”
    Abukhalil, let me re-iterate, is not some nutcase who fulminates on street corners, or a wild-eyed Islamist mullah in his Friday sermon. He is a respectable professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus and visiting professor at UC, Berkeley. On his website, he reported approvingly about Tonge’s fulminations.

    So… puzzle no more. The advocates for the OSS do not even bother to conceal the vision they have of what it will look like. Funnily enough, they call it justice,

    The more decent ones make an effort to care for the fate of Israeli Jews:

    [Edward Said]: “I worry about that. The history of minorities in the Middle East has not been as bad as in Europe, but I wonder what would happen. It worries me a great deal. The question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews is very difficult for me. I really don’t know. It worries me.” [-]
    “So in a generation or two, what we will have is an Arab-Jewish minority community in an Arab world?
    “Yes. Yes. I would have thought.”
    “Many Jews would find that frightening.” )

    • Lynne T Says:

      Said is of course not around to comment on the 21st century decimation of the “native” Christian communities of the PA, Gaza or Egypt due to persecution / harassment by both the hardcore Islamists of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and the not as upfront Fatah.

  3. Jonathan Lowenstein Says:

    I’m not sure that one should agree to enter into a debate with Tonge.
    If the Oxford Union invited Neo-Nazis to discuss the Jewish right to exist, would you debate them?
    I’m not advocating a Galloway-style walk off, but perhaps it would be better to discuss something else, for example whether one can legimitately call Ms Tonge an antisemite and what that would say about the Oxford Union rather than addressing her arguments.

  4. Carlo Says:

    Richard Gold claims that the idea of “Jews and Palestinian Arabs ‘living together peacefully’ . . . is wildly fanciful.”
    He might then find it helpful to study the testimonies in Rina Castelnuovo’s text and slide show in Sunday’s New York Times:
    And for an example of a bi-national community within Israel he could take a look at the village of Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam.

    • vildechaye Says:

      It is wildly fanciful, certainly for now and the foreseeable future, and it’s a measure of just how wildly fanciful it is that all the commenter can show in response are a couple of well-meaning but sad little exceptions that prove the rule.

  5. Richard Gold Says:

    I don’t claim anything Carlo – or maybe you didn’t read either the title or the end of the piece.

    • Carlo Says:

      Sorry, Richard, you’re right. They were Ben Goldstein’s words.
      But my point is that while coexistence may be difficult, it is not impossible.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        But co-existence demands a willingness from both sides for this to even have a chance of success. All polls show that the majority of Israeli Jews see a two-state solution as the way out, as do, separately, Israeli Arabs (especially the Muslim majority of them: I suspect that this is true for Israeli Christian also). The one thing that Israeli (Muslimm) Arabs don’t want is a bi-national state: they have, collectively, no desire to live in Palestine. They would, however, like de facto equality to go with the de jure equality they already have. (As do members of ethnic minorities in the UK, for example).

        Neve Shalom is exceptional: it’s within Green Line Israel, with people who are Israeli citizens, who have all the legal rights, etc, and so forth.

        Now find the evidence from the other side of the Green Line, Carlo, for your “coexistence” thesis.

        • Carlo Says:

          The other side of the Green Line, Brian, is subject to the constraints of military occupation. Settlers of the occupying power are defended by soldiery who repress the indigenous population. Hardly the best conditions for egalitarian coexistence between the two groups.

        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          In other words, Carlo, you don’t have any evidence for a desire for co-existence from the Palestinian leadership. Indeed, every time anyone, be it Netanyahu or Kerry, put forward feelers for negotiation, what comes back is the demand for a retreat to the Green Line, then Abbas et al will talk.

          In case he hadn’t noticed, that’s actually the end expected from negotiations. If that’s where they start, then we’re back to the Arab position immediately after the UN Partition Resolution of 1947.

          So, again, Carlo, where’s your evidence for co-existence from the other side of the Green Line? Other than cliches, that is, as per your reply to me.

  6. josephinebacon Says:

    I do not understand why you argue these points with Baroness Tonge, knighted no doubt for her antisemitism. Of course she is going to make up quotes and also claim that the Palestinians and the Israelis are going to live together peacefully (the Arab Spring has shown that they can’t even live peacefully with each other), all in her feverish attempt to support the hate-mongers and those who want to destroy Israel.

  7. Carlo Says:

    If I might be permitted a response to Brian Goldfarb (at 3:28 pm) it would be to suggest that a prerequisite for coexistence is a level playing field, but at the present time the relationship between the two parties is that of occupier and occupied. Nevertheless, the evidence he seeks for a desire for coexistence may be found in the Arab Peace Initiative, twice put forward by the Arab League and twice ignored by successive Israeli governments.

    • Richard Gold Says:

      Hi Carlo. Do you support the Arab Peace Initiative ? I always thought you were a one state supporter but maybe I am wrong. I think the Arab Peace Initiative is something now worth taking seriously. When it was first proposed it bore little relevance to reality. Arafat had just described suicide bombers as “Shahids” and the suicide bombings were at there peak. That isn’t the case now and the Israeli government should respond positively to it.

      It’s interesting that you choose Neve Shalom as your example because it’s an example of how co-existence can take place in a 2 states settlement. From what i know it’s certainly not a one state initiative / project.

      There have been attempts at coexistence in the West Bank, attempts such as the One Voice movement. However they have faced threats from the BDS movement which makes their work even harder. I also think that examples of hatred on some mainstream Palestinian TV stations (including a Fatah station) show the realities on the ground.

      Lastly, correct me if I am wrong but as your are a supporter of BDS, does the fact that the BDS movement is against working with Israeli organisations in co-existence projects worry you ?

      I think Neve Shalom strengthens the case for 2 states. And the fact that it is happening in Israel itself is positive (though there is a lot to be negative be about).

      In the 1940’s there were supporters on the Jewish side who tried to find partners on the Palestinian side for a bi_national state but in the end they gave up because they couldn’t find partners……

      Anyway I’m glad that I misunderstood your view and that you cite a 2 states plan in a positive manner.

      • Carlo Says:

        As Bismarck pointed out, politics is the art of the possible. If the two-state solution is still possible, why not? A majority of Israelis and Palestinians are in favour of it, as mentioned above.

        The Occupation is iniquitous and corrupting, but most Israeli politicians still find it easier to support the status quo. If BDS and loss of trade helps to change their minds, so much the better.

        But on the urgency of moving forward, see former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin’s recent article in the Jerusalem Post:

        • josephinebacon Says:

          If you think that BDS will help Israel to “change its mind” you are living in a fantasy world! BDS has been TOTALLY unsuccessful. In the UK, where the proliferation of antisemites makes the BDS movement strongest, trade between the UK and Israel rose significantly and this is despite the ib Dem MPS on the Arms Committee who want to lump Israel in with Syria and Iran as a country where “human rights” are compromised. How about human rights in the UK? What about Steve Lawrence’s human rights? And those of other people in the UK killed while being deported?

        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          Carlo, as of today (actually yesterday by the time this is typed), Kerry had managed to get an agreement for the Israelis and Palestinians to restart talks. While their is no guarantee that these will lead anywhere (and cynics may well forecast early failure), this does make a dent in your approach to this issue.

          Especially for supporters of the BDS movement.

      • josephinebacon Says:

        Having met someone from Neve Shalom who gave a talk about it to the Jewish Labour Movement and having as a close friend and business partner someone who was at Neve Shalom (an Israeli Arab) I was disappointed by it. It was founded by a Christian priest and although Jews and Moslems and Christians are living together they seem to keep their beliefs very separate and the institution does not seem to have rid them of their respective prejudices.
        One key to Middle East peace would be to get rid of UNWRA which deliberately fosters hatred and revenge among the children in its schools who have produced quite a few terrorist “graduates”, and allow its activities (minus the hate preaching) to be taken over by the UNHCR. Considering most UNWRA money comes from the West, this ought to be relatively easy to do, although not popular among the rich Arab states.

        • Carlo Says:

          Regarding your statement, Josephine, that “BDS has been TOTALLY unsuccessful”, I’d like to point out that not everyone shares that opinion.

          Larry Derfner, for example, writing last month in Israel’s +972 Magazine, wrote: “Consensus wisdom: The boycott of Israel is working. The only way to stop its spread is to end the occupation, say a growing number of prominent voices (none of whom, by the way, support the boycott).”

        • josephinebacon Says:

          I am totally AGAINST EU policy which discriminates against Israel (and Arabs in the West Bank working for Israeli companies) but does nothing at all about the genuinely illegal Turkish occupation of Northern Cyprus. I lived in Cyprus just before the Turkish invasion so I am familiar with the situation there. Unlike the West Bank and Gaza, places of little or no economic interest, Northern Cyprus is the most beautiful, fertile and resource-rich part of the island, and the land-grab by the Turks is totally unjustifiable, but Turkey is needed by the EU and in the perception of the EU (and the Jew-hating members such as Ireland) Israel is expendable, so that the EU can show the Arab nations that they are “taking a stand”.

        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          Interesting that. I read the +972 article that Carlo linked to, and you know what? Derfner doesn’t have any actual evidence. It’s all what this believes, what that one infers, what this adviser is reported to have said to a meeting, who is worried about what will happen to some organisation…no actual substance.

          Sorry, Carlo, doesn’t say what you say it says.

          And for your next sleight of hand…?

        • Carlo Says:

          What I said Brian was that there are opinions that differ from Josephine’s claiming that BDS was not working. Derfner listed those opinions. So where’s your problem?

          You want facts on the effectiveness of BDS? They are admittedly harder to come by. But that legislation has been drafted to punish Israelis calling for BDS surely suggests that the Israeli authorities view the matter with concern.

          This is not surprising when we note that Israel’s trade balance has been in the red since 1959. See:

        • Brian Goldfarb Says:

          Carlo, it’s truly astonishing what convolutions you are prepared to go through to support your claim that BDS is working. Josephine’s comment was a claim, not an opinion. And, indeed, one would be hard-pushed to find actual evidence that BDS has had any but a marginal (and very marginal, at that) effect on the Israeli economy. So far, you haven’t produced any, merely cited opinions (your own and others) that BDS is having the effect you wish it to have.

          Got news for you: opinions aren’t evidence. Further, we don’t have to prove a negative (no/vanishingly small effect on Israel): it’s up to you and those who take your stance to prove that it is having an effect. On top of that, your citing of Israeli Balance of Trade figures are misleading on a number of counts. First, the source says that Israel’s Balance of Trade (BoT) has been in the red since 1959. BDS has only been in the frame for less than a decade – and not even its wildest fans would claim that any effect would have been there in 1959 or even before about 2007 or 8. Second, Britain has had a BoT deficit for a century or so. Is that because of BDS aimed at Britain. Thirdly, you are ignoring Balance of Payments (BoP). This is far more important figure: what is the final net inflow/outflow of funds into/out of an economy, taking trade,financial movements and other intangibles (such as tourism) into account.

          Thus, Britain, despite its long-running BoT deficit has far more BoP surpluses over that 100+ years.

          Probably the same for Israel.

          As I said above, and for your next, next sleight of hand (we’ve not been fooled by the first two), which rabbit out of which hat?

          And what’s your view of the probable resumption of talks that I noted 12 hours before your last comment.

          On top of which, you must be one of the few people around here impressed with the +972 site. NGO monitor is decidedly underwhelmed by it.

  8. Absolute Observer Says:

    ‘Automatic European defence of Israel, born of guilt about the Holocaust, is a thing of the past.’

    This is a sentence from an otherwise rational discussion of the causes and consequences of the recent EU move about the settlements. And this is precisely the problem.

    You present BDS as a rational movement with limited aims and objectives. Leaving aside the fact that there exists no clear statement that this is indeed the case (almost all BDS statements imply the end of Israel as a Jewish state, de facto if not de jure), what Black’s piece shows is that discussions of Israel and Palestine (in the UK and elsewhere) is infused with myth and mythology, often in ways detrimental to Jews outside Israel.
    Are we really expected to believe that Europe’s position on Israel since 1948 has been premised on the (ideologically dubious notion of) ‘moral’ criterion of guilt (this is an argument that has been current on the German right since 1948) and not on the politics of the Cold War, the rise of pan-Arabism, the rise of Islamicism,Hamas, Israel’s responses to them, the PLO and its responses, etc. etc. – that is, the real world of politics?

    I am afraid that Black’s comment indicates precisely the problem Engage and others have been illustrating over the past years. It is also so common (note how some of the most vocal of BDS have slipped into reactionary ways of thinking – Tonge, Ward, Walker and others) that it can hardly be excused as a mere slip of the tongue or as a personal subjective viewpoint.

    In short, as Engage has argued consistently; the BDS movement brings with it antisemitic ways of thinking. The BDS movement has been made aware of this for years. Rather than addressing the problem, they simply carry on and accuse what they call ‘pro-Israel’ supporters (or ‘the Lobby!) of lying. Until they get their own house in order, they cannot push the negative effects they are having on the European societies in general and Jews in particular under the carpet and blame the victims of their own racism. I am afraid that the idea that you cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs (much loved by those whose alleged commitment to democracy veils an nasty authoritarian streak) is no longer an acceptable political principle.

    By the way, I am completely behind the EU policy and that it should not fund the occupation – what I find problematic is the way such rational moves trigger an irrationality that is as wrong as it is pernicious.

  9. Brian Goldfarb Says:

    While I’m here, Carlo, I’d be fascinated to read your response to the following article from The Forward online edition:
    as well as your reaction, specifically, to the following “the image of Kerry as a clueless naïf blundering his way through the thicket isn’t the only myth that’s been exploded in the last two days” and the “three myths” the author of the piece believes have been exploded.

    Over to you.

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