If you think the title of this article is an early April fool or if you are Jewish and think this story is a Purim shpiel, you will be disappointed.
British Baroness Tonge, also known as “Jihad Jenny,” has been bellowing to the world that Israel must clear its name after being accused by a Palestinian newspaper of making its way to earthquake-hit Haiti in order to harvest organs. Over Valentine’s Day weekend the Liberal Democrat Party sacked the baroness, who is also a physician, as shadow health minister. Since then there has been talk of her being sacked as party whip. Her comments were published in the Jewish Chronicle of February 12 after the Palestine Telegraph, of which she is a patron, ran a story about Israel harvesting organs. She said to the JC: “The IDF and the Israeli Medical Association should establish an independent inquiry immediately to clear the names of the team in Haiti.”
Okay, I can already hear the jokes about Israel harvesting passports for junkets to Dubai, but the concept of body-plundering is a throwback to the murderously anti-Semitic blood libel legacy of British and European history, when Jews were accused of harvesting Christian blood for use in religious rituals. (Jew-hatred reached a fever pitch after the York massacre and they were expelled from England in 1290 until readmission in the seventeenth century.)
Some background on organ harvesting is in order: In December 2009 Israel’s Channel Two television broadcast a special in which Dr. Yehuda Hiss, the former head of Israel’s Abu Kabir Forensic Institute, was interviewed. He was quoted on the program as saying, “We started to harvest corneas. … Whatever was done was highly informal. No permission was asked from the family.” In turn the program was the result of accusations in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet in the summer of 2009 that Israel harvested organs from the dead. In the Channel Two documentary no proof was provided, but it was reported that in the 1990s, forensic specialists at Abu Kabir indeed harvested skin, corneas, heart valves, and bones from the bodies of Israeli soldiers, Israeli citizens, Palestinians, and foreign workers, often without permission from relatives. To make matters worse, in September 2009 a group of American Jews in New Jersey had been accused of harvesting body parts; the various news stories collided and fueled the fury of the Palestinian media.
Notwithstanding these revelations, the Tonge comments provoked outrage. She has a long history of offending the small and decorous Anglo-Jewish community. In 2004 she said she could understand the motivation of a Palestinian suicide bomber and suggested she would become one if she had to live under the conditions found in the West Bank and Gaza. She cited “the violence and the humiliation and the provocation” suffered by a people whose land had been occupied by Israel. In 2006 she said the “pro-Israeli lobby” had gotten its grips on the Western world, financial and otherwise. She refused to apologize despite the former archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, saying she was resuscitating a “classic anti-Jewish conspiracy theory.” She stood by her comments by citing Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s screed about the undue influence of the Zionist lobby on world affairs.
Jenny Tonge led an all-party delegation to Gaza in November 2008 and, along with an assortment of British politicians who seem forever obsessed with “apartheid Israel,” is always on Israel’s back whatever the season or time of the year. My esteemed colleague Phyllis Chesler regularly writes about the rise of global anti-Semitism and I, for one, am afraid I do not differentiate between anti-Zionism and Jew-hatred when people like Baroness Tonge and MP Clare Short rant about the Jewish state’s evil deeds whilst other countries that are truly rogue states go unnoticed by parliamentarians. It was Tonge who sat next to Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard during a January 2009 BBC Question Time in which he was accused of using crib notes from the Israeli embassy; his hilarious reply was that the paper in front of him was actually from a Palestinian source.
This time, however, her observations about Israel harvesting organs have caused shock in wide circles. Damian Thompson in the Daily Telegraph of February 12 asked why “Jihad Jenny” was not sacked altogether by her party leader, Nick Clegg. Monroe Palmer, chairman of Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel, said he might like to invite her to validate the truth of the legendary anti-Semitic polemic The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Ed Fordham, another Liberal Democrat, said her views were “perverse and sick.” What is so absurd about her accusation is that organ matches for both Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews are difficult enough; Baroness Tonge the physician ought to know that Haitian organs — and in fact those from many other worldwide locations — would not likely be a match for Israeli tissue. In mid-February Baroness Tonge’s comments provoked a rare joint public statement from the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council. They said that her accusations against Israel were “outrageous and a calumny.” They continued: “Jenny Tonge’s persistent use of anti-Semitic tropes has no place in British politics.”
It is bad enough that eminent Anglo-Jews Sir Martin Gilbert, biographer of Winston Churchill, and Professor Michael Baum, a top oncologist, have come under fire in recent months, Gilbert accused of being unsuitable for being on the Iraq inquiry committee because he is a “Zionist” and Baum censured by fellow practitioners for defending Israel in a medical journal. The lawyer who defeated Holocaust-denier David Irving, Anthony Julius, has just published an enormous book about British anti-Semitism. Anyone defending Israel in a public forum risks being shouted down and thrown out of venues.
As Professor Geoffrey Alderman says in the most recent issue of the Jewish Chronicle: “We are not living in happy times.” Perhaps my reason for alarm at the latest “Jihad Jenny” remark can best be summed up by the Jerusalem Post: “Tonge’s language arguably encourages the Islamist call to British-born children as eventual recruits to jihad.” My sentiments exactly.