Israel Talk Goes Ahead In The Face Of Sustained Attack

Hastings was treated to a powerful and impassioned speech this week by Baroness Jenny Tonge on 'Everyday life in Apartheid Israel', despite a sustained effort by opponents to shut the meeting down.

Dr Tonge, a long-time supporter of the Palestinian cause, was invited to speak in Hastings on Thursday night [24 January 2019] by the Hastings Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

But from the moment the event was first publicised in December, it was subject to a determined and vicious attack by the pro-Zionist lobby.

The first venue booked for the meeting, The White Rock Hotel, was flooded with angry and abusive calls from Christmas day onwards and backed up by an online hate campaign that threatened the hotel's star rating on TripAdvisor and Facebook.

Out of respect to the business and the proprietor, a mutual decision was made to find another meeting place.

Laurie Holden, a member of HPSC, said: 'We analysed some of the data from Facebook and found that none of the posts calling for the meeting to be shut down were made by local people. Most were from abroad. We found 18% were from Israel. What right do people from Tel Aviv, Haifa, New York or Washington have to tell the people of Hastings what to do? This felt like an attack on the local community."

HPSC found a second venue for the talk but this too was cancelled when the group which ran Central Hall, the Hastings Association of Retired People, received unpleasant calls.

In the end, a third venue was found and the location kept offline in a bid to stop further disruption - and perhaps, thanks in part to the publicity surrounding the attempts to block the talk, the hall was packed on the night with over 60 interested locals.

Author Tom Suárez joins Dr. Jenny Tonge for the Question and Answer session. (Photo: Russell Jacobs).

Dr Jenny Tonge, no stranger to controversy, believes the vicious nature of the attacks proves they are getting through to the powerful forces that support the occupation. She said: 'I don't think we can silence our critics. I think it's a good thing they're getting louder because that means they're getting scared. They're afraid that they are losing the argument.

"I am constantly being accused of antisemitism. It doesn't matter what you say, or how you say it, they accuse you of being antisemitic. I am not antisemitic, the one thing I am anti is injustice. And of all the places in the world - and I've been in international development now for over 23 years - this is the greatest injustice I have ever seen. It is just so unfair and we've got to keep fighting it so that eventually Palestine will be free."

Dr Tonge's talk, detailing the ordinary lives of Palestinians in Israel and the OPT, analysed the ways in which the Israeli government separates, segregates and subjugates its population along ethnic lines.

She described the daily humiliations which characterise the treatment of Palestinians in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, as well as their unequal access to health, education, jobs, security and basic necessities such as food, water and electricity.

She said: "The theft of natural resources is just extraordinary and our government is just standing by and letting it happen.

A full house at the Hasting PSC's meeting at the Stade Hall. (Photo: Russell Jacobs).

"Every week for the last ten years I've tabled at least six questions, often more than that, about incidents that have happened, or the shortage of electricity.

"I make sure that we get together enough questions and put them to the government. They're all in Hansard because I say whatever reply we get, at least that is recorded. Nobody can actually say when all this is over one day: "We didn't know what was happening." Our government know it's happening."

She went on: "If you actually look at Israel itself there are 65 laws that discriminate against Palestinian Israelis."

And she added: "The recently passed Nation State Law enshrines in law that only Jews can have self-determination, only Jews can have a say in what goes on in Israel. You can only be of any consequence if you are Jewish."

She described her visits to the Gaza Strip, which is currently in its 11th year under siege, and the devastating number of young amputees she saw there.

She said: "One of the things constantly happening is the Israelis, when they are able to fire at protestors, regardless of whether they are guilty of anything, if it's a young man they go for their legs. Always. There have been instances where whole football teams, practicing, have had their legs shot at. It is absolutely soul-destroying when you go into Gaza and you see the number of young amputees. It's a nation of amputees. These lovely, brave young men just have their legs shot to pieces."

Her message to the audience was clear: "The only effective weapon we have got is boycott. BDS BDS BDS. It brought the South African regime down. And the reason they are getting so nasty, and protesting against us all the time, is because BDS is getting through."