Jenny Tonge was sacked from the Liberal Democrat front bench yesterday for suggesting that she could have considered becoming a suicide bomber.
Charles Kennedy, the Liberal Democrat leader, forced the Richmond Park MP to step down as spokesman on children's issues, saying that her comments were incompatible with party principles. Dr Tonge, who had formerly been the party's spokeswoman for international development, faced intense criticism from MPs, campaigners and the Israeli government after saying that she could understand why militant Palestinians were carrying out suicide attacks.
Mr Kennedy asked her to stand down in a short telephone conversation yesterday morning after she refused to apologise for comments she made at a pro-Palestinian meeting at Westminster on Thursday. Party leaders were angered by her remarks, when she insisted that living in the occupied territories could have driven her to repeat the bombers' actions. She told the meeting: "If I had been a mother and a grandmother in Palestine living for decades in that situation, I don't know, I may well have become one myself."
Dr Tonge later attempted to "clarify" her remarks, telling the BBC: "That doesn't mean to say I condone suicide bombers - I don't. I think it's appalling and loathsome. But we have to try to understand where they are coming from and understand the situation in which they live."
Mr Kennedy, who had been under pressure to sack Dr Tonge, said: "Her recent remarks about suicide bombers are completely unacceptable. There can be no justification, under any circumstances, for taking innocent lives through terrorism. I am sorry to lose Dr Tonge from the frontbench team. She will continue to represent her constituency on the back benches."
Dr Tonge, 62, who is stepping down from the Commons at the next general election, has faced strong criticism. A spokesman for the Israeli embassy said that Dr Tonge's comments were "deeply immoral". He said: "The embassy of Israel was shocked and appalled by Dr Jenny Tonge's comments, in which she expressed understanding and support of suicide bombers. There is no political grievance or circumstance whatsoever which can justify the deliberate murder of innocent men, women and children. We wonder if Dr Tonge holds the same views about suicide bombers who kill British, Western and Muslim civilians in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Bali, Turkey or Kenya."
Louise Ellman, a Labour MP who is a member of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: "Charles Kennedy has taken the right action. It recognises that her statement was irresponsible and gave the green light to terrorism."
Lord Janner, vice-chairman of the British-Israeli parliamentary group, said: "The decision of the Liberal Demo-crats to sack Jenny Tonge is admirable and appropriate. Her support for terrorist suicide bombers is appalling and unworthy of any member of our Parliament."Reuse content