31 JANUARY 2004, Page 29

Wrong to sack Tonge

From Cllr Chris Lenton Sir: The sacking of Dr Jenny Tonge shows that Charles Kennedy has no understanding of the concept of free speech — surely a central tenet of liberalism. Dr Tonge has been demonised for expressing the view that Israel is complicit in the poverty and suffering in which many young Palestinians live. Why is it a heresy for a rational person to believe that desperate circumstances lead to the evil of suicide bombing? The Israeli lobby should understand this idea, since it justifies Israeli acts of terrorism during the independence struggle of the late 1940s in similar terms.

The pressure to remove Dr Tonge plays into the hands of anti-Semites because it appears to show that on the subject of Israel, liberal tolerance and free speech are jettisoned in favour of deference to an intolerant and dogmatic vision of Zionism.

Chris Lenton