The ‘letter of censure’ which David Ward received following his outrageous remarks is being viewed by many as a pretty mild rap on the knuckles. I commented on some early expressions of support he was receiving here. There are, of course, several worrying aspects to this case. Ward has taken every opportunity to compound his offence, and has only apologized belatedly and half heartedly. His response to the letter of censure seems defiant, rather than in any way remorseful, in its terseness:
Thank you for your letter dated 28th January.
I confirm that I am prepared to give you the undertaking that you asked for in our meeting.
David Ward MP
Many of his supporters – who include David Icke, Press TV, DeLiberation and Stormfront – emphasise his bravery in standing up for the Palestinians and the determination of those evil Zionists to shut down any criticism of Israel. A few of the less hard-core supporters concede coldly that he might have done well to avoid the phrase ‘the Jews’ – though generally more for strategic than principled reasons.
More concerning than expressions of undiluted approval from wingnuts – though he doesn’t seem to have made any effort to distance himself from these – is the support he has received from figures in his own party. If you look down the timeline of Chris Davies MEP you will find one (weak) slight criticism of Ward, and two expressions of enthusiasm.
Still worse is this statement from Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine and the Middle East. There is not the slightest concession here that Ward’s comments could be seen as racist or even ill-timed, and I think it’s worth quoting in full:
LDFP today expresses its strong support for David Ward MP who has been criticised for voicing his disapproval of Israel’s attitude towards its Palestinian citizens and neighbours.
“David Ward has spoken for many Liberal Democrats who are outraged at the way Israel continues to violate international human rights law with total impunity. He has visited the region several times and speaks from experience. We are deeply unhappy that the party leadership is threatening to discipline him for bravely speaking out on the atrocities perpetrated by the Israeli government against the Palestinians” said Sally Fitzharris, Secretary of Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine.
LDFP finds it unfortunate that the debate has quickly turned to emotional mudslinging instead of sticking to the facts.
FACT: David Ward did not compare the murder of six million Jews to the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
FACT: David Ward did say “I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”
Contributors to the debate condemn David Ward for using the word “Jews” when alluding to the state of Israel. Yet, in its Basic Laws, Israel defines itself as a “Jewish and Democratic State”.
Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine express their serious concern that open, honest and productive debate about the Israel/Palestine conflict is yet again being smothered under the cloak of perceived anti-Semitism by political leaders and commentators alike.
The final paragraph summons up the idea of a sinister cabal trying to silence dissent – as with that well known Latuff image of an Israel critic being gagged. I think some more ‘letters of censure’ might be in order.
It is ridiculous to claim that criticism of Israel is being silenced, and deeply dishonest of LDFP to imply that this was the reason for the outrage, and that accusations of antisemitism are being cynically used to shut down debate.
Happily not all who might be identified with the Palestinian side agree with this. Even George Galloway has described Ward’s comments as ‘shocking and ignorant and racist’ – pretty robust. Steve Hynd, who has worked with EAPPI, has also written a critical post. Here’s an extract:
Ignoring his repeated inaccurate and potentially offensive use of “the Jews” he makes a point here that is unhelpful and inaccurate.
Of course, I agree with Ward in the basic assertion that “we must learn” from the holocaust. What I am unclear on though, is what does he want us to learn that is applicable to the current situation in the occupied territories?
This latest uproar reminded me of George Galloway, Oona King and Jenny Tonge’s comments comparing the situation in Gaza to the Warsaw ghetto, comparable only in the fact that they both involved human suffering.
At the time, Howard Jacobson wrote in The Independent saying:
“In the early 1940s some 100,000 Jews and Romanis died of engineered starvation and disease in the Warsaw Ghetto, another quarter of a million were transported to the death camps, and when the Ghetto rose up it was liquidated, the last 50,000 residents being either shot on the spot or sent to be murdered more hygienically in Treblinka. Don’t mistake me: every Palestinian killed in Gaza is a Palestinian too many, but there is not the remotest similarity, either in intention or in deed – even in the most grossly mis-reported deed – between Gaza and Warsaw”
The post – and his blog generally – may not be fully to the taste of all HP readers, but that fact itself drives home the point that you can be a pretty trenchant critic of Israel and still find Ward’s comments completely unacceptable. Those who claim that this is about criticizing Israel are – to put it very charitably – wrong.