LONDON – Controversial Liberal Democrat MP David Ward, who last year was suspended for strongly criticizing Israel, is to face disciplinary action again after tweeting: “If I lived in Gaza would I fire a rocket? – probably yes.”
Ward, who represents the predominantly Muslim districts of Bradford, has a track record of expressing support for the Palestinians. He participated in recent parliamentary debates on the Gaza crisis, making clear his distaste for the Israeli moves at stopping Hamas rocket fire.
Compounding his inflammatory tweet, he added a second message: “Ich bin ein Palestinian – the West must make up its mind – which side is it on?” Ward’s comments brought rapid condemnation.
A Labor spokesman said that when everyone was trying to achieve a cease-fire, “it defies belief that a Liberal Democrat MP should tweet something so vile and irresponsible.”
Grant Shapps, chairman of the ruling Conservative Party – which is in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats – called on Ward to withdraw the “appalling comments.” He added: “No MP should tweet what is essentially incitement to violence, it is completely irresponsible.”
A Liberal Democratic spokesman said the party “utterly condemned” the remark.
“They are not representative of the Liberal Democrats and the party takes this matter very seriously and will treat it as a disciplinary issue,” the spokesman said.
Interviewed by the BBC on Wednesday, Ward maintained he condemned violence on both sides but had been “seeking to understand the motives of those firing rockets at Israel.” He added they were doing it because “they are absolutely desperate and politicians are failing them,” before saying that those in Gaza could not escape.
“I understand the plight of people firing the rockets” he said.
Ward initially declined to apologize but the MP later issued a statement, one the Liberal Democrats have called a “categorical” apology.
“I utterly condemn the violence on both sides in Israel and Gaza. I condemn the actions of Hamas, and my comments were not in support of firing rockets into Israel. If they gave the opposite impression, I apologize.”
In an interview with a local BBC radio station, Ward suggested that after a cease-fire there would be a period of calm when he hoped people would not be murdered.
“But there will still be Palestinians who are being shot by the Israeli forces,” he continued. “They will still be beaten up, there will still be child detentions – that to the Israelis is peace.”
Israel’s ambassador in the UK, Daniel Taub, wrote to Clegg expressing his “shock and disgust” at Ward’s comments. He added that there was plenty of scope for debate on how best to defend a population “from terrorist attacks launched from the heart of civilian areas,” but surely “there can be no discussion among right-thinking people that seeks to justify deliberate rocket or other attacks by terrorist groups on innocent civilians.”
Referring to previous outbursts, Taub said Ward had made “shocking statements regarding Israel and the Holocaust” but “surely there has been none so abhorrent and damaging as his latest statement.”
“It is hard to convey the hurt such a statement causes to the 5 million Israelis forced to live within reach of bomb shelters or the damage to Palestinian society when incitement to terrorism is legitimized by a British MP,” Taub said.
The Liberal Democrat Party’s track record on dealing with Ward, as well as with a former MP, Baroness Tonge – who once suggested that if she were a Palestinian she might consider offering herself as a suicide bomber – has been spotty.
After Ward accused Israel – on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2013 – of being an “apartheid state” and blaming “Jews” for supporting the use of violent tactics against Palestinians in Israel, it took seven months for the party to order him to participate in a study program about anti-Semitism – which he refused to do before being disciplined. He claimed he had been “trying to make clear that everybody needs to learn the lessons of the Holocaust.”
By then he had also tweeted: “Am I wrong or am I right... At long last the Zionists are losing the battle – how long can the Apartheid State of Israel last?” This triggered a further series of complaints, yet all he suffered was a short suspension from the party – timed to coincide with the parliamentary summer recess – with not a hint of an apology.