A British MP has backtracked on comments he made associating the actions of Israel with the Holocaust, suggesting that “the Jews” had not learned its lessons, saying he did not intend to offend the Jewish people.
Liberal Democrat MP David Ward on Thursday accused “the Jews” of inflicting violence on Palestinians on a daily basis,” and questioned how they could do this so soon after their “liberation from the death camps.”
On Saturday evening, after condemnation from his party and a huge backlash on social media, the MP put a conciliatory message on his website saying he was “trying to make clear that everybody needs to learn the lessons of the Holocaust.”
He said: “I never for a moment intended to criticize or offend the Jewish people as a whole, either as a race or as a people of faith, and apologize sincerely for the unintended offense which my words caused.
“I recognize of course the deep sensitivities of these issues at all times, and particularly on occasions of commemoration such as this weekend [Holocaust Memorial Day],” he said.
He added that his criticisms of Israel “remain as strong as ever.”
“I will continue to make criticizms of actions in Palestine in the strongest possible terms for as long as Israel continues to oppress the Palestinian people,” Ward said.
However the MP for Bradford East has refused to take down the offending comments from his website.
On Friday he remained firm and had rejected the opportunity to apologize or re-frame his words. Speaking to Sky News on Friday afternoon, Ward stood by his comments.
“It’s just a statement of fact,” he said in an interview. “There is quite a lot of evidence that supports that statement.”
Ward was asked if he accepts that he was accusing Jews of inflicting “this persecution on the Palestinians,” not the Israeli state.
“Well, I’m accusing the Jews who did it, if you’re a Jew who did not do it then I’m not accusing you. I’m saying that those Jews who did that and continue to do it have not learned those lessons [from the Holocaust]. If you are a Jew and you do not do those things and have never done those things then I am not criticizing you.”
The MP had signed a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons on Thursday in the run up to International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is commemorated in the UK on Sunday, before sharing his thoughts on his website.
“Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – 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,” he said.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day is held on January 27 each year, the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The Book of Commitment is placed in Parliament each year by the Holocaust Education Trust to give MPs the opportunity to honor the victims and pledge support for combating all forms of race hate.
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said on Friday that Ward had deliberately abused the victims of the Holocaust.
“I am deeply saddened that at this somber time, when we remember those who were murdered by the Nazis, Mr. Ward has deliberately abused the memory of the Holocaust, causing deep pain and offense. These comments are sickening and unacceptable and have no place in British politics,” she said.
On Friday, the Liberal Democrat party issued a sharp rebuke distancing itself from Ward’s comments.
“This is a matter we take extremely seriously. The Liberal Democrats deeply regret and condemn the statement issued by David Ward and his use of language which is unacceptable,” a spokesman for the party said.
Ward – who refers to Israel as an apartheid regime and who visited the Gaza Strip in 2010, funded by an anti-Israel lobby group – updated his website on Friday afternoon with a quote from Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Prof. Elie Wiesel: “I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
To which Wiesel told the Commentator news website: “Although he quotes me correctly, I am outraged that he uses my words at the same time he utters shameless slanders on the State of Israel.”
Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said the board was “outraged and shocked” at these offensive comments about Jewish victims of the Holocaust. “For an MP to have made such comments on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day is even more distasteful, and we welcome the fact that the Liberal Democrats have sought to disassociate the party from David Ward’s comments,” he said.
Conservative MP Robert Halfon said Ward’s comments were “a tragic trivialization of real evil.”
Ward is set to face party officials on Monday and could be expelled from the party.