British party acts over MP’s anti-Jewish rhetoric

British MP who suggested 'the Jews' had not learned lessons of Holocaust forced by party leaders to work with pro-Israel group.

David Ward (photo credit: Courtesy Liberal Democrats)
David Ward
(photo credit: Courtesy Liberal Democrats)
LONDON – The British MP who sparked outrage on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day by suggesting that “the Jews” had not learned the lessons of the Holocaust has been forced by his party to work with a pro-Israel group and remove the comments from his website.
Liberal Democrat MP David Ward was censored by his party earlier this month, following the controversial comments.
He nevertheless stood by his words and refused to remove them from his website.
After making further offending comments, Ward became subject to a disciplinary process for breaching a promise he made to party officials.
In one outburst the MP for Bradford East told The Guardian that there was “a machine” out there designed to protect the State of Israel from criticism.
After widespread criticism on how the party had dealt with the matter – the Board of Deputies of British Jews accused the party’s response as “inadequate and limp-wristed” – leader Nick Clegg, deputy leader Simon Hughes and Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael, the official in charge of party discipline, met with Ward on Monday night.
The party leadership told him that while it is legitimate to hold views on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, they must not be “generalized” or “indiscriminate” in nature.
“Liberal Democrats believe in fearless criticism where it is justified, but abhor generalized condemnation of a whole people where it is not. In particular your use of “the Jews” in the article posted on your website on January 24 and your reference to “the Jewish community,” as a possible alternative, as reported in Jewish News on February 7, is unacceptable and must not be repeated,” he was told in a letter from the chief whip, seen by The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
As part of the disciplinary procedures, Ward must also work with the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel to “identify and agree language that will be proportionate and precise” in future interventions on the debate.
“We would also hope that this would allow you to achieve a better understanding of the legitimate concern that your comments have caused within the wider Jewish community,” Carmichael told him.
The letter also confirms that Ward has undertaken to remove the original offensive statement from his website – in which he says: “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.”
However, the statement was still on his website on Thursday, three days after he agreed to remove it.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council have expressed concern with the party’s response, calling it a “pedestrian and lackluster.”
The community representative organizations said in a statement on Thursday that they believed his open defiance of the party’s censure and continued offensiveness to the Jewish community would lead to appropriate immediate disciplinary action.
Jon Benjamin, the Board of Deputies’ chief executive, and his counterpart at the Jewish Leadership Council, Jeremy Newmark, said: “This is a pedestrian and lackluster response to what amounts to anti-Semitism at the heart of parliament.
“Any ‘process’ that takes place without proper disciplinary action will be seen as a fig leaf,” they said.
The organization heads added that, “Liberal Democrat leaders seem to think that they can express concern to communal leaders about anti-Semitism in private, but fail to step up and confront it in public.
“We cannot accept that scenario. If even now the party thinks it is simply a matter of educating Mr. Ward as to the hurtfulness and inappropriateness of his comments, one has to wonder at the inadequacy of the party’s initial response to his comments and its failure to make its disgust abundantly clear.”
The Liberal Democrat party said a date will be fixed to review Ward’s progress in an effort to conclude the disciplinary process against him.
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “This is a disappointing response to Mr. Ward’s sickening and unacceptable comments which he has kept on his website.
“He has shown no understanding of the offence he caused in both the language that he used and the timing of his comments – sadly the mishandling of this situation appears to demonstrate that Holocaust equivocation and anti-Semitism are not being taken seriously.”