It is perfectly acceptable in British politics to criticize Israel and its policies severely. Some would say it is even fashionable in certain circles, including the Liberal Democratic Party. But David Ward, a Lib-Dem Member of Parliament, broke three cardinal rules earlier this week.
First, don't mix your criticism of Israel with the Holocaust. Second, don't mix between Israel and "the Jews." Third, if you break on of the previous two rules, quickly apologize and get it over with. Mr Ward now faces serious disciplinary measure from his party's leaders and may even be expelled, after he broke these rules on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The furor over Ward began on Friday after he signed a book of commitment in the House of Commons in London, along with hundreds of other MPs, pledging to continue honoring the victims of the Holocaust and fighting racism in the future. After signing the book, Ward wrote a post on his website in which he harshly condemned Israel, connecting his condemnation to the memory of the Holocaust.
"Having visited Auschwitz twice" he wrote. "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." It would seem that Ward was interested in causing an uproar, as he was quick to tweet it on his Twitter account, where it was retweeted approvingly by a number of local Islamic movements.
Others were not so amused. Ward was swiftly criticized. Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust said that Ward "has deliberately abused the memory of the Holocaust, causing deep pain and offence" while Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews said that Ward's post and "the suggestion that Jews should have learned a lesson from the experience [of the Holocaust]" was "offensive" and that "for an MP to have made such comments on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day is even more distasteful."
What probably disturbed Ward more though was a statement from his own party that "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" and his summons on Monday to the party's whip for "disciplinary action." Reports have been circulating in the media that he may actually be expelled from the party for what he said. That would mean he is no longer a Liberal Democrat MP and cannot run again for parliament on behalf of the party.
But this didn't make him retract or apologize, quite on the contrary. On Friday he went to another Holocaust memorial event in his constituency of Bradford and updated his website writing that "for my entire political career I have fought prejudice In the words of the Holocaust survivor, 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'."
In media interviews, he strenuously defended his statements saying that "everybody talks about this awful, awful time we must never forget and always says we must learn lessons. Surely that means we must look at every example of man's inhumanity to fellow man?"
In another interview he said that "It appears that the suffering by the Jews has not transformed their views on how others should be treated" and when asked on Sky News why he was accusing the Jews rather than the Israelis, he stood by his words saying that "I'm accusing the Jews who did it, so if you're a Jew and you did not do it I'm not accusing you. I'm saying that those Jews who did that and continue to do it have not learned those lessons."
Further defending his post, he told the BBC that if he would be disciplined by his party it would be "a sad reflection on the values we all hold so dearly, particularly on free speech". But in what was perhaps the most telling response, he said that his words had met with an "overwhelmingly positive" response including eighty supportive emails and just two criticizing him.
It took Ward three days to realize that he overdid it. On Saturday evening he posted on his website: "I never for a moment intended to criticise or offend the Jewish people as a whole, either as a race or as a people of faith, and apologise sincerely for the unintended offence 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. My criticisms of actions since 1948 in the Palestinian territories in the name of the State of Israel remain as strong as ever." He added: "I will continue to make criticisms of actions in Palestine in the strongest possible terms for as long as Israel continues to oppress the Palestinian people."
It is hardly unsurprising that there are some people in Britain who approve of what Ward said but he is looking for supporters close to home. Ward is MP for Bradford East, a seat he won in 2010, after four unsuccessful attempts, with a tiny margin of just 365 votes (less than one percent of the vote).
The neighboring constituency is Bradford West where only ten months ago, George Galloway, the anti-Israel politician who was expelled from the Labor Party ten years ago, was elected to parliament in a by-election in which he shamelessly played on the religious feelings of voters in the predominantly Muslim area. Galloway, who knows leads the far-left Respect party has twice succeeded in returning to parliament despite his expulsion from Labor.
Ward, who must be anxious of retaining his seat in the next elections is simply copying the from the Galloway playbook. In 2009 at a Stop Gaza Massacre rally, Galloway said that "today, the Palestinian people in Gaza are the new Warsaw Ghetto, and those who are murdering them are the equivalent of those who murdered the Jews in Warsaw in 1943." Perhaps that is the way to win elections in some places in Britain.
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