Blundering into the Semites’ grove
The Guardian report is followed by David Ward’s 5-day diary of his 2012 West Bank visit'; 3rd is the letter from LibDem Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael and lastly, we repost the comment by the JfJfP executive on Mr. Ward’s first tangle with accusations of antisemitism.
David Ward @DavidWardMP
Am I wrong or are am I right? At long last the #Zionists are losing the battle – how long can the #apartheid State of #Israel last?
8:25 PM – 13 Jul 2013
Clegg acts after Bradford East MP tweeted that Zionists were ‘losing the battle’ and questioned future of ‘apartheid state’
By Rajeev Syal, Guardian,
July 18, 2013
A Liberal Democrat MP has had the party’s whip withdrawn after repeatedly clashing with Nick Clegg over comments questioning the continued existence of the state of Israel.
David Ward, the MP for Bradford East, sent a tweet this weekend in which he asked: “Am I wrong or are am I right? At long last the #Zionists are losing the battle – how long can the #apartheid State of #Israel last?”
His tweet followed a blog, written in the runup to Holocaust Day in January, which said “the Jews”, who had suffered during the Holocaust, had inflicted “atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel” within a few years.
His suspension, which is due to last eight weeks, is largely symbolic as it comes the day before parliament rises for its summer recess. However, Lib Dems hope it will send a message to Israel and Britain’s Jewish community that the party will not tolerate such offensive comments.
Ward’s suspension follows a meeting with party leader Clegg, his deputy Simon Hughes, and chief whip Alistair Carmichael on Wednesday.
In a letter sent to Ward and released to the public, Carmichael said Ward had previously agreed to use language which was “proportionate and precise” but his tweet posted on 13 July failed that test.
“During the meeting we put it to you that your most recent statement – which specifically questions the continuing existence of the State of Israel – is neither proportionate nor precise.
“Unfortunately, we considered your explanation to be unconvincing and it did not satisfy us that you understood the importance of conducting the debate on this issue at all times and in all places in terms that are proportionate and precise.
“We wish to reiterate that this is not about telling you what your views should be. Indeed, we have all visited the occupied territories and we have all experienced an instinctive and liberal reaction to the humanitarian suffering we have witnessed,” Carmichael wrote.
The party’s chief whip said that Ward’s comments had exasperated senior figures in the party because they were open to misinterpretation and caused offence.
“You will know that Nick, Simon and I have a consistent track record of being outspoken about illegal settlement activities of Israeli governments and the threat this poses to the two-state solution for which the party has long argued.
“It is also immensely frustrating for us to find ourselves constantly responding to questions about disproportionate and imprecise language from you. These interventions cause considerable offence rather than addressing questions of political substance about the plight of the Palestinian people and the right of Israel’s citizens to live a life free of violence.
“It is extraordinarily difficult to gain traction in that debate at an effective political level if the expression of our concerns is undermined by the way your language misrepresents the view of our party.
“Whilst we understand you have your own views about this process, which has been long and complicated, we also hope you recognise that we have given you every opportunity to reconcile the expression of your views with the party’s policy on a two-state solution. Unfortunately, you have not been able to do that.
“Therefore, it is with regret that I have to inform you that we have decided to suspend the Liberal Democrat whip from you,” he said.
Ward wrote on his website in January that he was “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 initially defended the comments and said his party’s response – reprimanding him – had been “regrettable”, but later apologised for the “unintended offence” that his words had caused. He insisted that neither he nor his comments had been anti-semitic.
Ward was said to be “really disappointed” at the decision to withdraw the whip.
Last month Mike Hancock, the Lib Dem MP for Portsmouth South, resigned from the party’s whip. He is being sued in the high court by a vulnerable constituent who says she was sexually assaulted by Hancock after she asked him for help in a neighbourly dispute. Hancock denies the accusation and has vowed to clear his name.
Ward is not the first politician this year to face a party’s disciplinary procedures for making allegedly anti-Semitic remarks. Lord Ahmed was suspended by Labour in March after claiming he was unfairly jailed for 12 weeks in 2009 because Jews “who own newspapers and TV channels” placed pressure on the courts to punish him for supporting the Palestinians in Gaza.
He also alleged, falsely, that the judge who sentenced him – for sending text messages during a motorway journey that ended in a fatal collision – was appointed to the high court after helping a “Jewish colleague” of Tony Blair.
Ahmed was about to face a Labour disciplinary hearing in May when he resigned from the party. He continues to attend the Lords as a crossbencher.
December 7, 2012
Yesterday night I met with the Consul General based in East Jerusalem to discuss the incredibly complex issue of achieving peace for Israelis and Palestinians. I am reluctant to post my thoughts at this stage as we have so much more to see over the next three days but there is so much that needs to be done to ensure that there is lasting peace in the region. Hopefully the next few days will give me a greater insight into the issues and the solutions.
The programme continues with a meeting with the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) and a ‘tour’ of East Jerusalem followed by a visit to the Jordan Valley with Al-Haq (a Palestinian human rights organisation). We then have a meeting with Dr. Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestine Authority in Ramallah.
When I visited Gaza in 2010 I was immensely impressed by the colossal efforts of the United Nations and I am pleased to say that on Saturday we will have the chance to meet with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) as part of a field visit to the Biddu enclave followed by a meeting with Oxfam in an olive cooperative near Ramallah.
The final meeting on Saturday will be with a senior member of the PLO. On the last full day before we leave we will be visiting Hebron to meet with Breaking the Silence (Israeli army veterans) and a lawyer at Defence for Children International. All in all a busy but fascinating few days.
December 8, 2012
Yesterday was a deeply depressing day – and I suspect there is more to come. We travelled the length of the Jordan Valley through Jericho and on towards Tubas. This is Area C and that means that it is all under Israeli control. Area C represents 60% of the the West Bank.
This control is exerted in many ways but the two that seemed to be the most cynical in impoverishing the Palestinians is the control over planning and the control over water.
In terms of planning the Palestinians cannot develop anything (strictly speaking this is not true as 1% of requests for development have been approved!) – this extends to roadworks, housing, schools etc. – at the same time Israeli settlements grow and develop. The area is heavily militarised by the IDF and monitored to make sure that no Palestinians have added another room to their home – on top of this is the constant threat that anything built after 1967 will be given a Demolition Order and then one day, two days or two months notice – they will not be told – to vacate their home.
In the second area, that of water control, the policy of controlling water is plain for all to see. As we drove along the road heading north we could see, time and time again, the small Bedouin farmers with bare, scrappy land on which there were a few goats or sheep whilst on the other side of the road we could for mile after mile see lush, green plantations and crops – surrounded by security fencing – that were being farmed by the Israeli settlers.
If this is not ethnic cleansing, then what is?
December 9, 2012
Do you like olives? I know that I do. To some an olive is an olive is an olive. Should it matter where the olives are grown?
Yesterday we visited a small and very old Palestinian village called Kufur Quddum in the northern West Bank. There are less than 4,000 people living in the village and 80% of the land is made up of olive groves.
In addition to the farming the locals used to travel to the local towns, such as Nablus, to work but the Israelis have blocked the road extending by 9 miles the distance to travel. More seriously much of the farm land owned by the local farmers is in Area C and the Israelis have built a barrier stopping the farmers from reaching their own land.
Rights of access to the farm land are limited to a few days per year to prepare the land and a few weeks, if they are lucky, to harvest the crop. Sometimes the access is delayed until after the crop is ruined and sometimes the Israeli settlers destroy the crop before the Palestinian farmers arrive for the harvest.
Since July 2011 weekly peaceful demonstrations take place by the villagers in protest at the blocking of the road. Each week the IDF turn out in force with dogs and gas to force the protesters back into their village.
Remember these are not religious extremists or terrorists – they are just farmers trying to make a living from the land that is theirs and that their families have farmed for generations.
As we stood on the hillside we could see several other hills across the horizon on the other side of the barrier and there were all the new Israeli settlements complete with their extensive olive groves. As I stood with one of the local farmers he pointed out on a far hillside on the other side of the barrier his own land – I asked him whether he had managed to gain access to his land to harvest his crop and he told me that he had – but his trees had been hacked at by the settlers to destroy the crop.
Despite all this the farmers try to continue to farm the land on their side of the barrier and along with other villages work together in a cooperative to produce olive oil, mainly for the domestic market but some of which is exported.
Should it matter where olives are grown? I think so. Do you know where are the olives grown that you eat?
December 10, 2012
A Palestinian child prisoner
Today we meet Mark Regev, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Spokesman who once said “the test of democracy is how you treat people incarcerated, people in jail, and especially so with minors”. These words have to stand alongside the evidence we heard yesterday from an Australian lawyer who offers support to the Palestinian children who the IDF take by force in the early hours of the morning.
The young people, maybe 15 or 16 years old are blind-folded, handcuffed with cable-ties and thrown into the back of vans and often kept in this state for several hours. The children then find themselves without support from family or legal representation in an interrogation room without any advice on their rights.
The coercive interrogation that follows is often accompanied by verbal abuse and physical threats leading to a “confession” written in a language they cannot read.
It might be another 8 days before the young person appears in Court and this may be the first time they have seen their parents or a lawyer since they were arrested. The “crime” is usually stone-throwing.
A young Israeli accused of a crime would not be forcefully taken by the Military and would have the right to be accompanied to the Police station by their parents. The case would be dealt with immediately and the young Israeli would be entitled to full legal representation.
Today we shall see if Mr. Regev believes that his Government adequately meets his own test.
December 11, 2012
Palestine Israel wall
Yesterday we visited the Israeli Foreign Ministry to meet with senior officials and with Mark Regev, the Israeli Prime Minister’s Spokesman. The discussions covered child prisoners, settlements, the recent UN resolution, the forthcoming election, the barriers, Hamas and Fatah and much more.
The message that was repeated was that the Israelis were willing to engage in negotiations “any time, any day” and that nothing would be excluded from the negotiations. We pointed out that the expansion of the settlements and indeed so many of the hatred-provoking activities carried out by Israelis, that we had witnessed first-hand, did not provide any firm basis for negotiations.
The illegality of the settlements was refuted – “how can it be illegal for Jews to return to Hebron?” And most of the other activities such as child prisoners, the barriers and denied access were defended on the basis of security.
My overall feeling, at times overwhelming, was a deeply depressing sadness at the failure of people to be able to live together.
The answer to the conflict will not be achieved, by either side, through violence as each violent act – be it a rocket fired from Gaza, or the welding-up of a front door so that a 60 year old Palestinian woman has to climb over neighbours’ roofs to enter her own house, a 15 year old Palestinian boy blind-folded and cable-tied, a suicide bomber on a Tel Aviv bus and more and more and more……each act simply tightens the knot of conflict and reinforces the hatred that exists.
There needs to be a mass and peaceful movement for Palestinian freedom for unless it is peaceful the justification by the Israelis for the activities of the IDF will always be made. In return for this peaceful approach the international community must do far more to show its support for Palestinian freedom and the UK, because of its historical role, should and must take a lead.
Letter from Alistair Carmichael [LibDem Chief Whip]
David Ward MP
House of Commons
17th July, 2013
Thank you for coming to see Nick, Simon and me this afternoon.
You will recall that we discussed the report of your two meetings with the group convened by Simon, which included Jewish colleagues. As Nick indicated to you, that report was a largely positive one. In particular we were all pleased to note that you appreciated the need to use language in this debate that was proportionate and precise.
It was therefore with immense disappointment that we were presented with your public comment made on 13th July on Twitter in the following terms:
“Am I wrong or are am I right? At long last the #Zionists are losing the battle – how long can the #apartheid State of #Israel last?”
We were in unanimous agreement that questioning the continued existence of the State of Israel fails the test of language that is “proportionate and precise”.
We want to be clear with you that in this process we are not concerned about your views and opinions on the policies of present or previous Israeli governments, nor the situation in the Israeli-occupied territories, nor the strength of feeling with which your views are held. As we have sought to impress upon you repeatedly, we are having to decide on whether language you chose to use in January and February, and now this month, is language which brings the party into disrepute or harms the interests of the Party.
During the meeting, we put it to you that your most recent statement – which specifically questions the continuing existence of the State of Israel – is neither proportionate nor precise. Unfortunately, we considered your explanation to be unconvincing and it did not satisfy us that you understood the importance of conducting the debate on this issue at all times and in all places in terms that are proportionate and precise.
We wish to reiterate that this is not about telling you what your views should be. Indeed, we have all visited the occupied territories and we have all experienced an instinctive and liberal reaction to the humanitarian suffering we have witnessed. You will know that Nick, Simon and I have a consistent track record of being outspoken about illegal settlement activities of Israeli governments and the threat this poses to the two-state solution for which the party has long argued.
It is also immensely frustrating for us to find ourselves constantly responding to questions about disproportionate and imprecise language from you. These interventions cause considerable offence rather than addressing questions of political substance about the plight of the Palestinian people and the right of Israel’s citizens to live a life free of violence. It is extraordinarily difficult to gain traction in that debate at an effective political level if the expression of our concerns is undermined by the way your language misrepresents the view of our party.
Whilst we understand you have your own views about this process, which has been long and complicated, we also hope you recognise that we have given you every opportunity to reconcile the expression of your views with the party’s policy on a two-state solution. Unfortunately, you have not been able to do that.
Therefore, it is with regret that I have to inform you that we have decided to suspend the Liberal Democrat whip from you. This period of suspension will be with immediate effect until 13th September inclusive. I very much regret that it has been necessary to take this action.
JfJfP Statement about David Ward’s comments ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day
JfJfP Executive Committee
January 27, 2012
David Ward MP has been condemned by his party, the Liberal Democrats, and is about to be hauled before its Chief Whip for writing this on his website just before Holocaust Memorial Day:
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.
Mr Ward expressed himself very clumsily. By using the words “the Jews” – for which he has now apologised – he unintentionally gave encouragement to anti-Semites, who associate all Jews with the Nakba and with Israel’s subsequent human rights violations against the Palestinians. There are many Jews around the world and in Israel who dissociate themselves from these violations and from the ideologies that justify them. Mr Ward also played into the hands of supporters of Israel’s policies, who find in his words justification for their claim that critics of these policies are anti-Semites. Thus Jon Benjamin, the Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews has said: “We are outraged and shocked at these offensive comments about Jewish victims of the Holocaust and the suggestion that Jews should have learned a lesson from the experience”.
Nonetheless, however poorly he expressed himself, Mr Ward did not equate the Holocaust with the Nakba and is not an anti-Semite. He was pointing to a real connection that tends to be denied both by some supporters of the Palestinians, who refuse to see the historical background to the birth of Israel, and by supporters of the policies of Israel, who deny the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and the continuing human rights violations against the Palestinians. To mention just a few of these human rights violations: the demolition of some 27,000 Palestinian homes since 1967; the blockade of Gaza; the brutal Cast Lead attack on Gaza in 2008/9 that left 1,400 dead – most of them civilians – and destroyed Gazan civilian infrastructure; the military oppression, the theft of Palestinian water supplies and the violent attacks by settlers in the West Bank; the eviction of the Bedouin from their villages in the Negev.
The connection between the Holocaust and the Nakba and continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people was expressed with great care and elegance by Edward Said, in an essay urging Palestinians and Jews to “think our histories together”.
Who would want morally to equate mass extermination with mass dispossession? It would be foolish even to try. But they ARE connected – a different thing altogether – in the struggle over Palestine…..the distortions of the Holocaust created distortions in its victims, which are replicated today in the victims of Zionism itself, that is the Palestinians….Understanding what happened to the Jews in Europe under the Nazis means understanding what is universal about a human experience under calamitous conditions. It means compassion, human sympathy and utter recoil from the notion of killing people for ethnic, religious or nationalist reasons….such an advance in consciousness by Arabs ought to be met by an equal willingness for compassion and comprehension on the part of Israelis and Israel’s supporters, who have engaged in all sorts of denial and expressions of defensive non-responsibility when it comes to Israel’s central role in our historical dispossession as a people….Jewish and Palestinian experiences are historically, indeed organically connected…..we must think our histories together, however difficult that may be, in order for there to be a common future.
“Bases for Coexistence”, Al-Hayat, November 5th, 1997, published in “The End of the Peace Process” , Granta Books, 2002, pp 208-9)