July 27, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith
This is going to sound strange, but if someone is going to be anti-Israeli, or even anti-Semitic, I would prefer that their sentiments are genuinely held. What I really won’t stand for is someone whose distaste for the Jews is for political calculation. That’s my concern with David Ward MP. That’s the worst thing about the latest controversy involving his comments.
Ward, you see, tried to become an MP for fully 20 years before he finally made it. He stood for election for Bradford North first in a by-election in 1990, and stood again in 1992,2001 and 2005, where he lost by 3500 to the Labour Party’s Terry Rooney. When Bradford North was abolished and a new constituency called Bradford East was created, award managed to beat Rooney by the wafer thin margin of 365 votes over Rooney.
When you have a slim majority, you are constantly concerned about your future, and anything you can do to try and increase your popularity with your constituents in the meantime can help. Normally, you might try and represent them well, you might try and solve their problems, you might try and make them think you are on their side. But Bradford East, with a large Muslim population, offers another route. George Galloway knew that, and has not only campaigned on, but continued to carry a pro-Muslim ticket. Galloway, at least, believes in what he says and does. Ward? Well, it’s interesting that what he says and does hasn’t happened until he possessed a wafer thin majority in Westminster.
On Holocaust Memorial Day in 2013, Ward signed the book of remembrance in Westminster, and then blogged that he “honoured those who were persecuted and killed in the Holocaust”. But then he wrote: “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.” Ward refused for a while to apologise for conflating ‘Jews’ with ‘Israel’ (for they are, believe it or not two different things), and also for the classic libel that what is going on in the Middle East is like the Holocaust (which was, just in case you need reminding, a planned, systematic attempt to eradicate an entire race). Eventually Ward did so, but this wasn’t the end.
In July 2013, Ward tweeted that “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?”. For questioning the right of Israel to exist he had his whip withdrawn for three months. His main protest against this was that plenty of people agreed with him. Of course, there are many things that plenty of people agree with, but questioning the right of a state to exist might not something that a Member of a Parliament might want to emphasise that at they shared.
On we went with his assertion in November 2013 that it was “a shame there isn’t a powerful, well-funded Board of Deputies for Roma”. The Board of Deputies is the main representative body for British Jews. Ward could have just been making a point that Roma gypsies need better representation. Could he not have done so without the terms “powerful” and “well-funded”? It is a classic trope that Jews buy up power in many societies, and Ward seemed happy to use it.
So we arrive at last week, when Ward tweeted “The big question is – if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? – probably yes”. So, with this incitement to violence, Ward was making clear that rather than supporting an unconditional ceasefire, which would lessen the suffering of both sides, he would fire a rocket (indiscriminately and with the sole intent of killing any Israeli, although of course he didn’t mention that bit). He followed that up with “Ich bin ein Palestinian – the West must make up its mind – which side is it on?”, which once again uses German…it is quite amazing how up with German left-wing critics of Israel are these days!
Now, I have no problem at all with David Ward speaking out against Israeli policy should he genuinely feel that it is wrong. I also have no problem with David Ward being angry about the death of children in war. I also believe in free speech, and the suggestion that he should lose his job or be arrested for what he is saying is not something I would ever go along with. There are plenty of people capable of debating with him.
It may be that David Ward also harbours a real problem with Jews in total, and not just Israel, and I’m going to be generous and suggest that he has been careless with his words, although I am struggling to be so generous.
Where I do have a problem is with the likelihood that David Ward thinks that having an attitude to Israel, and to Jews, like he does will win him votes in Bradford East. Because even if it were true, which it might be, I cannot believe the Lib Dems really want to win a seat like that. I would also be very concerned if this really is how one can win a seat in our democracy.