“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”
David Ward MP
The Liberal Democrat MP David Ward was criticised for suggesting that “the Jews” in Israel inflicted “atrocities on Palestinians… on a daily basis” and had not learned lessons from the holocaust.
Ward (I believe inadvertently) used language to suggest that all Jews were responsible for the crimes that are being committed by the state of Israel. This is fundamentally not true and can be highly offensive, not least to the many Jews who oppose the immoral foreign policy of the Israeli state towards the Palestinian territories.
The Liberal Democrats responded saying “The Liberal Democrats deeply regret and condemn the statement issued by David Ward”.
The Liberal Democrats were right to condemn his comments, and Ward was right, in retrospect to apologise.
When speaking to Sky News though, Ward seemed to dig himself deeper. He was asked if he accepts that he was accusing “The Jews” of inflicting “this persecution on the Palestinians,” not the Israeli state. His answer:
“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”
Hmm…So when he uses the term “The Jews” he is actually just referring to the Jews that are committing the atrocities that he has witnessed in the occupied territories, not Jews in general. As clear as mud.
At best, his (well intentioned) comments were sloppy.
An aspect of his comments that I felt equally uncomfortable with however was his assertion that
“The Holocaust was one of the worst examples in history of man’s inhumanity to man. When faced with examples of atrocious behaviour, we must learn from them. It appears that the suffering by the Jews has not transformed their views on how others should be treatment”
Ignoring his repeated inaccurate and potentially offensive use of “the Jews” he makes a point here that is unhelpful and inaccurate.
Of course, I agree with Ward in the basic assertion that “we must learn” from the holocaust. What I am unclear on though, is what does he want us to learn that is applicable to the current situation in the occupied territories?
This latest uproar reminded me of George Galloway, Oona King and Jenny Tonge’s comments comparing the situation in Gaza to the Warsaw ghetto, comparable only in the fact that they both involved human suffering.
At the time, Howard Jacobson wrote in The Independent saying:
“In the early 1940s some 100,000 Jews and Romanis died of engineered starvation and disease in the Warsaw Ghetto, another quarter of a million were transported to the death camps, and when the Ghetto rose up it was liquidated, the last 50,000 residents being either shot on the spot or sent to be murdered more hygienically in Treblinka. Don’t mistake me: every Palestinian killed in Gaza is a Palestinian too many, but there is not the remotest similarity, either in intention or in deed – even in the most grossly mis-reported deed – between Gaza and Warsaw”
Does this mean we have to ease off our criticism of the Israeli government while they continue to push their expansionist war mongering agenda? Not in the slightest.
There is nothing more powerful than describing the atrocities that are occurring daily in the occupied territories as exactly what they are.
If you want to understand the occupation, Read about the indignity of being made to queue for hours to get to work. Read about the reality of living in a community that is raided at least weekly by a foreign army. Read about the pain of losing your son who is held in detention on spurious charges (often without charge or trial).
No comparison is needed, a sentiment shared by Ward’s colleague Julian Huppert MP.
11 responses to “A note to David Ward MP: Your historical comparisons are unhelpful”
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Steve, thanks for this – and absolutely. Comparison of suffering in any situation is can be dangerous and unhelpful (either personally or politically).
“Of course, I agree with Ward in the basic assertion that “we must learn” from the holocaust.”
He didn’t say that.
His point was “the Jews” must learn, entirely different. Offensive on so many levels.
In his follow up statement he clearly says “In my comments this week I was trying to make clear that everybody needs to learn the lessons of the Holocaust” (see http://davidward.org.uk/en/article/2013/654558/david-ward-mp-s-update-on-israel-palestine-comments)
You are ducking the implication of his words: ‘that Jews above all people should know better”.
It is a bit like saying to Afro-Americans “didn’t slavery teach you anything?”
It shows an unspeakable level of insensitivity, and it is a fallacious argument. It is made much worse by the fact that David Ward is an academic and politician, choosing which words to use is his lifeblood.
He chose his words, he knew what he was saying.
I fear you may have gone soft. Dare I suggest that if a member of another party had come out with a statement like “the Jews haven’t learned from the Holocaust”, you would have employed language more reminiscent of that which you used to describe George Osborne recently…?
Hi Steve – I think there’s another offensive element in his words – the implication that the people who really should have learnt a lesson from the Holocaust were the Jews – what Chas Newkey Burden refers to as the ‘you of all people’ line of argument. It’s frustrating how many people just don’t get this stuff about Ward – I can’t tell with some of them whether they are being dishonest or just obtuse. Even the BBC headline defined the problem as criticism of Israel, and (although obviously the article itself gave a full picture) this idea seems to have been picked up on by many others, including people with some standing in Ward’s party. At least, as you point out, Julian Huppert (my MP) was clear on the issue.