Thursday, 18 July 2013

Nick Clegg right on David Ward

I am immensely saddened that it has become necessary for the Lib Dem whip to be removed for two months from David Ward MP ( This could so easily have been avoided, if Mr Ward had properly understood and apologised for the offensive connotations of the language that he has continued to use about Israel, the Holocaust and "the Jews", and if he had clarified his meaning to remove the likelihood that an antisemitic or inflammatory inference could be drawn from his words.

His failure to do this left Nick Clegg, Simon Hughes and Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael with no choice but to act, for the reasons outlined in Mr Carmichael's cogent and powerful letter to Mr Ward (attached) - and in terms of a party like the Liberal Democrats, this is very strong action indeed. I do not know of a previous occasion, over many decades, that the Liberals, SDP or Lib Dems have ever suspended or removed the whip from an MP in relation to something that the MP had written or said.

This is unprecedented and is a show of strong leadership in the face of the controversy that it will arouse in large parts of my vociferously democratic party - respectfully, those who call this 'too little, too late' are failing to appreciate what a strong, controversial move this is in Lib Dem terms, and it is one that I fully support.

Lib Dems including Simon Hughes and Nick Clegg himself regularly highlight the situation of the Palestinians and have sometimes been strongly critical of Israel and its government. It is right that Liberal Democrats should always be able to be strongly critical of the actions of different countries, and Israel is no exception. Such criticism, however, must never stray into language that has an antisemitic or inflammatory connotation.


  1. The letter did not attach, it appears, so here is the text:

    David Ward MP
    House of Commons
    SW1A 0AA

    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.

    Yours ever,

    Alistair Carmichael

  2. Thought you would support it Harris - the Lib Dem friends of Israel are trying to get the party to ban anybody who speaks out against Israel - you make me sick.

    1. Mr Ali,

      (1) Mr Ward is referring to a geographical dispute over sovereignty. One would therefore expect him to employ a denotation for the inhabitants of the nation state with which he wishes to take issue, i.e. Israelis. Instead, he uses the term Zionists which, asides from denoting those who believe in the formation of a Jewish state, has quite significant connotations because it has been used by the sort of "Elders of Zion" anti-semites who believe that Jews, wherever they hail from, hold the world at ransom and are at the root of every conspiracy ever to have existed. In selecting the term Zionist rather than Israeli, Mr Ward is using language laced with negative connotations whereas he might have easily avoided this were he to have instead used the term Israelis, thus making it unequivocally clear that it is the government of Israel he has an issue with rather than the inhabitants of the country, many of whom equally dislike their own government's policies in this regard. One should not automatically infer from this decision that he is intentionally playing to an anti-semitic audience; one should, however, conclude that he has made insufficient effort to avoid appearing to have done so. I could cite you other occasions on which Mr Ward has made lexical choices with the same pragmatic subtext.
      Conclusion number 1: Mr Ward uses rhetoric commonly employed by anti-semites.

      (2) In using the phrase "at long last", it is quite clear that he believes something which he desires to take place is long overdue, in this case the losing of a battle. And what is this “battle”? The answer to this question is in the next phrase: "how long can the apartheid state of Israel last". This question clearly refers to the continued existence of Israel. Even if one ignores the use of the "apartheid" - an emotive epithet used to incite negativity towards its referent, it is only reasonable to draw the conclusion that Mr Ward would be happy to learn that the State of Israel no longer existed.
      Conclusion number 2: Mr Ward’s preferred solution to the Israeli/Palestinian confict is the destruction of the State of Israel.

      Dealing with the second issue first, I would like to say that there are countries in the world whose regimes are, by my Western Liberal standards, unacceptable. I believe that it is reasonable to criticise them. For example, I understand that it is the law in some Muslim countries to inflict severe physical punishments on women who have been found guilty of sex outside marriage even if they have been raped. I find this utterly disgusting. If, however, I used my dislike of this interpretation of Muslim law to justify the elimination of the states which practise it, I would be a bigot. If I were a Liberal Democrat MP, I would also be espousing views contradictory to the values of the party I have been democratically elected to represent and a liability.

      And now to the question of language: there are several reasons why a person might continue to use language which is not necessarily bigoted but is commonly used by bigots : (1) the person is intellectually challenged/suffers from a language impairment, both of which might prevent someone from understanding correctly how their utterances might be interpreted despite undergoing sensitivity training (the two meetings referred to in the above letter with the LD special interest group were for this purpose); (2) the person is simply a bigot themselves and wishes to push their own agenda; (3) the person is not necessarily a bigot but wishes to garner favour amongst bigots.

      Freedom of speech should always be encouraged, bigotry should not.

    2. What a lot of nonsense - David Ward was suspended because he spoke the truth about Israel - it is an apartheid state, it does maintain a brutal and racist occupation and people are right to say it. (Can't say too much - Harris banned me posting on here using facebook - typical of the pro-israel lobby wouldn't you say.

    3. I didn't even know that one 'post on here using facebook'. I didn't 'ban' you from posting, as evidenced by the fact that you are indeed here posting comments. What I did do is remove you as a "friend" on Facebook as we are not friends (I do not believe that we have ever met) and the only contact that we have had is through the vituperative comments that you leave on this blog (in many of which you continue to choose to address me as "Harris").

  3. Typical Mrs Kaye - speak out against Israel's brutal and racist occupation and you're anti -semites

    1. It is possible to criticise Israel without being an antisemite, just as it is possible to criticise Saudi Arabia without an islamophobe. However, any Parliamentarian whose language crosses the line from reasoned criticism of Saudi Arabia or of Israel into islamophobia or antisemitism is worthy of censure.

  4. Mr. Ward's language was highly inappropriate to say the least, even if unintentional. It also runs contrary to the wishes of most people in both Israel and Palestine for a two-state solution.