The difference between a Jew and an Israeli is no more difficult to grasp than a Catholic and an Italian

When it comes to Israel, for Lib Dems, sorry seems to be the hardest Ward

Richard Ferrer
Wednesday 13 February 2013 13:47
A detail from an installation by Ceramic artist Chava Rosenzweig of ceramic stars representing how the Holocaust shaped people's lives to mark Holocaust Memorial Day
A detail from an installation by Ceramic artist Chava Rosenzweig of ceramic stars representing how the Holocaust shaped people's lives to mark Holocaust Memorial Day

What’s in a name?

It’s a question Liberal Democrat MP David Ward should have pondered more thoroughly before implying “the Jews” (yes, the whole bally lot of them) are inflicting Nazi-like “atrocities” on the Palestinians. What’s in a name? Well, Mr Ward, when it comes hijacking the Holocaust and inferring I’m no better than Henrich bloody Himmler, rather a lot.

Despite apologising for “unintended offence” (weasel words that would make Lance Armstrong blush), the Bradford East MP self-righteously dug his heels in last week and put the statement on his website, where it remains.

He then emailed my newspaper, the Jewish News, to ask if he might be better off replacing the term “the Jews” with “the Jewish community”.

Last night, Liberal Democrat chief whip Alistair Carmichael announced “further meetings as part of a disciplinary process”. All eyes will be on the outcome.

Nick Clegg, meanwhile, sidestepped the hornet’s nest. In the Commons on Tuesday, Tory MP Robert Halfon warned the deputy prime minister that his party was earning a “reputation for being hostile to Jewish people”. Clegg fudged it, responding: “Everybody is duty bound to tread carefully when entering in to this heated debate.”

Lance blushes again.

Ward claims he’s the victim of “a machine designed to protect Israel from criticism”. This cabal is clearly not fit for purpose, considering Israel seems to be the favourite punch bag of too many members of his party.

For the Liberal Democrats, when it comes to Israel, sorry seems to be the hardest Ward.

The policies of Israel’s government are, of course, fair game for censure. The separation barrier, settlements, the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, water resources, targeted assassinations and imports into Gaza demand debate and, where necessary, criticism.

But rather than judge Israel as a nation state like any other, Ward, like Lib Dems Baroness Tonge and MEP Chris Davies before him, leapt into a moral abyss that should make any fair-minded person shudder. In Ward’s world, it appears Israel is treating Palestinians like Nazis treated the Jews; Israelis tend to be Jewish; hence, the Jews are guilty of repeating history. Conclusion: those Jews should have learned their lesson. The lot of them. From Tel Aviv to Tottenham.

It’s a contemptuous comparison for six million reasons. Precisely which part of Hitler’s Final Solution can be compared to the Middle East’s only democracy? The cattle trains? The human ash? The piles of hair and glasses? The one-and-a-half million children?

If Ward’s eyes weren’t apparently willfully wide shut, he’d see that most Israelis support two states and a fair peace with the Palestinians. He’d see the political cost of Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank is more than most Israelis are prepared to pay. He’d see Israelis realise maps must be redrawn if they are to have any possible reconciliation with the Arab world. And he’d see how centrist politician Yair Lapid’s stunning success in last month’s election was built on a pro-peace/anti-settler ticket.

Had Ward bothered to open just one eye, he’d have seen perhaps the biggest stumbling block to peace is that, thanks to Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas cannot deliver the Palestinian people. No leader since Yasser Arafat has had this mandate. Since 2004, the only options open to Israel have been unilateral – withdraw from Gaza, stem the rocket attacks and keep out the weapons smugglers and suicide bombers.

Of course, all this can be complex and tough to follow. Smarter people than Ward struggle to keep up. But the simple difference between a “Jew” and an “Israeli” is no more difficult to grasp than a Catholic and Italian. You have to question an MP’s grasp on reality if he can’t master the basics.

With the media hungry for simple narratives in a complex conflict, lazy viewpoints gain traction. When politicians like Ward act with apparent impunity, the acceptable level of debate grows ever more malicious and less rooted in reality.

Thanks to some politicians, the tectonic plates between right and wrong are shifting. Where they’ll come to rest is a question that’s now causing immense unease among British Jews.

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