07 - 02
Let me remind you what was said. Direct comparison was made between the conflict in the Middle East, and the devastating atrocities inflicted on Jews by the Nazis. That is bad enough at any time, but David did it on a day when we were remembering and mourning. I cannot be clearer in my view that both David’s language and timing were unacceptable. I made this view clear in my correspondence with the Holocaust Educational Trust the next day and again to David when I met with him shortly afterwards. It was intolerable because it is both inaccurate and offensive to equate and link all Jewish people with the actions of the Israeli Government and the state of Israel.
It was intolerable because the Holocaust was a particular crime against humanity that involved the attempted extermination of a people. Whatever view we take of the actions of the Israeli government, no one would attribute that end to them. It was intolerable because the Jewish community, like the rest of us, will never forget Nazi cruelty, and deserve better than being lumped together and being described as “the Jews”.
Furthermore, while all of us unequivocally support the right for Israel to live in peace and to defend itself, that doesn’t mean every Jewish person in Israel or indeed the Diaspora supports every action taken by the Netanyahu Government. David’s language implied otherwise, and this is inaccurate and highly offensive.
When discussing sensitive issues such as this, language really matters, as does timing. David’s comments appeared on Holocaust Memorial Day, a day on which we pay our respects to victims of the Shoah. It was inappropriate to use a vehicle such as the signing of the book of commemoration to make these comments.
With all this in mind, I considered David’s offence so serious that, as Chief Whip, I censured him. This is the most serious formal disciplinary measure available to me as Chief Whip alone. It is the first time since I took on the role in 2010 that I have invoked the formal disciplinary procedures at all. I struggle to recall any Chief Whip using them since I became an MP in 2001.
This has been compared in the press to a parliamentary yellow card, a final warning. It is a very serious move and while all of these metaphors are correct, I consider my action as being more serious. In taking the action that I have sent a message to any Parliamentarian that this type of language and approach will not be tolerated by our party.
I have read the comment of those who regard it as a “slap on the wrist”. I can see why some might conclude that, but they are wrong. I trust taking this action emphasises just how grave we in the Liberal Democrats consider this to be. I have also made it absolutely clear that nothing of this sort must ever happen again. If it were to, the already serious consequences for David Ward would escalate significantly.
My party is one based on tolerance, and while issues around the Middle East are always likely to provoke heated debated, I am determined that that debate will be conducted in the manner and tone that are consistent with these values of tolerance and respect. I hope the Jewish community will not consider those comments as any way reflective of the view of the Liberal Democrat Party. Israel as a country, and the UK Jewish community as a whole, are both not only highly regarded by our party but we consider ourselves collectively friends of both your community and of the state of Israel. From the Holocaust Educational Trust to the CST and beyond, the Jewish community is a shining example of integration, self-sufficiency and charitable excellence.
I was lucky enough to attend the large Lib Dem Friends of Israel Lunch in December 2010. At that event, Nick Clegg made it clear in his speech that our party needed to rebalance how we discuss Israel and the Middle East. That point is as valid now as it was then. While I believe we are making good progress on this, I do accept that as a party we need to continue to build further bridges.
I will guide Lib Dem Parliamentarians to work with the highly respected Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel group and organisations like the Board of Deputies, CST and JLC on this. And we will, of course, continue to challenge anti-Semitism in the UK, wherever it occurs.