Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1139, 14 - 20 March 2013
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1139, 14 - 20 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Israel flag-wavers re-educate MPs

A linguistic controversy over Israeli Jews has led to the “re-education” of a British MP, writes Stuart Littlewood

Al-Ahram Weekly

If reports are true, the UK’s Liberal Democrats have appointed the pro-Israel lobby as “probation officers and educators” who will judge whether UK MP David Ward is “salvageable” and lay down precise language rules. Ward, champion of the oppressed, is to be put on probation and “re-educated” after ruffling feathers with his controversial “use of language”.

Ward had written on his website that “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.”

The chiefs of the UK’s Holocaust Educational Trust and Board of Deputies of British Jews loudly complained that Ward had “deliberately abused the memory of the Holocaust” and that his remarks were “sickening” and “offensive”.

Liberal Democrat chief whip Alistair Carmichael agreed that Ward’s remarks were “wholly inappropriate” and that singling out “the Jews” in that way crossed a red line. Carmichael demanded an undertaking from Ward that he would never again use the phrase “the Jews” in this context.

“I am strongly of the view that your use of the phrase ‘the Jews’ in this context was unacceptable,” he said, “and I formally censure you for that.” Ward is reported to have given the undertaking and that should have been the end of the matter. But it wasn’t enough for the Jewish top brass in the UK, who called for the whip to be withdrawn or for Ward to be expelled, as if they ran the Liberal Democrat Party.

Party leader Nick Clegg has apparently buckled under this unwarranted interference and ordered Ward to meet the party’s Friends of Israel Group and remove the offending material from his website. But it’s still there.

According to a news update on a site by UK blogger John Hilley, Ward is now on probation and the Friends of Israel Group is doing the surveillance and monitoring. In other words, Israel’s stooges have been appointed censors and educators.

Could something so grotesque be true? The UK newspaper The Jewish Chronicle reports that Clegg told Ward he must work alongside the group “to identify and agree language that will be proportionate and precise” in future debate. He should attend meetings with the group’s representatives in order to achieve a better understanding of “the legitimate concern” that his comments caused within the wider Jewish community. Disciplinary steps will then be reviewed.

In short, they are treating the courageous MP like a juvenile delinquent and piling on the humiliation. So what exactly is the problem? Is it necessary to make a distinction between Jews generally and “the Jews”? And how will this new language rule work? In precisely what circumstances mustn’t Ward, or the rest of us for that matter, use that dreaded phrase “the Jews”?

If we’re talking about who’s responsible for the ethnic cleansing in Palestine and the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homes and farms, is the answer “Jews” or “the Jews”? If we just say “Jews” we might have to explain which Jews, which is tedious. If we say “the Jews” the meaning is obvious — those occupying the Palestinian Territories and those funding and arming them.

Who’s to say David Ward wasn’t grammatically or linguistically correct? If somebody asks who massacred the Jews and Muslims of Jerusalem in 1099 CE I don’t care, as a Christian, whether you say “Christians” or “the Christians.” However, “the Christians” would at least suggest to me that the culprits were the Christians with the Crusader army who were there at the time, not the Christians who were attending the funeral of El-Cid in Spain.

Gavin Stollar, chair of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel Group, says that the group “has essentially been appointed as probation officers for David Ward. If we are not convinced that he is salvageable, then we’ll be in the position to report back to the leader and the chief whip and express our views. Rather than making him a martyr, the group welcomes the opportunity to educate one of our MPs.”

How’s that again? A gang of Israel-firsters “welcomes the opportunity to educate one of our MPs”? Since when was Ward an employee of Clegg or a servant of the Liberal Democrat Party, or a plaything of the Friends of Israel to be brainwashed, groomed or disposed of at whim?

Ward, if he belongs to anyone, belongs to the people of Bradford East who elected him. He is their representative. Do they know about this contemptible plan to re-educate him?

Who is Stollar to instruct elected representatives to the British Parliament and decide their fate? He’s not even an MP. In 2005, Stollar was reported to the UK’s local government watchdog for saying “Nazis are not welcome in our town” when addressing a group of people during his failed campaign to get elected to parliament. He seemed none too fussy whom he branded with the “N-word,” knowing as he should that not all members of the BNP (British National Party) think or behave like Nazis.

Luckily for him the ethical standards officer ruled that Stollar’s views fell “within the normal and acceptable limits of political debate,” even if they lowered the tone. He should acknowledge that the same acceptable limits apply to Ward’s views.

Stollar also warmly shook the bloody hand of Tzipi Livni, who is on several wanted lists for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Livni, Israel’s former foreign minister, was largely responsible for the terror that brought unspeakable death and destruction to Gaza’s civilians over Christmas and New Year 2008/9 — an act of infamy which slaughtered 1,400 Gazans (including 320 children and 109 women) and horribly maimed thousands more, and which is regarded by many as a holocaust in its own right.

Livni’s office issued a statement saying she was proud of Operation Cast Lead, codename for the murderous blitz she had unleashed.

If Ward succumbs to this outrageous bullying he risks breaching one of the key principles of UK public life — that of integrity, which ought to be indelibly etched on every MP’s memory. “Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties,” the principle says.

One option for Ward is to adopt the boycott formula chosen by George Galloway, also a British MP. This formula states that there can be no normal contact with individuals or organisations who support the apartheid creed of Zionism; no engagement with those who speak for Israel; no normalisation until the Israeli regime ends its illegal occupation and complies fully with international law.

But that could get him de-selected for the next general election unless colleagues with backbone rally round. All the same, the party’s bully-boys had better watch their step. Ward’s Bradford East constituency is one-quarter Muslim.

What also seems to have stung the moaners is a letter from Leslie Bravery in New Zealand addressed to Clegg. It is posted on Ward’s website and says, among other things, “the reality is that the Palestinians are suffering in their own homeland, because they are not Jews, at the hands of a state that arrogantly claims to represent all Jews. There are, of course, many Jewish individuals and organisations, their voices sadly muffled by the mass corporate news media, that are horrified by Israel’s conduct. As Elizabeth Morley, writing from Aberystwyth [in Wales] put it, ‘what’s wrong with saying that the Jews in Israel commit atrocities in Palestine? They do. Is one not allowed to use the word ‘Jew’ in any negative context? Is that it?’”

The letter ends with the thought that “Holocaust Memorial Day should sear our consciences and, more to the point, it should inspire us to defend all who continue to suffer injustice and oppression. I believe that you should be supporting David Ward and, moreover, expressing your admiration for him.”

Morley herself has written to Karen Pollock, CEO of the UK Holocaust Memorial Trust, inviting her to recognise that however ill-chosen the phrasing of Ward’s comments may have been, he did not set out to “deliberately abuse the memory of the Holocaust.”

“I am certain that the only Jewish people Ward would probably not mind too much if he had offended would be those who have been and are responsible for the treatment of the Palestinian people.” She added that the over-reaction to Ward’s comments “had sickened many fair-minded people who want to see two peoples living peacefully side by side, as Jews, Christians and Muslims once lived in harmony in Palestine before the Balfour Declaration.”

She has also written to the Board of Deputies of British Jews expressing her concern about the way it exploits the memory of the Holocaust in order to gag criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people. “I cannot find evidence of the board having ever issued its own criticism of Israel’s policies... Several of my relatives died in the concentration camps, but that has not made me insensitive to the suffering of the Palestinians, who have been made to pay the price for what the Christian world did to the Jews.”

Elizabeth tells me that she is part of that “wider Jewish community” whose sensitivities Clegg is so concerned about, yet she is not at all distressed by Ward’s remarks.

This lady’s excellent summing-up is good enough for me. And I’m content to let one of Israel’s top military intelligence men, Yehoshafat Harkabi, have the last word. He simply warned that “Israelis must be aware that the price of their misconduct is paid not only by them but also by Jews throughout the world.”

Those who don’t wish to be tarred with the Jewish state’s brush might consider doing something about it. A good number of Jews, to their great credit, already have.

As for the UK Lib Dems, how does surrendering Ward to the pro-Israel attack-dogs square with the party’s pledge to defend the right to speak freely, support international law, hold individuals to account for crimes against humanity, and back international community action against governments engaged in large-scale violations of human rights?

The people who are entitled to feel insulted by this silly row are the Palestinians who, after 65 years, still languish in refugee camps or remain prisoners within the shredded remnants of their wrecked, plundered and impoverished homeland. Their unimaginable suffering has been almost endless under the longest and most brutal occupation in modern times. And the ethnic cleansing continues.

When will Clegg find the courage to expel those who support the racist regime responsible for this horror and end the impression that they pull his party’s strings?

 

The writer is the author of Radio Free Palestine.

 

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