David Ward, Israel, the Holocaust and the Jews – by Sarah AB

Many have already written eloquently and thoughtfully about David Ward’s indefensible comments about Israel, the Holocaust and ‘the Jews’. Mark Gardner and Paul Evans, for example, have explained exactly why these comments are so offensive, although David Ward still doesn’t seem to get it.

I was struck by this misleading headline in the Huffington Post.

Lib Dem MP David Ward ‘Condemned’ By Own Party For Criticising Israel Ahead Of Holocaust Memorial Day”

This completely misses the point, and implicitly supports those who argue either that accusations of antisemitism are deployed strategically to silence criticism of Israel or else that those making the accusations are quite extraordinarily sensitive.

Although Sara Nelson (who probably didn’t write the headline herself) goes on to offer a reasonable account of the incident, her piece reveals further ill-judged responses to Ward’s remarks. She links to a supporter of Ward, blogger Mark Valladares. He has now edited his article after coming in for some criticism.

It’s welcome that he reflected further and tried to express his views with more nuance. However I still see (and I didn’t catch the earlier version, though I gather it referred to the angry response to Ward as a ‘bandwagon’) problems in the edited post:

As usual, in any matter related to the Israel/Palestine debate, elements of the pro-Israel lobby, (or troublemakers in Guido’s case) have chosen to interpret these remarks as being a direct comparison of the holocaust with modern events in Gaza and the West Bank. If you’re minded to do so, you probably will. On the other hand, if you lean towards a pro-Palestinian position, you might welcome any recognition by a politician that the Israeli government is behaving in an unacceptable manner.”

 Although Ward did not absolutely state that Gaza was another Warsaw, the parallel was still implicit and Valladares does not even pick up on the way Ward refers to ‘the Jews’ as an undifferentiated group. Also – to offer just one counterargument to Valladares’s assertion that politicians never criticize Israel – the Chair of Labour Friends of Israel spoke out against Netanyahu’s controversial announcement on settlement building last month, as did Conservative Friends of Israel.

There’s then this confusing passage:

For me, David’s words act as a reminder that some pretty dreadful wrongs have been committed against both sides (and there are those who seek to equate them in terms of scale), and suggest that past events should influence future behaviour.”

 Is he now suggesting that the sufferings of the Palestinians might indeed reasonably be compared to the Holocaust ‘in terms of scale’, or is he rather weighing up the sufferings of Israelis and Palestinians?

 Then he asserts:

 It’s called nuance, and in an increasingly black and white political discourse, I welcome his attempt to demonstrate some respect towards both sides in this seemingly never-ending dispute, even if he has failed to express himself well.”

 Now, this is ridiculous. Many commenters, from a range of perspectives, demonstrate ‘respect towards both sides’, and it is very easy to do so without trivializing the Holocaust.

Returning to the Huffington Post piece, the comments were depressingly dominated by those who thought Ward had made a jolly good point, and those who thought it was somehow all the fault of ‘the Muslims’. 

19 Responses to “David Ward, Israel, the Holocaust and the Jews – by Sarah AB”

  1. David Ward MP And Subconscious Themes « Soupy One Says:

    [...] Read the original, David Ward, Israel, the Holocaust and the Jews – by Sarah AB. [...]

  2. Absolute Observer Says:

    “As usual, in any matter related to the Israel/Palestine debate, elements of the pro-Israel lobby, (or troublemakers in Guido’s case) have chosen to interpret these remarks as being a direct comparison of the holocaust with modern events in Gaza and the West Bank’On the other hand, if you lean towards a pro-Palestinian position, you 2might welcome any recognition by a politician that the Israeli government is behaving in an unacceptable manner.”

    And therein lies the rub – regardless of content, all that matters apparently is the mention of Palestine. Some further points emerge from this,

    One. The idea that somehow criticism of the Israeli government is virtually unheard of and that whoever raises it is ‘brave’, etc.. This idea chimes in with another- that of the unleashing of hell on all those who are criticise – a point intimated by the absurd expression ‘pro-Israel Lobby’ whose singularity is assumed in the reference to ,elements’ within it.
    Likewise is the idea that ‘elements in the pro-Israel lobby’ ‘choose’ to interpret the matter in a certain way, as if there is nothing in the words themselves used by Ward to even raise the possibility of such an interpretation’ and such a ‘choice’ is mal fide; a ruse raised by such ‘elements’ to stifle criticism.

    Two. The lack of an fundamental anti-racist position. That the alleged rarity of criticism means that when someone expresses such views, even in a manner that is prejudicial to Jews, one is supposed to gloss over that fact in the name of the greater good (or evil).

    The idea of the holocaust as a ‘lesson’ that the victims of it have not learnt is simply outrageous. The idea that contemporary Jews are to be politically and morally judged according to their prior suffering is equally so.

    Once again, rational political judgement is replaced by irrational pseudo national psychology; the very type of shallow and superficial ‘understanding’ that reduced the complexity of nazism itself to the absurdities of an expression of an alleged ‘German psyche’ and one that has been rightly rejected by almost all historians of that era.

    But, as we know, somehow the idea persists that the only ones still caught in the trauma of the holocaust is………….the Jews. Well, you know what they say – You can’t live without them and you can’t live with ‘em!!

  3. Sarah AB Says:

    I quite agree – it’s astonishing that Ward’s update and supposed clarification managed to include the implication, as you say, that the Holocaust was a kind of lesson its victims haven’t learnt. I’ll also just note that I had not realized that the Huffington Post headline was very probably modelled on this BBC headline. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21194991

    • Lynne T Says:

      The thing here is that Ward chose to set up his criticism of Israel by setting it in the context of his visits to Aushwitz and the mass murders of Jews that took place there. If Israel is culpable of whatever wrong, why must it be set up in the “you of all people should know better” context as Chas Newkey Burden puts it so aptly. Would he ever speak of the very violent and thuggish acts perpetrated by the various Palestinian factions against each other in similar terms, by asking of them, “how could you have failed to learn a lesson from years of the Israeli occupation”?

  4. Absolute Observer Says:

    Indeed, sarah.
    It is interesting to note his reference to ‘past events’. However, the only ‘past event’ referred to is the holocaust – and that in the register of an internalised ‘(im or a-)’morality’!
    I can think off the top of my head a few more events – the rise of zionism in the 19th century, the collapse of empires in 1990’s,the rise of Arab pan-nationalism and its demise, the rise of religious worldviews, the colonial struggle against the Brits, the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, the displacement and forced removal of thousands of Palestinian Arabs, along with the war immediately declared against Israel, thr arms embargo, the Arab boycott (still in effect), 1956, 1967, the occupation, the forced removal of thousands of Jews from Arab countries, 1973, 1981, the emergence of the PLO and Hamas, the rise of the Israeli right, bombings, hijacking, Lod airport, munich, rockets, settlements………….

    But the only past event referred to by ward, jaspers and others, is the holocaust. It is as if the entire political complexity of Israel and Palestine can be reduced to Jews not learning the moral lessons that the nazis had so efficiently tried to teach the world upon the body of the Jews; a lesson apparently taken by all, apart, that is, by those (permanently?) psychologically deranged Jews!!

    It truly beggars belief.

    I also came across this,

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/apr/26/thejewsshouldknowbetter

  5. Warped Mirror PMB Says:

    I’m sometimes tempted to respond to those who insist that the Holocaust should have been a great learning experience — well, if you think so, and if you think the nakba is comparable, what should we expect the Palestinians learned???

    • Carlo Says:

      What some people learned was that “Never again!” should apply not only to the persecution and assassination of Jews, but across the board – to the mistreatment of all national minorities. Hence the enactment since WWII of a spate of global human rights instruments.
      International humanitarian law certainly hasn’t prevented the occurrence of subsequent persecutions and genocides but it does offer a universal and objective yardstick, untainted by religious or ethnic considerations, against which to measure the behaviour of intolerant governments and their apologists.

      • Lynne T Says:

        Yes, yardsticks that the Palestinians and the 56 member countries of the OIC do not apply to their own self governance, let alone those members of ethnic and religious groups who they hate and reject, and which, according to Mahatir Mohammed, are based on a concept invented by the same evil tribe responsible for capitalism, communism, etc., etc., etc.

        • Carlo Says:

          So what is your point Lynne? Are you implying that because certain states opposed to Israel violate international human rights norms it’s OK for Israel to do so too?

  6. Absolute Observer Says:

    Carlo,
    Exactly, hence the nature of Ward’s offence.

  7. Absolute Observer Says:

    The equivalence is wrong.
    Israel’s wrongs are to be judged according to objective and universal yardsticks, as per every country; as they should be.
    I am sure we agree on that.
    Ward offers a ‘judgement’ on Israel that substitutes such objective and universal yardsticks for a ‘judgement’ of said wrongs premised upon the ‘exceptional’ characteristics of ‘the Jews’ – in this case, a prior generation’s suffering of extermination. Ward therefore sets aside the standards of universal law upon which legal judgement rests, and replaces it with a view of (a ‘damaged’) Jewishness so that the original crime of the Nazis become the original sin of Israel and israeli Jews.

    To offer an illustration,
    It is perfectly acceptable and correct to condemn the hr abuses in, say, DR of Congo or Zimbabwe, for example according to the legal standards you note.
    It is perfectly unacceptable and incorrect, indeed, racist, to argue that such abuses are either inherent in (for whatever reason) or a product of the ‘specific nature’ of the Congolese or Black Zimbabweans.

    I am not sure of your age, but I recall the anti-independence sentiment of the 1960’s and 1970’s that claimed that African ‘blacks’ were not to be trusted or were not able enough or not mature enough for self-determination because of the experience of colonisation; or, following independence the ‘lack of success’ for such nations, and the wars that plagued Africa, was down to the same reasons. In other words, that the hr abuse within and between African states was because of the ‘nature’ of contemporary Africans as products of centuries of Empire and imperialism.

    Anti-racists challenged that view, because we recognised it as racist and in place of such absurd reductions, sought to understand what was ‘really’ going on – I.e. political analysis, etc. etc..

    Nor,needless to say, do we rest our judgment of political events in, say, Africa, with the moral platitude that ‘because you have suffered so much, how can you yourselves, make others suffer?’ not only is that simply patronising, but also it implies that, for Africans, the normal workings of the geo-political world do not apply to them, but is rather simply a case of psychological damage or ‘moral immaturity’ (as compared to say, Europe).

    We can both accept, I am sure, Israel’s hr abuses – that is not in question – what I assume we can equally not accept is the use of racism in either explaining the causes of those abuses, nor as the basis of (legal) judgment.

  8. Adams Says:

    goodbye free speech, there is something dodgy going on when a person is not allowed to say something, either in the debate or in any other circumstances.

    • Sarah AB Says:

      And I think there’s something dodgy going on when MPs think it is acceptable to say things like that, and then reinforce the comments when questioned, and only apologise grudgingly. He gets unequivocal support from Lib Dem Friends of Palestine too. This is not really a free speech issue – no one is suggesting people shouldn’t be able to say such things, and indeed far worse, just that he should not be able to say them, as an MP, with impunity.

      • Brian Goldfarb Says:

        Adams, free speech is not and never has been licence to say whatever one likes, and then bleat about being challenged when it is argued that one has overstepped the line. Your statement implies that there should be no such offence as libel or slander, that racism is impossible, because to accuse people of it is to silence their right to free speech.

        This has been the defence of those within the UCU determined to boycott Israel (despite their own lawyers telling them that such an action, if carried out, would breach equality law) and also to define antisemitism as they wish, irrespective of the EUMC Working Definition and UK equaloty law.

        Would that be acceptable to you? And if so, why?

        People can say what they like. They just shouldn’t assume that it can necessarily be said with impunity.

    • Alex Says:

      He isn’t “not allowed to say anything”. Free speech doesn’t give him the freedom to not have his statements analysed, criticised or rebutted as appropriate. Mark, Sarah and others have explained why his statements are offensive. They have explained why they don’t think these statements should be made (or, more accurately, what is wrong with the thought processes that lead to these statements). I have not seen anyone call for censorship of his comments or for the use of the law to punish him.

      But free speech never (or should never) exempts someone from responsibility for facing the social repercussions of their speech. If someone says, “All {Insert group} are {insert horrible description}”, free speech doesn’t forbid either people demonstrating what is wrong with the statement or people considering the person who made the statement not necessarily being a fit and proper person in certain circumstances.

  9. Socialists, Scarfe’s Cartoon And Inverted Commas « Soupy One Says:

    [...] purposefully denigrate the memory of the Holocaust. They have truly lost it. By way of comparison, at Engage there is an intelligent discourse on the significance of David Ward’s remarks and where such [...]

  10. David Ward MP, David Duke And His Supporters « Soupy One Says:

    [...] Update 5: An Engage commenter, Alex, put the issue clearly: [...]


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