Friday 25 July 2014

Three cheers for David Ward.

The Liberal Democrat hierarchy does itself and the party no favours by slapping down anyone who says what they really think about the Israel/Palestine  situation. 

Ten years ago Jenny Tonge, after a visit to the Gaza Strip and being horrified by the conditions under which the people there were force to live,  said that, whilst not condoning their actions, she understood motivations of the Palestinian suicide bombers.  She was forced to apologise for her honesty by our then leader Charles Kennedy.  Two years later Ming Campbell took similar action, and Nick Clegg sacked her from her post as a party spokesperson in 2010.  She resigned from the party in 2012.

David Ward, Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East, has been and is being subjected to similar harassment. Last July he was forced to apologise for speaking of the atrocities inflicted on Palestine by "the Jews."  Apparently he should have said "the state of Israel."  This week he has again been slapped down for empathising with, though not condoning, those who fire rockets into Israel.

The reaction has been totally disproportionate.  Grant Shapps, the Tory Chairman, has condemned this expression of an honest opinion as an incitement to violence and "completely irresponsible. Labour's foreign affairs spokesman, Douglas Alexander,  is even more vitriolic:  these are "vile comments" which are "as revealing as they are repellent."

Regrettably, rather than defending Ward, this Liberal Democrat party, which puts "liberty", which includes freedom of speech, at the top of its values system, notes a clarification Ward has issued:

I utterly condemn the violence on both sides in Israel and Gaza.  I condemn the actions of Hamas, and my comments were  not in support  of firing rockets into Israel.  If they gave the opposite impression I apologise.

but ominously "will decide in due course  if  further disciplinary action should be taken."

In 2006 Jenny Tonge claimed:  "The pro-Israeli lobby has got its grips on the western world, its financial grips. I think they've probably got a grip on our party."

A similar claim could be made about the relative resources devoted to perception management.  I'm writing from memory but I think, during last year's spat, Ward claimed that any criticism of Israel was promptly met be a roller coaster of PR to discredit the critic and put the Israeli case.  The Arabs simply do not have the resources to match.

The Liberal Democrat party, as successors to J S Mill ("If all mankind minus one . . .") as well as Beveridge and Keynes, should be in the forefront of defending the expression of honestly felt opinions, not joining the well financed apparatus for squashing them.

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