Two British members of parliament from the centrist Liberal Democratic Party seemed to be doing their utmost to dissuade Jews, friends of Israel, and generally right-minded peoples from sticking with their already-damaged party through to the next election.
First, during a debate on changes to the national curriculum, Sir Bob Russell thought it would be an opportune moment to ask the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, “On the assumption that the 20th century will include the Holocaust, will he give me an assurance that the life of Palestinians since 1948 will be given equal attention?”
Russell’s unlettered and questionably-motivated equivocation was swiftly condemned by the Jewish Leadership Council, whose chief executive Jeremy Newmark who labelled them “a shocking piece of Holocaust denigration. There is simply no comparison between the two situations.”
Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, added that “to try to equate the events of the Holocaust with the conflict in the Middle East is simply inaccurate as well as inappropriate.”
Then on Saturday, David Ward, another Lib-Dem MP, Tweeted: “Am I wrong or are am I right? At long last the Zionists are losing the battle — how long can the apartheid State of #Israel last?”
His tenor bears a noticeable resemblance not only to the discourse of anti-Semites who use ‘Zionists’ in place of ‘Jews’ to mask their latent prejudices, but also the former Lib Dem peer Baroness Tonge. In 2012, Tonge was finally resigned the whip after saying that Israel would “not last forever” and would “reap what they have sown.”
UPDATE: David Ward has been suspended from the Liberal Democrats until September 13 in reaction to his comments about the “apartheid state of Israel.”
In a letter to Ward, the party’s chief whip Alistair Carmichael explained that his comments “questioning the continued existence of the State of Israel fails the test of language that is “proportionate and precise.’” This, in combination with remarks back in January which accused ‘the Jews’ of failing to learn the lessons of the Holocaust brought “the party into disrepute” and harmed “the interests of the party”, Carmichael said.
Ward’s suspension from the Liberal Democrats coincides with Parliament’s summer recess – although he will be suspended for almost two months, this period only accounts for a few days of parliamentary business. Jewish community organisations, therefore, while welcoming the punishment were disappointed with its toothlessness.
In a statement, Jeremy Newmark, Chief Executive of the Jewish Leadership Council said: “There are serious questions as to whether this move came swiftly enough and whether it goes far enough.”