A Scarfe won’t Ward off the cold

By Geoffrey Alderman, February 12, 2013

Look, I know we're all supposed to be beside ourselves with anger over That Cartoon. I know That Cartoon has given rise to a communal uproar - a rare instance of almost total communal unity, our righteous outrage dutifully articulated by the Board of Deputies, the JLC, CST and so on. I know that these worthy bodies strained every muscle and (I'm told) uttered every prayer with a view to bringing down upon Gerald Scarfe (the mischief-making drawing master in question) and the Sunday Times the wrath of God Almighty (not to mention the potent Press Complaints Commission).

I'm well aware that they have in large measure succeeded: that the Sunday Times issued a suitably unctuous apology; that its owner, Rupert Murdoch, did everything short of actually donning sackcloth and spreading ashes upon his troubled brow in an effort to make us all believe he really was very sorry for the hurt That Cartoon had caused; and that even Scarfe felt constrained to confess, on reflection, that whatever the artistic merits of his depiction of Benjamin Netanyahu constructing a brick wall using Palestinian-Arab blood as mortar, the timing of its publication, on Holocaust Memorial Day, was unfortunate to say the least.

But let me be honest with you. If Scarfe wants to go down in history as a purveyor of the Blood Libel, he should surely be free to do so. If he wishes to pen a cartoon critical of Israel, so be it. If the Sunday Times' acting editor (not to mention the assistant editors or sub-editors) see fit to approve it, let them publish and be damned.

My point is that the Murdoch press was an easy target. What with the hacking super-scandal, the demise of the News of the World and the Leveson inquiry, the very last thing Murdoch could have wished for was another public excoriation, this time at the hands of the Jews. Of course there was going to be a climb-down. An apology. Diverse acts of heartfelt contrition. Fellow Jews, this was an easy victory. But Scarfe is not the target I would have chosen. And the Sunday Times is not the body corporate that I would have sought to bring low.

The public utterances of MP David Ward were much more serious. But even more serious still, and sinister, was the reaction to them by the Liberal Democrats, the party which - I need hardly remind you – is a partner in the coalition government that presently governs us all in this United Kingdom.

Murdoch did everything short of donning sackcloth

Ward, the duly elected MP for Bradford East, wasted little time in signing, in the House of Commons, the Holocaust Educational Trust's "Book of Commitment". But after so doing he unburdened himself of the sadness he apparently felt "that the Jews who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could… be inflicting atrocities on the Palestinians… and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza."

After suitable huffing and puffing from sundry Anglo-Jewish quarters, Ward announced, via Sky News, that he had not meant to damn all Jews, only those who were actually involved in persecuting Palestinians. And, after further huffing and puffing, the LibDem chief whip, Alistair Carmichael, agreed to give Ward a formal written warning (as I might give a student who I judged not to be pulling her or his weight). But Ward remains in the party; he refuses to give an undertaking that he will never again draw an analogy between the Nazis and Israel; and his offensive remarks (made on January 25) remain on his website.

Well of course they do. Look at it from a cynic's point of view. He has a majority of 365. His constituency is a LibDem marginal if ever there was one. He probably owes his 2010 election victory, in part at least, to tactical anti-Labour voting by Muslim constituents. So not only is his apology (if it can be called that) insincere. Perhaps it was never meant to be anything else.

What concerns me is the gutless reaction of the LibDem leadership. Here is an MP who has openly equated Jews with Nazis and the Jewish state with the Nazi state. Yet he is sanctioned only with a formal written warning, and his odious remarks remain published for all to see. Nick Clegg must be made - somehow - to understand that this is completely unacceptable.

Last updated: 9:45am, February 12 2013