Clegg response to David Ward is 'fig leaf'

The punishment handed to MP David Ward by the Liberal Democrats over his comments on "the Jews" represents "a pedestrian and lacklustre response to what amounts to antisemitism at the heart of Westminster", according to Jewish community leaders.

Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Jeremy Newmark and Board of Deputies chief executive Jon Benjamin said Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg's decision to order Mr Ward to meet members of the Lib Dem Friends of Israel group was "a fig leaf".

They accused Mr Clegg of "expressing concern to communal leaders about antisemitism in private, but failing to step up and confront it in public. We cannot accept that scenario".

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said the situation had been "mishandled" and "Holocaust equivocation and antisemitism are not being taken seriously".

The Bradford East MP met Mr Clegg, deputy leader Simon Hughes and chief whip Alistair Carmichael on Tuesday evening following the controversy over Mr Ward's comments on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day.

In the meeting Mr Clegg told the MP, who was elected with a majority of 365 in 2010, that his comments has been "unacceptable" and demanded that he "work along with Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel and Simon Hughes to identify and agree language that will be proportionate and precise in your future interventions in this debate".

The MP was told he should attend meetings with LDFI representatives in order to "achieve a better understanding of the legitimate concern that your comments caused within the wider Jewish community".

The party's disciplinary process with the MP will be reviewed after Mr Ward meets LDFI members.

Gavin Stollar, LDFI chairman, said that if the group "doubted Mr Ward's sincerity in engaging in this process, or his willingness to take on board what's coming, then there's no question about our intention to feed that back.

"LDFI has essentially been appointed as probation officers for David Ward," said Mr Stollar. "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, LDFI welcomes the opportunity to educate one of our MPs."

Last updated: 1:45pm, February 28 2013