The Board of Deputies has attacked as “wholly inadequate” the response of the LibDems to an MP who compared the Holocaust to the actions of “the Jews” over the treatment of Palestinians.
Bradford East MP David Ward made the remarks after he signed the annual book of remembrance for Holocaust Memorial Day.
After being summoned to a meeting with the party’s chief whip, Mr Ward was censured for his comments.
Alistair Carmichael, the chief whip, said that Mr Ward would be further disciplined if he repeats his words. “I’m prepared to accept an innocent explanation once, but I will be much less accepting should this matter ever come before me again.
Mr Ward attacked “the Jews”, saying he was “saddened” that “the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza”.
Jonathan Arkush, Vice President of the Board of Deputies, said the whip should have been withdrawn from Mr Ward. “He should have been warned that he risked being expelled from the party. Mr Ward’s offensive statement remains on his website, which hardly inspires confidence in the sincerity of his apology.”
Mr Ward’s words were condemned by fellow LibDems. Lord Palmer, former LibDem Friends of Israel chairman, urged the organisers of the memorial book to “erase his name” over his attempt to link HMD and his views on the Palestinians.
Julian Huppert, LibDem MP for Cambridge, said it was wrong to treat the actions of the Nazis so lightly. “Such comparisons are rarely appropriate, and David Ward was wrong.”
Mr Ward later said that he “never for a moment intended to criticise or offend the Jewish people as a whole”. He explained on Sky News that he was only accusing the Jews who were inflicting persection on the Palestinians. “So if you’re a Jew and you did not do it, I’m not accusing you. I’m saying that those Jews who did that and continue to do it have not learned those lessons.”
Mr Carmichael demanded an “undertaking… that you will not again use the phrase ‘the Jews’ in this context” but said that Mr Ward had not pledged never to draw an analogy between the Nazis and Israel again.
“The issue of conflation of the Holocaust and the actions of the Israeli government was still very much part of the discussion we had,” said Mr Carmichael. “I was very much at pains to emphasise to him the unacceptability of the piece as a whole. He assured me that his intention was not to say that the Holocaust and what he termed ‘the atrocities’ were the same thing.”
The chief whip said that if Mr Ward did repeat the analogy, “I would take that very seriously and I would regard that as on the face of it a serious breach of discipline”.
John Mann, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, called for LibDem leader Nick Clegg to follow the example of both the Conservatives and Labour, whose party leaders, he said, had acted “decisively” over similar incidents.
“Where others have crossed the line, there has been much sterner action taken,” said Mr Mann. “He should have been told if he does anything like this again he’ll be thrown out of the party.”
But senior LibDem peer Lord Carlile said his party had learnt from its experience with Baroness Tonge, who left the party a year ago after refusing to apologise for the latest in a lengthy list of attacks on Israel.
“If you look at the speed of response it was much more rapid, much more decisive and much more effective than the months of prevarication that took place over Tonge’s comments,” he said. “Political parties regard MPs as assets and it’s not at all surprising that the party has not revoked the whip.
“A formal written warning is extremely unusual, so he knows perfectly well that he must use in the future language which is not inflammatory or on the face of it racially offensive.”
Lord Palmer said that had the party withdrawn the whip, it “would have made the man a victim. He has a majority of under 400 and it was a big surprise when he won”.
He added: “I think we probably just have to tolerate him being there until 2015” .
But the Liberal Democrat Friends of Palestine said the choice of the words “the Jews” was valid, given that “Israel defines itself as a “Jewish and democratic state.
“David has spoken for the vast majority of Liberal Democrats,” said Sally Fitzharris, secretary of the group, adding that she was “deeply unhappy” over the party leadership’s decision to discipline him.