Following David Ward MP's apology for insensitively implying that "the Jews" were responsible for acts of oppression against Palestinians, and the reaction of two "senior" Liberal Democrats in denouncing him, I have written him a short letter:
Dear Mr Ward,
As a member of the Liberal Democrats, I would like to congratulate you on your recent stance on Israel’s historic and continued actions towards Palestinians.
While, like many others, I was very concerned at the way you chose to make the point – the actions of the State of Israel must be distinguished from those of Jewish people; the Jews are not responsible for crimes committed against humanity by the Israeli state – the broad thrust of your argument was correct. I am sorry that the language you used was, as you admit, inappropriate and insensitive because it undermined what you were attempting to do.
As you rightly point out, there are serious injustices continuing to take place in 21st century Israel/Palestine and these need to be both recognised and confronted. I hope that you continue to draw attention to, and raise public awareness of, the oppressive nature of Israeli activity in Palestine.
I have read your apology tonight and am in complete agreement that we all need to learn more completely the lessons of the Holocaust. It was not a crime against any individual group of people, but against all of humanity. I say that as someone whose maternal grandfather was a Polish Jew and whose paternal grandfather assisted in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. Remembrance is often a deliberately selective activity and too often the real lessons, and their implications for the present, are regrettably overlooked.
I thank you for your continuing deserved criticisms of Israeli oppression: the cause of international justice demands that more like yourself speak out. I trust that you continue to maintain such criticisms, while of course being a little more careful in future with your choice of words.
Yes, his comments were unwise. Yes, they were potentially offensive towards Jewish people. But what David Ward was guilty of was a serious error of judgment in regards his use of language. He should not be castigated for it, least of all by colleagues who understand how easily statements can be made to read in ways other than they were meant.
I for one am happy to accept his apology and congratulate him for his attempts to speak up for an oppressed minority. I hope others can see beyond his inopportune language and do likewise.
I wrote this in 2010: The Problem of Language and Distortion. With its consideration of the Holocaust, it seems quite timely to reflect on my then observations once again.