There must be no room for antisemitism in the Lib Dems

(Photo: Equaliteach)

The preamble to the Liberal Democrats constitution reads: "The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity."

It shouldn't really be too contentious that a party with such beliefs and values would be opposed to racism, sexism, or other forms of discrimination.

And yet today it has been confirmed that a Lib Dem councillor - previously leader of the Lib Dem group on the local council and a former mayor - has been arrested for anti-Semitic posts on twitter.

I do not know Pat Marsh and my first reaction was to ask what she could possibly have written for the police to become involved. Her local newspaper did not publish the now-deleted tweets but fortunately others managed to capture them.

There were more like this.

Inevitably there have been the usual "free speech" advocates who see in this nothing more that a mild criticism of Israel's government. But most people recognise that a line is crossed when you accuse a group of people, especially one defined by either race or religion, for the actions of a few. 

Note that Cllr Marsh does not call out Benjamin Netanyahu or other Israeli political leaders. Instead she addresses her comments at "you Jews". There can be no excuses for calling Jews "a disgrace to the world" or "evil". Invoking the memory of the Holocaust is also not remotely helpful.

Jewish people are, not surprisingly, as diverse a group as any other. They do not think alike. They do not all agree when it comes to politics. They don't share the same perspective on issues such as Zionism, the future of Palestine, Israel's current leadership (the anti-Netanyahu protests in the last year underline this) or the approach towards Hamas. 

To refer to any religious group as "evil" in and of itself  is an expression of intolerance. I'll go further - it's an expression of hate. And this happened over a period of several weeks. 

Cllr Marsh isn't just someone having a rant on twitter. She is an elected representative who was the leader of the local council grouping. She was publishing her tweets as a representative of the party and as such she had a responsibility to be careful in how she expressed herself. I find it hard to believe that anyone with a modicum on understanding would realise that it is offensive - not to mention wrong - to talk about Jews in this fashion.

I have no time for those defending her. If she was referring to Israel's government then she should have mentioned it and criticised specific actions. She did no such thing. It is quite clear she aimed her comments at Jews and the best thing that can be said is that she is unable to separate Jewish people from the government of Israel in her thinking. 

I am pleased our party acted to suspend Cllr Marsh. I cannot comment on the police involvement, but I will say that tweets of this nature not only risk bringing our party into disrepute but - more seriously - can seriously undermine and damage community relations between religious communities. I don't know what kind of Jewish community there is in Knaresborough, but at a time when many Jewish people are fearful of wearing a Star of David necklace in public or putting a mezuzah on their front door, anti-Semitism from elected representatives is irresponsible.

The Lib Dems have done the right thing. As a spokesperson explained, "the minute we were aware, she was reported and suspended from the party and removed from the council group. This matter now rests with the police."

I am less pleased that Cllr Marsh appears not to have apologised and has simply vowed to continue to serve as an independent councillor. I suspect the standards board may have something to say about that. Demonstrating a total lack of insight, she has denied that her tweets were in any way anti-Semitic.

Cllr Marsh is reported to have said "all I want is peace". To which I can only respond by saying that making hateful statements online is not the way to achieve it. 


Anonymous said…
thanks for this. Lucid, coherent, liberal and 100% right.