LibLink: Paul David Evans – The Holocaust and David Ward MP

We carried the news yesterday that David Ward MP had, while marking Holocaust Memorial Day, made comments linking the holocaust to Israeli policy in the occupied territories.

Paul David Evans, who has worked for the Holocaust Educational Trust, examines this commonly-made comparison.

“… is it possible to criticise Israel without being accused of antisemitism, some activists mused on Lib Dem Voice? The answer is that, yes, it’s remarkably easy to criticise Israel without being accused of being a racist. The trick is not to frame your criticism in terms of glaringly obvious centuries old antisemitic tropes, or deliberately provocative false analogies designed to wound the Jewish community. It’s not that difficult. In fact, Lib Dem MPs manage it all the time, just look in Hansard.”

Paul goes on to explain clearly why the comparison is wrong and offensive. I must say I suspect users of the comparison generally know that it is wrong and offensive, but believe that it is powerful, and therefore the greater good is served by using it in the defence of oppressed people. The problem here is that it the power it has is the power to generate anger on all sides, to harden stances, to make peace seem (and therefore become) more distant.

Read the full piece here.

* Joe Otten is a councillor in Sheffield, and Friday editor of Liberal Democrat Voice

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13 Comments

  • To be Blunt the west support of Israel has created the problem and gave rise to the Islamic jihad creating and supporting the state of Israel has caused more problems and created many more

  • Paul David Evans in his article says “For people like David Ward MP, it’s not really possible, or right, to commemorate the murder of millions of European Jews in the 1940s without condemning the foreign and domestic actions of a small Middle-Eastern state today. To do so, he seems to feel, would be unfair.”

    The above seems to me very much like wild supposition, and rather a straw man. Maybe for all we know, David Ward has commemorated – or remembered – the Holocaust many times without commenting on the actions of Israel. He is, after all, sixty years old this year and has lived through 59 Holocaust memorial days now.

    What evidence has Paul David Evans got for this tirade of supposition on the motivations and feelings beyond this one occasion in which David Ward’s words have drawn such attention? As someone who doesn’t know a great deal about David Ward, I, as an average reader of the media, deserve to be better informed, but Paul David Evans isn’t particularly interested in informing me. Evans also appears to put more words into Ward’s mouth: “But look at the suffering they have caused too! Can they really be called victims?”. Where in David Ward’s brief statement does he say that Holocaust Jews should not be called victims?

    Evans goes on to build a further straw man by implying that David Ward is one of those who draws a direct comparison between the Nazi treatment of Jews and the treatment by Israel of the Palestinians. David Ward, as far as I can see, made no such direct comparisons – he merely stated that he believed atrocities were being committed daily, which in my view, is what is constituted by building a 20ft concrete barrier around an entire community, never mind the rest. No, Israel is not exporting the population to death camps from their ghetto prisons. Who said they were?

    This whole furore is a complete load of twaddle, it really is.

  • Keith Browning 26th Jan '13 - 5:27pm

    We are fast approaching the centenary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration and all the behind the scenes shananigans that went with it, which that brought America into the Great War on the British side instead of the German side – documents may be released and finally history may be allowed to speak for itself, instead of the vested interests who want to keep telling a ‘history’ that is far from certain.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_Declaration

  • Prof Vic Truesdale 26th Jan '13 - 7:32pm

    One sees what one looks for! I do not know David Ward. But he appears to be someone of deep feeling, thinking that the obvious unfairnesses being perpetrated in Palestine do not appear to be backed by much ‘fellow feeling ‘ that one would expect from people who have suffered individually and collectively, so very, very deeply themselves from horrendous oppression. I, too, wonder about that.

    My thoughts on racism lead me to try and avoid making any comment about a whole mass of people. In short, I try and avoid groupisms – the X’s; the Y’s, the point being that every race, country, large group has its spectrum of people ranging from the absolutely delightful to the absolutely dreadful! Mr Ward’s error then is perhaps that he referred to the Jews, rather than a much, much smaller group of people, who he was imagining to live mainly in Israel, and who deal inconsistently with the Palestinians. There will be many, many people in Israel who think the same way, and hence this is NOT a Jewish issue, as such, but rather, a political issue involving some Jews (and perhaps people of other races). Having said that, Mr Ward has absorbed the appalling nature of the Holocaust, as he has explained. Therefore, it is unlikely that he wishes to abuse anybody himself; so really, he is trying to get people to think, isn’t he? The making of his comments so close to Holocaust day has an obvious origin – both are on his mind! Nevertheless, it will upset people who are quick to judge, and to think he is knocking the Holocaust, which I certainly don’t see him wanting to do.

    The affair’ has shocked’ various people and there are secondary arguments now about what ‘people’ should learn from the Holocaust. Personally, I believe there is much for everyone to learn, and it is summed up in the wonderful work of the American psychologist, Milgram. This is the generalisation that potentially, we are all capable of being Nazi behaviour at some level, and therefore that we have to guard ourselves against it. It starts at quite a low level but evidently can rise to the horrors of the death camps; it is NOT something that just a few people get into, but something endemic in us. So, let’s honour Holocaust Day, and give it’s due respect by taking it very, very seriously, and not getting side-lined into semantics. Incidentally, Milgram’s experiments, marvellous though they are, were conducted on people and as a result, themselves displayed a certain degree of Nazi-like behaviour. Milgram was ‘hoist by his own petard’!

    I hope all those people who are enraged by Mr Ward’s comments might turn the situation around to see that he is trying to raise something that needs to be discussed openly, calmly and analytically – the fate of all people in the Middle East, the fate of people all around the globe.

  • Michael Kilpatrick tries hard to find fault with Paul David Evan’s comments and concludes based his supposition amongst other points that Israel has built ” a 20ft concrete barrier around an entire[Palestinian] community” that “This whole furore is a complete load of twaddle”. His assessment of the Israeli’s actions make no mention of Arabs attacking The State of Israel on 14th May 1948 and on numerous occasions before 1967 and thereafter . No mention why the security barrier was built – with only a few percentage points of it being a solid wall let alone 100%. If he is to throw the label of “twaddle” around this issue and criticises as he does without context or accurate fact so will he please be more discerning and continue in his one sided broadside to ignore the thousands of civilians killed by Arab terrorists whose leadership retains the aim of wiping Israel off the map and ignore Israel’s right of self defence, allow readers to assume there are comparisons between the actions of israel and the Nazis and of course ignore what the British do when attacked and and just look what our own Government does in self defence. Michael Kilpatrick and others with similar views will do well to again read Paul David Evans’s brilliant Blog and then look themselves in the mirror.

  • In response to Colin, the “20ft wall of concrete” may indeed not be much of a complete encirclement at all, but that’s hardly the point. Israel has on several occasions completely cut off the Gaza strip (without any such *physical* barrier) and has taken many such actions against the entire population, not just against those movements within that group who are responsible for terrorising and murdering Israeli Jews. But that’s all beside the point. I merely described these issues in loose terms to indicate that David Ward was right to say that atrocities have been committed. But by not mentioning atrocities committed by Arabs and Arab states against Israel, I do not take sides, for I am *only* discussing David Ward’s right to comment about the actions of Israel, on the day of the memorial of the Holocaust. Did either David Ward, or anyone who has supported him, ever try to play the “well, they started it!” or the “they’re worse than the other lot” game? No, clearly not.

    Even if one accepts that David Ward was careless in saying “the Jews” rather than “the State of Israel”, there is no need for the straw men that Paul David Evans erected to try to pigeon-hole Mr Ward as one who claimed both that “the Jews can’t really be called victims” and that “the atrocities committed on Palestinians are comparable to those committed by the Nazis”. Therein lies the twaddle.

    There is something sinister and oppressive in being told that one cannot comment on one particular action in a series of actions unless one is obliged to make a full list of all the parties to that entire series of actions and summarily apportioning blame to them all without exception, each and every time one opens ones mouth. It’s rather like saying that one must be obliged to say that Britain may have committed a war crime by sinking the Belgrano if one wishes to opine that Argentina is to blame for starting the Falklands conflict. One is entitled to state either of those two views entirely independently without reference to the other, at any time one wishes.

  • Sid Cumberland 27th Jan '13 - 11:23am

    Just for info: “National Holocaust Memorial Day was started by the government in 2001 and takes place every year on 27 January.”

  • Helen Dudden 27th Jan '13 - 5:46pm

    I feel it labels Jews rather than the political situation. Would You address the religion of Nick Clegg or David Cameron?

    I am not even aware of what they believe in.

    Not all Jews, or those who practice the faith, will agree with the situation in Gaza, I feel in some ways it labels anyone who simply believe in a religion. How complex this seems.

  • Matthew Huntbach 27th Jan '13 - 8:24pm

    Suppose a company based in Ireland and run by Irish people was in control of some plantation producing a cash crop somewhere else in the world, and they forced those who worked on that plantation to go on working for them delivering the cash crop even though due to some agricultural problem those people were starving and the production of the cash crop meant food for their own use was not available. I think this would lead many to utter in despair “Shouldn’t the Irish of all people be aware of what they are doing here?”.

    The idea here is that the Irish, due to historical memories of the 19th century famine, ought to have a particular sensitivity to such an issue, and therefore it would be particularly disappointing to find them lording it over others in a way they were lorded over in the past.

    It is a for a similar reason, I think, that people perhaps suppose the state of Israel should have particularly high moral standards, and also that they mix “Israel” with “Jews”, just as in my example and Irish company was treated as representative of the Irish people as a whole (and the analogy is not quite right, as of course Israel is not just “a Jewish country”).

  • Michael Parsons 27th Jan '13 - 11:33pm

    Certainly not all Jewish people are involved in or support the current policies of Israel; especially as Israel sometimes seems to have learned nothing and forgotten nothing since 1945. Indeed some of the most trenchant criticism of Israel and the use made of the holocaust comes from notable Jewish scholars. I would refer readers to ‘ The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering’ [Paperback] by Norman G. Finkelstein , who had been much abused and traduced for his pains. Right or wrong his points needs discussion in order to resolve them – liberals should be the last to resort to hair-trigger censorship. Jewish people have a proud heritage of standing up for justice in the harshest circumstances. One might say that criticising a Jewish political leadership in Israel that appears to be stealing land and violating international law under cover of holocaust propaganda (if that is the case) is to act in defence of the finest traditions of the Jewish people, as found in the book of Amos for example.

  • Matthew Huntbach 28th Jan '13 - 12:31am

    Joe, the point I am making here is that this is a natural human reaction. I think this is why people sometimes blurt out things about Israel’s behaviour towards the Palestinians that David Ward did. It’s a sort of “you of all people form your history ought to know better” line. In fact I do agree with your point that we should just expect a consistent moral standard, and I dislike any sort of argument that relies on inherited moral virtue or guilt.

    On judging Israel, well, it does seem to me that what they are doing is rather as if Britain had launched bombing raids on West Belfast in retaliation for IRA terrorism. And what Hamas in Gaza are doing seems to be to be even more reprehensible, because their random lobbing of bombs into Israel seems designed mainly to attract this sort of disproportionate response, in order to have dead kiddies and the like to wave around and be able to say “look how evil these Israelis are”.

    So I find in general the behaviour of both sides in this conflict tends to lead me to more sympathy with the other, and eventually after the years and years we have had of it to a rather blasé attitude where I really couldn’t care about either.

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