Lib Dem members on David Ward: majority say his comments were wrong – but majority also say party wrong to suspend him

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. More than 600 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

We asked about the party’s decision to suspend the whip from Bradford MP David Ward. This followed controversy in February when ha made controversial comments about Jews (David Ward summoned by Clegg after ‘Jews’ comments – BBC) and then again in July when he tweeted calling Israel an “apartheid state” and saying that “Zionists” were “losing the battle (MP David Ward has Lib Dem whip withdrawn over Israel comment – BBC).

54% say David Ward’s comments were wrong; but 53% say party was wrong to withdraw whip

David WardLib Dem MP for Bradford East David Ward has had the party whip temporarily withdrawn following controversial comments he has made regarding Israel. Which of these statements most closely matches your own view?

    21% – I support the whip being withdrawn temporarily

    17% – I think the whip should remain withdrawn until he apologises for his comments

    16% – I disagree with his comments but oppose the whip being withdrawn

    37% – I oppose the whip being withdrawn and support his right to continue speaking out in this way

    8% – Don’t know

An interestingly split response. While a clear majority of Lib Dem members disagreed with David Ward’s comments (54%, summing the first three options), a clear majority also oppose the decision of the party leadership to remove the whip until at least 13th September (53%, summing the third/fourth options).

It’s a messy situation. My own view is that David Ward’s first comments — in which he conflated “the Jews” and the policies of the Israeli government without seeming to notice the difference — were unacceptable. He eventually apologised for the offence caused, the kind of half-hearted apology that satisfies no-one. His tweet, by contrast, condemned the Israeli government: agree or disagree with the political view he expressed, but at least he correctly identified the group he was criticising this time. As a result of its earlier inaction, the party has over-compensated this time.

Here’s a sample of your comments:

I very much welcome what amounts to the first occasion in the Clegg leadership that party discipline has been executed well.

His initial comments were overstated and their timing insensitive, so I support temporary withdrawal of whip but he should not be penalised long-term for exaggerated statements of the obvious truth about Israeli occupation and the creation of a state for those of a single religion denying the rights of the indigenous population.

Ward’s tweet reached a tiny number of people. By their actions, it has now reached far more. The leadership and disciplinarians have brought the party into disrepute.

He seems to be criticised for calling Israel an apartheid state, rather than anti-semitism as such. It’s certainly arguable that Israel is indeed an apartheid state.

I think his views are legitimate but his “the Jews” comment was clumsily worded and therefore offensive. He needed to show willingness to express his views in better ways, which he didn’t do.

He should concentrate on being a Lib Dem, not trying to out-Galloway Galloway.

I think he and the leadership come out badly. I think he’s been unfairly misinterpreted, but should have known better, been more sensitive, and apologised quickly for causing offence (clarifying but not withdrawing the substance of his remarks) rather than digging in and making things worse. He should also have known that by refusing to defuse the situation quickly he forced the leadership in to taking action against him. I don’t like what the leadership did, but I probably don’t think that they had a choice. It’s not fair, but life isn’t – we have to learn to operate in the real world. By all means speak out on sensitive issues – but do so with care, and be willing to clarify if you’ve been misunderstood and/or you chose your original words poorly.

He said nothing wrong. Anyone is entitled to suggest that Israel, on its current path, is likely not to last as a state.

His comments were crude but I agree with 90% of what he said. I feel extremely uncomfortable about this. Israel IS an apartheid state and we should not bully those who have the courage to say so.

He is deliberately being provocative to gain votes locally. If he wanted real peace in the Middle East he would moderate his comments. This is the worst kind of gesture politics. Completely irresponsible.

Goes way beyond free speech, the leadership did what it had to do.

He should better learn the meaning of words around Zionism, Jews etc. but he is correct that Israel defies the UN resolutions without any punishment.

Referring to Israeli policy as the policy of “the Jews” is ignorant and offensive. It may also be racist. On the other hand, Israel IS an apartheid state and there are still Zionists shaping policy.

His choice of language is too colourful, but we must break the taboo of criticizing the dreadful effects of hard line Zionism in Israel, and the danger that it is becoming mainstream.

He has failed to distinguish between state and people, a mistake that no Liberal should ever make. This is not an issue of political correctness but rather one of political awareness.

David Ward did apologise for his first gaffe approaching Holocaust Memorial Day. His comments were ill-timed and ham-fisted in their wording. I do not think Ward means to be racist against Jews. His tweet, was unnecessarily aggressive, but it contained facts. If Nelson Mandela can call Israel an apartheid state, then there should be no problem with David Ward doing the same. He has been accused, also, of not supporting Party policy (the current “2 states” policy). I don’t know and don’t care if that is true, however I know that there are Lib Dem MPs who voted against, for instance, the Equal Marriage Act, and yet the whip was not withdrawn from them. It seems to be a double standard that has been applied and it’s unpalatable.

He has spoken the truth. He is far from alone in what he has said. It is incredibly illiberal to reprimand him and this is an issue that could well end my membership of the Lib Dems. I am ashamed and disgusted by the comments and actions of the leadership.

NB: Comments on this post will be pre-moderated, as we now have to do for all posts referencing the Arab-Israeli conflict because of the large number of offensive comments submitted whenever this topic is discussed. Please ensure before leaving a comment that it respects the site’s comments policy.

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    7 Comments

    • paul barker 29th Jul '13 - 3:22pm

      I feel you are rather missing the point about the Tweets. “Apartheid” was OK, its at least half-true & arguable. The worrying bit is where he clearly implies that Israel may cease to exist sometime in the near future. How can that be construed as not being an encouragement to Terrorism ?
      This is one of those issues where we have to be very careful not to inflame simmering hatreds. Anyone who actually wants life for Palestinians & Israelis to get better has to back The “2 state solution”.

    • Jonathan Brown 29th Jul '13 - 4:43pm

      @Paul – predicting something doesn’t necessarily encourage or endorse something. Stating that the state of Israel in it’s current, racist incarnation cannot and will not continue for ever is in no way an endorsement of terrorism.

      As for those who support a better life for Palestinians and Israelis needing to back the 2 state solution, I think that’s highly debateable. There is enough evidence to support the argument that the settlements are too extensive, too spread out, and too politically protected (in practice, even if not in opinion polling) to make a 2 state solution possible.

      There is also a perfectly reasonable (and liberal and democratic) argument that a single democratic civil state with equal rights for all would be not only more easily achieved but also a better solution for all in the long run. Just as supporters of the ANC’s struggle against apartheid hoped for an inclusive state with rights for all rather than the expulsion of all whites.

      Certainly care has to be taken to disasociate support for any such ‘one state’ outcome from the extremist ‘one state by which we mean anihilation of the Jews in Palestine’ position. But probably the most prominent ‘one-stater’, Ali Abunima, author of ‘One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse’ clearly advocates a bi-national state with strong guarantees not just of Jewish rights written in to the constitution but suggests many practical ways in which they could be protected in practice.

      There are certainly arguments in favour of two states, and against a single state (not the least of which is that by my understanding the one-state solution is not the preferred option of Palestinians in Palestine, let alone Jewish Israelis). However support for it is growing – among Israelis as well as Palestinians – and, provided he expreses his views in a sensitive way, there is no reason at all why an Lib Dem MP should be ashamed of holding and expressing such views.

    • David Allen 29th Jul '13 - 5:53pm

      I don’t think that “54% say David Ward’s comments were wrong”. I think only 38% say that, because that is the percentage who called for disciplinary action, and that is what is implied by a strongly condemnatory phrase like “were wrong”.

      True, another 16% “disagree” with Ward, but that could be in much the same way as two people might disagree about building HS2. That 16% specifically said they didn’t support disciplinary action.

      Indeed, in order to register a view more favourable to Ward than option 3, a voter had to tick number 4 “I … support his right to continue speaking out in this way”. That may well have struck a lot of respondents as being just a bit too enthusiastic for them to sign on to. I suspect that “don’t know” mostly means “I fall into a gap between the listed responses”, and the obvious big gap is between options 3 and 4. There wasn’t an option to say “I think Ward is broadly right but I wish he’d use less harsh language”.

      So, 38% in favour of what the party did, 62% against. Not exactly a win on points for Ward, but, certainly a defeat on points for the Party.

    • Jonathan Brown – very well put. There are many other ethnic, racial or cultural conflicts in the world where the solution proposed by liberals is not Balkanisation. I don’t understand why those of us who believe the same should apply to Israel/Palestine are accused of supporting terrorism.

    • @paul barker:

      “. “Apartheid” was OK, its at least half-true & arguable. The worrying bit is where he clearly implies that Israel may cease to exist sometime in the near future. ”

      I feel you have a reading problem, Paul. David Ward said that Israel in its present Apartheid form may cease to exist.

      A rather naively optimistic view in my opinion.But an ‘encouragement to terrorism’? That’s not what the orthodox Jews in Israel/Palestine who want a secular state think. What you, Paul, are suggesting is that Israel cannot ever abandon it’s worst excesses without terrorism. So YOU appear to be encouraging terrorism as ‘the only option’. But should you be suspended from the Party? Surely not.

      David Allan, the (Liberal Democrats) Party has not taken any action against David Ward. Three men in the Parliamentary Party have taken disproportionate and inappropriate action. The parliamentary party has no real accountability to the Party.

    • I wonder what the results would have been if all those Lib Dems who resigned in disgust at the party embracing the view that Human Rights are no longer Universal but can be applied selectively by race had been able to vote?

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