No more second chances - pressure mounts on Lib Dems to suspend MP Ward

Friday 1st March 2013

Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel have dramatically urged the party to take further disciplinary action against David Ward after the controversial MP delayed honouring his pledge to remove an online statement accusing "the Jews" of atrocities against Palestinians for three days.

At a meeting on Tuesday - attended by Nick Clegg, deputy party leader Simon Hughes and chief whip Alistair Carmichael - the disciplinary process faced by the Bradford East MP was "adjourned" to allow time for him to engage with Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel to identify more acceptable language on the issue.

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A letter from the chief whip to Ward said Clegg wanted to make clear the party recognises the MP's right to express his views on the Palestinians' plight but said he'd undertaken to "work with LDFI and Simon Hughes to identify and agree language that will be proportionate and precise in your future interventions in this debate. We would also hope that this would allow you to achieve a better understanding of the legitimate concern that your comments has caused within the wider Jewish community."

Carmichael, who told the Jewish News that more severe disciplinary measures remained an option - also said Ward agreed to remove an article containing the original offending statement, for which he'd originally apologised. But in a letter on Thursday night to party chiefs, LDFI chairman Gavin Stollar said: "I regret to inform you that despite assurances to the contrary, the offending statement is still live on David Ward's website. I think this demonstrates in no uncertain terms David Ward's genuine views despite, I know, your best efforts to explain why the language and timing of his statement were so offensive and repugnant."

Stollar added: "Ward has thus failed to comply with the undertakings he gave you. In those circumstances LDFI must refer the matter back to you with a strong recommendation of further disciplinary action."

The statement was finally removed from Ward's website on Friday.

The MP was censured by the chief whip last month after writing, ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, that he was "saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust could, within a few years of liberation, be inflicting atrocities on the Palestinians in the new state of Israel - and continue to do so".

He later emailed the Jewish News asking if it would be more acceptable to replace the words "the Jews" with "the Jewish community" - which led the party’s chief whip Alistair Carmichael to invoke full disciplinary procedures, which can in the most severe cases lead to suspension from the party or permanent withdrawal of the whip.

But following the adjournment, community leaders had launched a blistering attack on the Liberal Democrats' handling of the David Ward controversy. "This is a pedestrian and lacklustre response to what amounts to anti-semitism at the heart of Westminster," the chief executives of the Jewish Leadership Council and Board of Deputies Jeremy Newmark and Jon Benjamin said in strongly-worded statement.

"Any 'process' that takes place without proper disciplinary action will been seen as a figleaf. Liberal Democrat leaders seem to think that they can express concern to communal leaders about anti-Semitism in private but fail to step up and confront it in public. We cannot accept that scenario. If even now the party thinks it is simply a matter of educating Mr Ward as to the hurtfulness and inappropriateness of his comments, one has to wonder at the inadequacy of the party's initial response to his comments and its failure to make its disgust abundantly clear."

Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, added: "This is a disappointing response to Mr Ward's sickening and unacceptable comments. He has shown no understanding of the offence he caused in both the language that he used and the timing of his comments - sadly the mishandling of this situation appears to demonstrate that Holocaust equivocation and anti-Semitism are not being taken seriously."

The chief whip had vowed in the wake of the original remarks that the consequences for Ward would escalate "significantly" if "anything of this sort" happens again. Carmichael told the Jewish News last night: "All options remain open at the end of the process. Whether or not the more severe options are actively considered depends on Mr Ward's engagement with the process and the conclusion of all involved."

Read the latest copy of The Jewish News Online by clicking here.

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