Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Chomsky defends David Ward's comments on Israel-Palestine

It was admirable and reassuring to see Noam Chomsky join others in defending MP David Ward over his comments on Israel's treatment of Palestinians. 

Chomsky said:

"I agree that there's nothing remotely anti-Semitic in his remarks, which are in fact familiar in Israeli discussions."

David Ward has registered his appreciations:
"I would like to thank Dr Chomsky for his comments. His comments are particularly important to me as he has been used by critics, without his knowledge or permission, to condemn my comments."
He continued: 
"The intention behind my comments was to start a genuine discussion about Israel's treatment of Palestinians and how the Israeli government seemingly acts with impunity for its actions in Gaza and the West Bank. I now intend to work with groups around the country to start a discussion that can take a frank look at this conflict and what we can do to bring an end to atrocities committed by both sides in this appalling and long lasting conflict."
Given the considerable power wielded by Labour/Conservative/Lib Dem Friends of Israel, it's very encouraging to see an MP stand up to such sustained flak from a highly-mobilised pro-Israeli lobby and a media ever-ready with its barbed responses to people like Ward.

It's also good to see him pledging to promote serious discussion of Israel's crimes and ask why it seems able to act with such open impunity.
While having little or no time for the Lib Dems - notably, its hypocritical, power-serving hierarchy - or any other mainstream party, it's important to defend anyone within or outwith any party willing to speak truthfully and without racist intent about the brutal treatment of the Palestinians. This, David Ward has conscientiously done, with all the backlash one expects.

However, it's also worth noting a key caveat here concerning his additional statement about "atrocities committed by both sides".  
While it's entirely right to make the valid case for non-violence in pursuit of a just outcome, it's crucial to specify and repeat with clarity which party is the principal aggressor here. The problem in using the 'both sides' line, even in the obvious humanitarian sense that David does in this comment, is that it often allows the demonstrably false impression of equal culpability - something that the Israeli state and its propagandist arm take great comfort in.

As ever, we need not approve of any such violence to see that it's an understandable response to oppression. The serious and constructive point is to recognise, understand and help amplify the context of that respondent violence in order that more people come to comprehend the source of the problem and how it must be justly resolved. 
Having read David Ward's diaries of his time in the West Bank and many of his other statements on Palestine-Israel, there's little doubt that he sees quite acutely the particular persecution and violence being visited on the Palestinians and that Israel is primarily to blame for this historical catastrophe.

And how are we to respond as humanitarians to that injustice? How do we ensure through our own considered use of language that the primary guilt of the oppressor is identified?  Ward himself makes the point admirably in citing this central lesson of the Holocaust
"In the words of the Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel, as quoted in the booklet 'Holocaust Memorial Day - Learning Lessons from the past to create a safer, better future': "I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."
David Ward's own refusal to be silent or neutral is commendable.  And that, primarily, is why he himself should be supported here.    

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

From the Observer on Sunday, from an article about an arson attack at the Beltar foorball club that signed Muslim players:

Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Friday's apparent arson attack was "shameful", adding: "The Jewish people, [who have] suffered boycotts and persecution, should be a light unto other nations."