Sunday, 17 February 2013

David Ward - taking words and meaning in their intended spirit

A decisive effort is now seemingly underway to have the Lib Dem party whip removed from MP David Ward or even to have him thrown out of his party altogether.

Ward is now to be called before the whip and party leader Nick Clegg this week to hear details of his likely censure. Again, this is despite Mr Ward having apologised for the careless wording of his comments and even offering suggestions for alternative wording that would accommodate fair and useful discussion.

Perhaps the party summons will help confirm for Ward the decisively pro-Israel and other power-prostrating ways of the Lib Dem leadership.

As with previous party 'culprit' Jenny Tonge, it's a predictable fate for any political, media or other notable figure who dares to openly criticise Israel.

The overt focusing by Ward's critics on these two words, "the Jews", is also a convenient diversion from the actual issue Ward was intent on raising: the long-running Israeli atrocities being committed against occupied Palestinians.

The main reaction of Ward's adversaries, it seems, is not to engage him in debate or enter constructive exchange about Palestine-Israel, but to have him pilloried and punished.

As Ward noted in the recent Guardian piece on his comments, whatever he might say, and whatever words he uses to express his opinions, he's likely to face the wrath of the pro-Israel lobby:
"There is a huge operation out there, a machine almost, which is designed to protect the state of Israel from criticism. And that comes into play very, very quickly and focuses intensely on anyone who's seen to criticise the state of Israel."
That kind of flak also finds supportive expression through myopic, personalised journalism, as in this claim by Ward's Guardian interviewer:
"And yet at the same time he seems not oblivious, but uncomprehending and seemingly uninterested in comprehending why it is that he has upset people."
But what also to say of many on the left who have seemed unwilling to back or express support for Ward because of his error?

While - as Ward himself has now realised - it's always wise and prudent to be as concise as possible when using such references, it's also important to judge a person's comments in the overall spirit in which they're intended.

To any fair and reasonable reader of Ward's thoughts, there's no credible evidence to suggest that his words were offered in any anti-Semitic, racist or otherwise malicious vein.

While Ward's outright pro-Israel opponents show no obvious interest in engaging with the substantive spirit of his thoughts, others, perhaps more sympathetic to his motives, may have kept a pragmatic distance, not wishing to be associated with the perceived slur. In particular, many Jews may have taken legitimate and honourable exception to being 'lumped-in' as endorsing Israel's aggressions against the Palestinians.

In all such cases - including those of his fiercest critics - one would appeal for a more thoughtful, indeed compassionate, reading of Ward's message, as in the overall, progressive and justice-seeking spirit in which it is offered.    

And just to reaffirm Ward's own sincere qualification and general intent, it's worth noting this reading from Jews for Justice for Palestinians:
"Mr Ward expressed himself very clumsily. By using the words “the Jews” – for which he has now apologised – he unintentionally gave encouragement to anti-Semites, who associate all Jews with the Nakba and with Israel’s subsequent human rights violations against the Palestinians. There are many Jews around the world and in Israel who dissociate themselves from these violations and from the ideologies that justify them."

It goes on:

"Nonetheless, however poorly he expressed himself, Mr Ward did not equate the Holocaust with the Nakba and is not an anti-Semite. He was pointing to a real connection that tends to be denied both by some supporters of the Palestinians, who refuse to see the historical background to the birth of Israel, and by supporters of the policies of Israel, who deny the ethnic cleansing of 1948 and the continuing human rights violations against the Palestinians. To mention just a few of these human rights violations: the demolition of some 27,000 Palestinian homes since 1967; the blockade of Gaza; the brutal Cast Lead attack on Gaza in 2008/9 that left 1,400 dead – most of them civilians – and destroyed Gazan civilian infrastructure; the military oppression, the theft of Palestinian water supplies and the violent attacks by settlers in the West Bank; the eviction of the Bedouin from their villages in the Negev."
The JfJfP statement concludes with a fitting citation of the late Edward Said's words:
"The connection between the Holocaust and the Nakba and continuing dispossession of the Palestinian people was expressed with great care and elegance by Edward Said, in an essay urging Palestinians and Jews to “think our histories together”.
“Who would want morally to equate mass extermination with mass dispossession? It would be foolish even to try. But they ARE connected – a different thing altogether – in the struggle over Palestine…..the distortions of the Holocaust created distortions in its victims, which are replicated today in the victims of Zionism itself, that is the Palestinians….Understanding what happened to the Jews in Europe under the Nazis means understanding what is universal about a human experience under calamitous conditions. It means compassion, human sympathy and utter recoil from the notion of killing people for ethnic, religious or nationalist reasons….such an advance in consciousness by Arabs ought to be met by an equal willingness for compassion and comprehension on the part of Israelis and Israel’s supporters, who have engaged in all sorts of denial and expressions of defensive non-responsibility when it comes to Israel’s central role in our historical dispossession as a people….Jewish and Palestinian experiences are historically, indeed organically connected…..we must think our histories together, however difficult that may be, in order for there to be a common future.
“Bases for Coexistence”, Al-Hayat, November 5th, 1997, published in “The End of the Peace Process” , Granta Books, 2002, pp 208-9)

[Said's words: my emphasis.]
David Ward may not have articulated his thoughts as concisely and eloquently as Said, but I'm reasonably sure he, like many fair-minded others, would approve the spirit of Said's appeal to address and understand such historical connections.

Perhaps those denouncing or keeping safe distance from Ward will, likewise, find the same suitable temperament to acknowledge the essential spirit of his own words and meaning. 

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