23 July-2014, Rowena Mason: The Liberal Democrat MP David Ward has refused to apologise for saying he would probably fire a rocket into Israel if he lived in Gaza, despite his party “utterly condemning” the comments.
The Lib Dems said they would treat the comments as a disciplinary matter, a year after temporarily suspending Ward from the party for offensive remarks on the same subject.
Ward drew criticism after a tweet appeared on his feed saying: “The big question is – if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? – probably yes.” He added: “Ich bin ein #palestinian – the west must make up its mind – which side is it on?”
The remarks were immediately criticised by fellow MPs, including the Tory chairman, Grant Shapps, who said they were an incitement to violence and “completely irresponsible”.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews said Clegg should throw Ward out of the party.
There was further controversy when Edward Macmillan-Scott, a former Lib Dem MEP who lost his seat in May, tweeted that Ward could look after himself, but members of the board of deputies were a “frightful bag of disputatious Jews”, while the editor of the Jewish Chronicle was “a prat”. He later apologised for the statement while swiping again at the group for not saying sorry to him in a previous dispute.
The board said it was deeply concerned about Macmillan-Scott’s comments and considered his subsequent tweeted apology wholly inadequate.
Ward has remained defiant, telling BBC Radio 5 Live that he had done nothing wrong.
“Why are they firing the rockets? When the rockets are fired, they’re done by people who know what is going to happen, the repercussions of that, this horrendous military force that Israel have will result in further Palestinian [casualties]. Why are they doing that? The answer is they are so desperate to retaliate for what is happening to them … The people in Gaza cannot escape; they are hemmed in by land, sea and air. They can’t be refugees, they can’t flee.
“What I’m saying is I understand the plight of the people who are firing the rockets. As I say, I condemned it in the House of Commons only yesterday. Nobody seems to be mentioning that.”
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said Ward would be subject to disciplinary proceedings. “Nick Clegg has been at the forefront of calling for peace in Israel and Gaza,” he said.
“We utterly condemn David Ward’s comments, they are not representative of the Liberal Democrats. The party takes this matter very seriously and will treat it as a disciplinary issue.”
The party is likely to take a particularly dim view of the comments as it comes on top of other ill-judged remarks, and at a time of heightened violence and tensions in the region. Ward was suspended by the party last July after questioning the continuing existence of the state of Israel and refusing to apologise for his remarks.
“Am I wrong or are am I right? At long last the Zionists are losing the battle – how long can the apartheid State of Israel last?” he tweeted at the time.
He had the whip withdrawn for two months after a series of rows with the party’s most senior members over his views on Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians. The whip was restored in September after the suspension period expired.
The Lib Dems have previously been accused of failing to respond quickly to allegations of antisemitism. In 2012, the Lib Dem peer Lady Tonge resigned the whip after refusing to apologise for an outspoken attack against Israel.
(Input source: The Guardian)