Come home, all has been forgiven. The Sunday Times cartoon incident has been put to bed and rightly so. The newspaper responded robustly and emphatically to the backlash from its editorial cartoon. The cartoon – which depicted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu building a wall with the blood and limbs of screaming Palestinians – stood accused of using anti-Semitic tropes to score a political point and unearthed a tsunami of outrage. The incident was compounded as it had appeared on January 27, Holocaust Memorial Day.
The cartoon led to widespread condemnation from many corners of the globe. Last week, the Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Times, Martin Ivens, took it upon himself to get out there and repair the damage. On Tuesday he met with Jewish community representatives, on Wednesday with Israel’s ambassador to the UK Daniel Taub. He apologised “unreservedly” saying it was “inexcusable” to have printed it on HMD.
On Sunday, the newspaper printed an apology. It also printed 18 letters from people from the UK, Israel, France, Sweden and the US criticising the cartoon, an unprecedented act to publish so many on the same subject on the same day. Rupert Murdoch, who condemned the cartoon in a tweet last week, has now written a personal apology to the Israeli PM.
The Sunday Times response was steadfast and robust and no one can say it did not move with conviction and integrity. The matter has now been put to bed and we move on.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about David Ward MP. Days before HMD, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East signed the Book of Commitment, placed in parliament every year by the Holocaust Educational Trust to give MPs the opportunity to commit to confining race hate to the history books. However somewhere between reflecting on his commitment and to going back to his computer, Mr Ward must have got lost in the corridors of no hope deciding that this was time to tell “the Jews” that they had not learnt from the lessons of the Holocaust.
In a statement on his website – which he began by saying that he had visited Auschwitz twice, a preamble for what was to come – he said: “I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”
His own party vigorously condemned him and called on him to remove the comments from his site. A spokesman told me last week that the party was “appalled and angry”. Liberal Democrat Chief Whip Alistair Carmichael MP called the comments “wholly inappropriate and unacceptable.”
In a letter to the Holocaust Education Trust, Mr Carmichael said: “Singling out “the Jews” in the way he does crosses a line of acceptability and is offensive. I wish to dissociate the Liberal Democrats without reservation or ambiguity from these remarks.”
Mr Ward flatly refused to remove the comments. The next day he brazenly stood by them in an interview on Sky News. He was asked to clarify what he meant by his encompassing “all Jews” comment.
“It’s just a statement of fact,” he suggested. “There is quite a lot of evidence that supports that statement.”
Asked if he accepted that he was accusing “all Jews” and not the Israeli state, the brash MP said: “Well, I’m accusing the Jews who did it, if you’re a Jew who did not do it then I’m not accusing you. I’m saying that those Jews who did that, and continue to do it, have not learned those lessons [from the Holocaust]. If you are a Jew and you do not do those things and have never done those things then I’m not criticising you.”
A day later, on the eve of HMD, Mr Ward put up a statement on his website in which he affirmed that his criticisms of Israel “remain as strong as ever” but “[I] apologise sincerely” for the “unintended offence” caused.
“I never for a moment intended to criticise or offend the Jewish people as a whole, either as a race or as a people of faith,” he said.
So recognising his words had offended yet the offending statement still remains defiantly on his website. His “sincere apology” – placed on a different page on his site, so one could see the offending comment and not the “apology” – inspires little faith and questions the integrity and agenda of Mr Ward.
Last week the Lib Dems censured Mr Ward, a “yellow card” the BBC described it, and he was free to go, offensive comments in tow. In an exchange of letters with the Chief Whip, in which Mr Ward was asked to confirm that he would not use the phrase “the Jews” in this context he said: “I confirm that I am prepared to give you the undertaking that you asked for in our meeting.”
So as long as he doesn’t use the same context, he is free to offend again but with the offending statement still brazenly on his website for all to see, has he not breached this undertaking? Why is his predicament not conditional on him removing the anti-Jewish statement? Does it not impinge on the party’s integrity and stance on race hate?
Asked by LBC Radio last week if he should have been suspended, party leader Nick Clegg said that for some a censure was not enough but for others “we’ve gone too far in reprimanding him.”
The Sunday Times graciously conceded it had crossed a red line and stopped at nothing to repair the damage lest it reflect on the newspaper. Mr Ward continues, in defiance of his party, to callously grace his website with anti-Jewish rhetoric while ignoring the great hurt he is inflicting on others. As the MP crawls back to backbench obscurity, he does it conscious that, in blatant disregard of his party’s wishes, he has offended a great number of citizens in this country and across the globe. Even the lifelong anti-Israel protagonist George Galloway questioned Mr Ward’s timing and choice of words calling it “a gross error on every level.”
“The Holocaust is the greatest crime of the 20th Century. Tens of millions perished in it. I repeat tens of millions. Approximately six million of those were Jews, annihilated for no other reason than that they were Jews. It was slaughter on an industrial scale, men woman and children marched into death camps to be gassed, starved, worked to death. Holocaust Memorial Day cannot possibly be the day to make the comments Ward made,” Mr Galloway said.
If Mr Ward will not remove the offending comments for the right reason, maybe he will for the wrong one – by listening to a veteran anti-Zionist who has himself long offended Jewish sensibilities around the globe.