David Ward has issued an apology amid calls for the Liberal Democrats to withdraw the whip after the MP said he would probably launch rockets into Israel if he lived in Gaza.
The Bradford East MP, who last year had the whip temporarily withdrawn for another offensive comment on Israel, provoked anger and condemnation across the political spectrum and the Jewish community by taking to Twitter last night to say: “The big question is – if I lived in Gaza would I fire a rocket? – probably yes.”
The BBC reported that he initially declined to apologise but the Bradford East MP has now issued a statement which the Lib Dems have described as a “categorical” apology. He said: “I utterly condemn the violence on both sides in Israel and Gaza. I condemn the actions of Hamas, and my comments were not in support of firing rockets into Israel. If they gave the opposite impression, I apologise.”
He added: “While I defend the right of Israel to exist and defend itself, I will continue to speak out for the rights of the Palestinian people who are facing untold suffering…A cease fire in this conflict is essential. If we are to end the suffering, and establish a safer society for people in Gaza, the first step must be an end to violence on both sides.”
The Lib Dem spokesman said: “This is a categorical apology from David Ward. In light of this apology, the party and the whips will decide in due course if further disciplinary action should be taken.”
The Liberal Democrats – whose leader Nick Clegg described the remarks as “utterly unacceptable” – previously announced its intention to launch a disciplinary procedure which could result in the removal of the whip and even his dismissal from the party.
A Board of Deputies spokesperson said: “Ward has once again shamed Parliament, the Liberal Democrats and himself. We welcome the unequivocal condemnation of Ward’s statement by party leader Nick Clegg MP but his words must now be underpinned by action and the party whip withdrawn permanently.”
Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub has written to the Deputy Prime Minister to express his “shock and disgust” at the comments. Stressing the hurt to He wrote: “Mr Ward has in the past made hurtful and shocking statements regarding Israel and the Holocaust, but there has surely been none so damaging and abhorrent as his latest statement justifying attacks.”
Urging “forceful and immediate action”, he added: “It’s hard to convey the hurt that such a statement causes to the five million Israelis forced to live within reach of bomb shelters, or the damage caused to Palestinian society when incitement to terrorism is legitimised by a member of the British Parliament.”
Lib Dem Friends of Friends meanwhile called for the “immediate suspension” of the whip, with director Gavin Stollar saying “it shows what an ignorant political opportunist David Ward is. He is neither a Liberal nor a Democrat and as such should not be allowed to carry a membership card espousing these philosophies”.
Following two weeks of conflict, Ward sent his Tweet on the night Parliament went into recess and as politicians departed for their summer breaks. Jewish News understands that the party’s chief whip has spoken to Ward this morning but that party rules dictate the formal procedure can only continue with a face-to-face meeting between the pair, who are currently in different parts of the country. The party said this meeting would take place in “due course”.
A spokesman said that if this doesn’t result in “satisfactory outcome”, a second meeting would be held also involving Clegg and deputy leader Malcolm Bruce who would be able to take action from a warning to permanent removal of the whip. Based on the leaderships’ recommendations, a further disciplinary procedure could then be launched looking at his membership of the party.
Tory chair Grant Shapps called on Ward to withdraw the comment which he described as “essentially incitement to terrorism” and Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander added: “These vile comments are as revealing as they are repellent. Such comments should have no place in our debates. David Ward’s subsequent failure to withdraw them is deeply disturbing. It is long overdue that Nick Clegg acts in relation to his MP’s remarks.”