The Liberal Democrat have refused to discipline David Ward over remarks that he’d probably fire rockets into Israel if he lived in Gaza, writes Justin Cohen.
All three major parties condemned the Bradford East MP’s tweet last month with the Lib Dems saying they would treat the matter as a “disciplinary” issue amid calls from community leaders calling for the whip to be withdrawn.
But chief whip Don Foster today said he didn’t believe the message brought the party into disrepute and said Ward’s subsequent statements and apology “should draw a line under the matter”.
A statement said: “In light of that apology, the assurance by David Ward that he would do all he could to ensure comments he made would be in a form that would be difficult to misinterpret, and that he will continue – in relation to the Israeli/Palestinian situation – to condemn violence on both sides and support moves for a cease fire, I do not intend to take further action in relation to the tweet.”
He added: “I am conscious that this decision will not satisfy some people. To them I would say, at a time of considerable international unease in the Middle East, comments have been made by politicians from all parties that have been unwelcome by some or other section of society.”
“The question I have had to answer is not, did the comments by David Ward cause offence to some people (within the party or outside), but did they bring the party into disrepute? David accepts that his tweet did cause offence to some people.
“He recognises that the use of Twitter as a form of communication can lead to misinterpretation and accepts the need for greater care in the future. However, I do not believe it was in any way anti-Semitic or motivated by anti-Semitic intentions and I do not believe his tweet brought the party into disrepute.”
Ward wrote on Twitter on 22 July “The big question is – if I lived in Gaza would I fire a rocket? – probably yes.” The following day, he said: “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.”
However, the tweet still remains on Ward’s account three weeks on.
Simon Johnson, chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “How the party chooses to deal with Ward is a matter for them but the community is entitled to conclude that he’s been let off the hook. Whilst he apologised for his Gaza comments the entire community noted how enthusiastically he supported George Galloway’s disgraceful comments on making Bradford an Israel-free zone. Therefore would we not say that his first apology was not worth the paper it was written on?”
In considering whether or not Ward “brought the party into disrepute”, Foster said he took into account the MP’s apology and an interview he gave 5Live interview “condemning violence on both sides, calling for a ceasefire and stressing that his tweet sought to envisage how a Palestinian may feel given the circumstances they had endured for many years”.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews has condemned the lack of disciplinary action as “shameful”
Chief Executive Gillian Merron said, “David Ward’s tweet sought to defend Hamas and their attempts to terrorise and kill civilians. It was a direct insult to all those – Israelis and Palestinians – who work tirelessly to bring about a just settlement in the region through legal and peaceful means.