David Ward, Liberal Democrat MP for Bradford East, is unhappy that his recent comments about The Jews attracted such widespread criticism. You see:
“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. And so I end up looking at what happened to me, whether I should use this word, whether I should use that word – and that is winning, for them. Because what I want to talk about is the fundamental question of how can they do this, and how can they be allowed to do this.”
As machines go, this one seems a pretty Heath Robinson contraption, idiosyncratically constructed and wildly inefficient. It certainly ain’t a marvel of mechanised efficiency. We kinda know this since, with the possible exception of the United States, there ain’t a country in the whole world that’s more criticised than the state of Israel.
But poor Mr Ward. He, you see, is a victim too. Crushed by the relentless, all-consuming Zionist maw. Trapped beneath – what shall we call it? – an Iron Media Dome. If only there were a way to criticise policies pursued by the Israeli government without implying that The Jews are different from the Nazis in degree, but not, alas, kind. If only it were possible to refer to the grievances of the Palestinian people without raising the spectre of Auschwitz as a comparison. It’s tough, I know, but thank heavens some of our parliamentarians are up to the task.
It’s not that Israel’s actions are beyond reasonable reproach. Far from it. Many of the people most worried by Israel’s present path are those people – Jew and gentile alike – most keenly concerned for Israel’s future. This includes, naturally, many Israelis.
So, no, not every Israeli, far less every Jew worldwide, is responsible for the actions of the Israeli government and only an imbecile can think otherwise.
Mr Ward is hardly alone, of course. I’m not surprised by his claim to have received thousands of supportive messages and not just from the rancid usual suspects either. His kind of woolly unthinking is depressingly common on the British left. (I was going to say it seems especially, perhaps even oddly, virulent amongst left-wing Liberal Democrats but then I remembered that they’re the “Tony Blair, War Criminal” crowd too.)
Why so? Peering into souls is always a fraught business but I’d hazard this explanation. Part of the left has been searching for a cause ever since apartheid ended in South Africa. Palestine has become that cause. The comparison between Israel and apartheid South Africa has only superficial merit (if that) but that does not matter a damn. What matters is that the cause is a way of signalling your own moral superiority. The Israeli-Palestine conflict is merely a convenient vehicle for doing so. The detail of the matter – far less its complexities and moral ambiguity – is, in the end, fairly unimportant. It is a form of vanity, a means of demonstrating your own effortless ethical supremacy. (And it doesn’t hurt that the Americans support Israel. Why, doesn’t that just prove the point?)
To be clear: not all Palestinian supporters are motivated by such base and solipsistic motives. But I think some are and I suspect Mr Ward may be one of them.
This is not, forgive me, some black and white battle between right and wrong, good and evil. (Some of Israel’s supporters* forget this too). It’s the impasse between incompatible but equally legitimate “rights” that makes the conflict intractable and, in the Aristotelian sense of the term, a true tragedy. It should provoke more pathos than outrage.
David Ward plainly prefers to live in a simpler world. That’s his prerogative but he should not be surprised if other people feel minded to tell him that he’s an ass.
There are many things Mr Ward could profitably read but he might start with an excellent essay by Tom Doran in the January issue of the Jewish Journal. Mr Doran, a left-wing Welshman, explains why he is a Zionist and a critic of the Netanyahu government. His last line, borrowing from David Ben-Gurion, is especially good: “We will fight the occupation as if there are no enemies of Israel, and fight the enemies of Israel as if there is no occupation.” That’s a view with which many Israelis sympathise too. And there are many others who accept the Occupation as a necessary evil for the time being while worrying deeply where it will end and, just as importantly, what kind of Israel it will create.
Doubtless, however, these friendly critics, domestic and foreign, have their voices suppressed by the Zionist media machine too. You decide, people: David Ward – crusader for truth or numbskull?
*As I’ve written before: It sometimes seems that Israel’s staunchest defenders judge Israel not on the merits of its policies but on the extent to which those policies outrage wrong-thinking pundits and papers in Great Britain or the United States. The more they howl the more this is proof Israel is taking the only course open to it! I can appreciate the appeal of this kind of confirmation-bias but I doubt it does Israel much good.