Farron ducks questions as David Ward fights to clear his name
On April 26, Liberal Democrat party leader Tim Farron caved into McCarthy-style pressure to dump one of his own parliamentary candidates, former Bradford East MP David Ward, who had been unjustly accused of antisemitism.
Ward is fighting to clear his name and has said he will stand as an independent candidate in the forthcoming general election.
The day after the sacking, I emailed Mr Farron offering to introduce him to Jews who could explain the widespread misuse of politically motivated antisemitism allegations. His reply, received on May 2, made no reference to any of my discussion points and was in fact a carbon copy of the reply he sent to others who had protested at the sacking of Mr Ward.
In a follow-up email, I challenged Mr Farron to justify the vacuous arguments in his message point by point. Having received no response, I am publishing our correspondence for the edification of students of the political art of evasion.
April 27, 2017
Dear Mr Farron,
I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked (when people discover that I am Jewish) questions along the lines of: “How is it possible that the Jews, who suffered such terrible persecution during the Holocaust, could go on to commit atrocities against Palestinians in the state of Israel, and continue to do so in the West Bank and Gaza?”
I recognise these questions for what they are – regretful expressions of bafflement at a seemingly inexplicable state of affairs. They are questions which usually lead to a discussion about the history of Israel and Palestine, during which I invariably have the opportunity to explain that despite the claims of the state of Israel to represent “the Jews”, actually many of us do not identify with Israel and resent the assumption that we all share its ideology.
If the people making comments like the one in my first paragraph above, which is almost word for word what David Ward wrote on his website in 2013, express any hostility to Jewish people or give any hint of harbouring hateful feelings against us, I have no hesitation in chastising them for their antisemitism. But there is nothing in such comments of themselves that even hints at hatred of Jews – which is what antisemitism is. Nor is it antisemitic to refer to Israel as an apartheid state. It’s controversial, yes, and it makes some people very cross, but it is decidedly not an expression of hatred of Jews.
I am, quite frankly, horrified that you have bowed to pressure from apologists for Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, such as Eric Pickles, in blocking David Ward’s candidacy.
If you have been influenced by the government’s enthusiasm for a new definition of antisemitism which deliberately conflates it with criticism of Israel and Zionism, then I recommend reading a piece on the subject by Sir Stephen Sedley, a distinguished judge, himself Jewish, in the latest London Review of Books. Sir Stephen gives short shrift to the definition so ardently embraced by Pickles and Theresa May, warning that attempting to act upon it could result in legal suits for denial of free speech.
Once you’ve read it perhaps we could meet and you could explain to me why you have departed from Nick Clegg’s view that what David Ward said was neither racist or antisemitic.
Seriously, I would like to propose a discussion between you and other parliamentary colleagues, and some of my many Jewish friends who share Sedley’s understanding. We are on dangerous ground when we allow proponents of a partisan political (in this case pro-Israeli) stance to determine what may and may not be spoken about. Freedom of expression is seriously at risk here and you, as a Liberal Democrat, should be defending it, not conniving in its demise.
I look forward with interest to your reply.
Tuesday, May 2, 2017 4:02 PM
Subject: RE: David Ward and antisemitism
Dear Ms Wimborne-Idrissi,
Recently David Ward was removed as the Liberal Democrat candidate in Bradford East.
Despite assurances to the contrary, David has consistently made remarks and statements which have been considered as inflammatory by people on both sides of this contentious debate.
I have been clear that I believe in a politics that is open, tolerant and united.
I am also clear that this is part of a pattern of behaviour that is not consistent with those values, and therefore David has lost the right to seek to represent our party in Parliament.
Tim Farron, MP
Leader of the Liberal Democrats
Date: 4 May 2017 at 00:17:19 BST
Subject: David Ward and antisemitism – your disappointing response to my detailed concerns
Dear Mr Farron,
I am deeply disappointed with your formulaic response to my detailed and personal concerns about the removal of David Ward as a candidate.
I addressed you sincerely as a Jewish human rights activist who is increasingly alarmed at the alacrity with which people in positions of authority, such as yourself, cave in to demands to deny freedom of expression to supporters of justice for Palestine. You sent me in return the same letter that I have seen on social media, posted by other people who wrote you entirely different messages.
I ask you now to do me the courtesy of responding specifically to my questions.
1.You talk about Mr Ward “consistently” making certain remarks and statements. But the abuse hurled at him is based almost exclusively on deliberate distortions (as I explained in my letter) of two comments made in 2013, neither of which deserve to be labeled antisemitic. Can you explain why you believe those remarks to justify exclusion from your party’s list of parliamentary candidates? And I do not mean why you believe these remarks are upsetting to a certain politically motivated group in society. I mean – what is fundamentally wrong with the things that he said? On what grounds do you discount the arguments that I put to you about this?
2.You assert that his remarks “have been considered as inflammatory by people on both sides of this contentious debate.” I am at a loss to understand what you mean by this. Those who have publicly denounced him are all very clearly on one side of the Palestine/Israel issue. For those of us on the other side, who are struggling to defend our right to speak in support of the Palestinians, it is the arguments of those who denounce us as antisemites that are inflammatory. It is they, not David Ward, whose views are “considered as inflammatory” by us. On what grounds do you suggest that David Ward has inflamed opinion “on both sides?” Who, apart from those who wish to defend Israel from criticism, has been “inflamed” by David Ward’s words?
3.You assert your belief in “a politics that is open, tolerant and united” and allege that David Ward’s behaviour is inconsistent with those values. Can you show me any evidence of your openness and tolerance towards people campaigning for human rights of Palestinians? In what way does forcing out a candidate supported by his local party, solely because of his views on one contentious area of politics, serve to bring about unity?
I reiterate my offer to introduce you to other Jews who can help you and your colleagues understand the complexities of this issue, explained in depth at the launch on March 27 in the House of Lords of an authoritative legal opinion about the definition of antisemitism mistakenly adopted by the government and some other bodies.
I have so far kept this correspondence private but I will feel obliged to make it public if you are unable to satisfy me on the above points. I look forward to hearing from you in the coming week.
Naomi Wimborne Idrissi