When it’s okay to hate the Jews
David Ward has been sacked as a Lib Dem General Election candidate over comments he once made about ‘the Jews’. In 2013, he accused ‘the Jews’ of committing atrocities against the Palestinians. He said the Jews’ own barbarism is comparable with what the Nazis did to them 70 years ago. And so did he effortlessly, possibly witlessly tar every Jew with responsibility for the behaviour of the Israeli state, breathing life into the old, ugly idea of collective Jewish guilt for some crime — the killing of Christ, the bombing of Gaza — that eats away at the civilised conscience. Those comments came back to haunt him this week, when PM Theresa May slammed the Lib Dems for putting forward a candidate with ‘questionable views on anti-Semitism’. Lib Dem leader Tim Farron stepped in and dumped Ward.
The Ward scandal tells us a lot about the problem of anti-Semitism today. Ward, like others on both the radical and liberal left (they’re not really liberal, of course), has a curious obsession with Israel. He has repeatedly slammed the Zionists, calling Israel an ‘apartheid’ state and speaking of it in the same breath as Nazism; he has even said he’d fire rockets from Gaza.
Ward’s warblings have all the ingredients of the leftish set’s warped, myopic anti-Semitism. There’s the idea, always implicit, that Israel is more evil than any other state. The question that always rankles is why these people don’t lose as much sleep over Saudi horrors in Yemen or even their own nation’s destruction of Iraq. And there’s the nasty Israel-is-like-the-Nazis slur, clearly intended to hit Jews where it hurts. In the process, of course, it dilutes the Holocaust, through comparing it with something that is by any objective measurement a small matter in comparison: Israel’s skirmishes with Gaza. A 21st-century running conflict between two territories cannot remotely be compared with an industrial plan to vaporise a whole people.
And then there’s the most striking thing Ward has said. In response to the controversy, he said: ‘I would defy anybody to find one single derogatory comment I’ve made against a Jew which was not related to something being done in Israel.’ Wow. There it is. The modern problem with ‘the Jews’ summed up: it is okay to hate ‘the Jews’, or at least to be derogatory against the Jews, if you’re attacking Israel, if your apparently loftier target is the Jewish State and its militarism. This speaks to the way in which attacking Israel has become a means of being derogatory about Jews, who are seen as bearing responsibility for various military crimes, and, among the more far-out left, for economic malaise and global instability, too. This is the anti-imperialism of fools.
But the Ward controversy also tells us something about the other side to the anti-Semitism problem, which we really need to think about: the new trend for sacking anyone who says harsh things about Zionists or Israel. It is entirely up to the Lib Dems what they do with Ward, just as it’s up to Labour whether to keep or dump their Zionist obsessive Ken Livingstone. But there’s a danger that in standing up to alleged anti-Semitism in the wrong way, we create a witch-hunty climate in which anyone who angrily tweets about or memes or mocks Israel can be had up for racism and shunned from public life.
This isn’t an easy dilemma, precisely because the line between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism has become shockingly thin of late — but we do need to consider the best way to tackle contempt for Jews while ensuring free thought doesn’t suffer.
Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked.