Time for UK Liberal Democrats to Re-connect with Their Principles

Jan 28 2013 / 9:44 pm

By Stuart Littlewood

Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrats’ Chief Whip. His letter to Karen Pollock of the Holocaust Educational Trust about MP David Ward’s remarks just before Holocaust Memorial Day is now in the public domain.

When I read it I hoped it was a hoax.  It is shameful. And I say so as someone whose links with the Liberal Democrats go back to the old Liberal Party under the leadership of Jo Grimond, one of Carmichael’s predecessors in his parliamentary constituency of Orkney & Shetland and a man of great principle.

What David Ward said on his website, which caused such an uproar, was simply this: “Having visited Auschwitz twice – once with my family and once with local schools – I am saddened that the Jews, who suffered unbelievable levels of persecution during the Holocaust, could within a few years of liberation from the death camps be inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza.”

Years ago we knew the words of the Constitution, and the Preamble to it, off by heart and tried to live by them. Remember, Mr. Carmichael, the pledge to defend the right to speak, write, worship, associate and vote freely? And the commitment to fight oppression, ignorance and aggression wherever they occur?

Remember our responsibility to promote the free movement of ideas, people, goods and services?

Remember our declared support for international law and the holding of individuals and governments to account for crimes against humanity?

Remember Lord Nolan’s Seven Principles of Public Life, especially the one about integrity: “Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organizations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties”?

Put Away that Scalping Knife

If Mr. Carmichael still holds these things dear, what objection could he have to David Ward’s remarks? Perhaps, when speaking of Jews, Ward should have differentiated between the Jews of the Jewish state, the Jews in the West who support their criminal enterprise at the Palestinians’ expense, and the Jews inside and outside Israel who bravely oppose the brutal occupation.

As for the professional moaners who are always poised to attack the likes of David Ward, do they represent majority or minority Jewish opinion in Britain? We need to know so that we can differentiate.

By the same token isn’t Mr. Carmichael guilty of the same failing? He assured Ms. Pollock that Mr. Ward “does not represent the views of the Liberal Democrat Party in this matter in any way”. Oh? Was he talking about his close colleagues at Westminster or the party at large?

He also told her he wished to “dissociate the Liberal Democrats without reservation or ambiguity from these [Mr. Ward’s] remarks”. Do all Liberal Democrats wish to be dissociated? I doubt it.

And wouldn’t it have been wiser to meet with Mr. Ward before dashing off the condemnation that his remarks were “offensive”? What’s offensive, it seems to me, is the hounding of Mr. Ward. And the people most entitled to be offended by this unseemly bickering are the terrorized, dispossessed, exiled and imprisoned Palestinians.

A much-respected Israeli Jew, Jeff Halper of ICAHD, recently re-emphasized that “the two-state solution is dead, buried under settlements and infrastructure too massive and interlinked with Israel to detach, especially given the lack of will among international governments, led by the US and Germany, to exert the pressures on Israel needed to force such massive concessions. But the international community will not move beyond the two-state solution unless prodded – virtually forced – by us, the international civil society. We have the wind to our back. Over the years we have collectively transformed the Palestine issue into one of the world’s great causes, at the level of the anti-apartheid struggle.”

The Liberal Democrats would do well to re-connect with the Party’s basic principles, align it with this “great cause” and go see for themselves the situation in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank (though not of course by guided tour with Friends of Israel). Mr. Carmichael says elsewhere that he made the trip himself in 2007, describing it as “eye-opening”.

So put away your scalping-knife, please, Mr. Carmichael. With Holocaust Memorial Day behind us perhaps feathers can be smoothed and the issues addressed more calmly. The challenge to Israel’s unspeakable behavior is not going away, nor should it until the regime’s attitude changes fundamentally and the occupation ends. In the meantime those who support, defend and perpetuate it must accept some of the blame.

- Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine, with Foreword by Jeff Halper, can now be read on the internet by visiting www.radiofreepalestine.org.uk. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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1 Comment for “Time for UK Liberal Democrats to Re-connect with Their Principles”

  1. Nadia Saba

    The Liberal Democrats have lost my vote!

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