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Criticism of Israel forces ex-UK MP to stand as an independent

Image of David Ward, former British member of parliament [File photo]
Image of David Ward, former British member of parliament [File photo]

A former British member of parliament who was suspended for criticising Israel will be standing as an Independent in next month’s general election after being deselected by his party.

David Ward planned to win back the seat he held for the Liberal Democrats for five years until it was lost to Labour in 2015. But the former MP for Bradford East was suspended last month, after party leader Tim Farron described him as “unfit to represent the party”.

Ward was properly approved and selected to stand in 2015 and again and for the expected General Election in 2020, which made him an automatic candidate for the Liberal Democrats in next month’s snap election announced by the British prime minister last month.

Within days of the announcement, Ward was dismissed by his party after he was attacked during the final Prime Minister’s Questions before the election by the former Tory Cabinet minister and Chairman of the Conservative Friends of Israel, Eric Pickles.

Ward told MEMO that someone had made a complaint that his views were not consistent with the Liberal Democrats. He was also told that his appeal against the complaint would not be heard until after the 8 June election.

Read: Lib Dems bar former pro-Palestine MP from contesting elections

Ward said he had chosen to stand as an independent as he could not appeal against his suspension until after the general election, and because he believed it was up to local people to decide if he should be their MP, and not, as the Liberal Democrats have done, parachute a different candidate.

In response to MEMO’s questions about the nature of the complaints against him, Ward mentioned that it was his strong criticism of Israel that has led to his dismissal from the party.

Since 2013, Ward has been fending off accusations of anti-Semitism after writing a series of tweets in which he criticised Israel. He told MEMO that these tweets and statements have been taken out of context to discredit him.

In 2014 he tweeted: “The big question is – if I lived in #Gaza would I fire a rocket? – probably yes.” While this has been cited as an example of anti-Semitism, Ward mentioned that it was nothing of the sort. Stressing that he does not condone violence, or agree with launching rockets at Israel, he said the comments were intended to get people to understand the deplorable situation in Gaza and to highlight to those that empathised with human suffering that they may also think of doing the same if they were suffering under similar inhumane conditions.

Ward believes that the accusations of anti-Semitism, which are being used to tarnish his name and provoke his leader to dismiss him, are completely untrue. He was asked about a separate statement which led to the accusation that he was equating the Holocaust with Palestinian suffering.

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This too was another example of comments taken out of context to silence critics of Israeli policy, said Ward. While recalling the incident, he told MEMO that like others, he was expressing a sentiment felt by many people: how does one of the most oppressed people in the world allow themselves to carry out oppression against another people.

Ward explained that these baseless accusations can have enormous impact on people’s lives. Commenting on the claims made by the Liberal Democrat leader, whom he accuses of undermining liberal values of free speech, he revealed that he had been dismissed also as a governor from his local school after a parent complained to the head about accusations made by Farron that were untrue.

People have a right not to vote for me but what I will not accept is being prevented from standing as someone who has been outspoken against a foreign country which has numerous UN resolutions condemning it for the way it behaves.

Ward, who is currently raising money to stand as an independent, observed that supporters of Israel were guilty of weaponising accusations of anti-Semitism; the mere accusation is enough to get you into trouble even if there is no substance to the claim.

“If I lose, Israel wins,” Ward said. He believes that by stopping him, critics of Israel will find it increasingly hard to become members of parliament and the message that is being sent by supporters of Israel to anyone who wants to criticise Tel Aviv in British politics is think twice before criticising Israel: “We can do this to you”.

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