What was so wrong with what he said? I mean he only said that having visited Auschwitz twice, he's saddened that the Jews could go on to inflict atrocities on Palestinians 'and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza'. He didn't say the Jews are Nazis or as bad as the Nazis. Listen to his responses regarding the critical reaction to his words; listen here (from 47 minutes in) or to the audio clip here. Ward is concerned about man's inhumanity to man wherever it takes place and about learning the lessons. What's unacceptable (he asks) about referring to the horrors of the Holocaust and to actions taking place in Palestine/Israel? Or, again, listen here where Ward demurs at the suggestion he was comparing Nazi Germany with Israel. At Holocaust-memorial events, he insists, everyone says it is necessary to learn the lessons, so it seems entirely appropriate to him to raise the issue of man's inhumanity to man as it still goes on in different parts of the world, including by those who suffered most during the Holocaust. What could be wrong with any of this?
Plenty, that's what. Many will find this too obvious to be worth spelling out, and to all of you I apologize if I take up your time. But there will be others who are swayed by Ward's protestations of innocent intent, and explanation and argument are therefore necessary.
One of the things wrong with Ward's style of combined reference (to the Holocaust and Israel's actions against Palestinians) is the indifference at once to scale and to the specific nature of Holocaust inhumanity. These are points I have made before, in a discussion with Martin Shaw concerning comparisons between the Warsaw ghetto and Gaza (see section [e] here): 'In little over a year after the Warsaw ghetto was sealed, some 50,000 of its inhabitants had died of starvation, and in the end the population there was "liquidated" - deported to the death camps.' Not altogether similar, then, to Gaza today.
Ward's particular references include Auschwitz and this can only accentuate the same points. More than a million people were murdered at Auschwitz, to say nothing of the cruelties inflicted on them before they were murdered or in the process of murdering them. Furthermore, they were killed not as part of any two-sided conflict in which they had taken up arms against Germany or were threatening it, resolved to end its existence and so forth. The victims were done to death for who they were, in an attempted genocide. Whatever Ward conceives to be the rights and wrongs of the Israel-Palestine conflict, a political conflict is what it is, the Palestinians are not subject to genocidal mass murder in gas ovens and the Palestinian leadership - or parts of it anyway - precisely are resolved, or so they keep saying, to ending Israel's existence. Once again, consequently, not altogether similar to Auschwitz.
You may believe that a parent who gives a child a slap is behaving wrongly. But should you invoke - in condemning it, and in all apparent seriousness - the recent shootings to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School, people may well take you to be making an unjust and odious comparison, since there are relevant differences of both scale and content. It bears repeating here: anything can be argued to be like virtually anything else in some respect. But the differences can also matter morally. To focus on the general phenomenon 'inhumanity' without due regard to its variants and their moral significance is a form of obtuseness.
Another thing that is wrong with the Israel-Nazism combination in contemporary hostile discourse towards Israel is the extreme selectivity of it. It just has to be Israel and Nazism. Not Israel and something 'smaller' - say, Britain in Northern Ireland or the Falklands War, the United States in Afghanistan. And not, for that matter, some other country than Israel and Nazi Germany. In this way the Jewish state is like no other, and no other is like Israel, in resembling the Nazis. It's a privileged form of combination and comparison, the damning taint of the very worst inhumanity reserved, more or less, for the people who were its primary victims.
So if David Ward is innocent, this is innocence in one of two other meanings than the blameless meaning. It is either the innocence of a political fool, someone who should know better and is culpable for not going to the trouble of knowing better; or it is the dishonest innocence of the person who chooses not to understand what the fuss is about.
There are contexts where it is proper to point out how smaller wrongs or sins or misdemeanours can foreshadow much worse. Primo Levi was amongst many survivors and witnesses of Nazi barbarism to tell us that the perpetrators were human beings, not monsters, and we need to be on our guard against where our own fragilities might lead. But the context and the overt purpose of writing in this way show it not to be a deliberate calumny against the Jews. David Ward has no such protection. His remarks were aimed at one group of people and no other. They were just such a calumny.
That's what was wrong with what he said.