Wednesday 5 April 2017

Ken Livingstone and Anti-Semitism, Again

"Ken Livingstone is a massive dickhead. It's high time he acted like a member of the Labour Party, not the Ken Livingstone Party. I and many thousands of activists, including plenty on the left, are fed up with his frequent foot-in-mouth moments that damage his own reputation, that of Labour's new leadership, and the standing of the party as a whole." That was me, just shy of a year ago and nothing has changed as anti-semitism in the Labour Party makes the headlines again.

Of course, anyone with a shred of honesty knows Labour isn't anti-semitic. It is not a safe space for racists to thrive, nor are Jewish members threatened or discriminated against by the party. That isn't to say the membership doesn't contain anti-semites. It has some of those. As well as racists of other persuasions, as well as your cretinous sexists and homophobes. That doesn't make the party institutionally racist, sexist or what have you. If anything, the party is institutionally anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic. Views that are characterised as such will attract sanction and expulsion the party makes efforts to put people from these backgrounds forward. Labour does so not because it's enlightened, but because it has been pushed to do so by women, black and minority ethnicity, and LGBT members and their allies. Unfortunately, eternal vigilance is required because Labour represents a significant cross section of people numbering in the millions. If there are unpleasant views existent in wider society, they will be reproduced inside all of the parties that serve it. How progressive a party is depends on how the ingress of rancid views are dealt with.

That said, there is a sliver of political space, unfortunately, for "left" anti-semitism. As we saw last summer, it tends to come in naive/careless, hardened, and cynical varieties. The hardened kind is straight up racism that latches on to the language of radical critiques of Israel and Zionism to try and give their anti-semitism a leftist veneer. There are those who fake anti-semitism and, via social media, pose as supporters of the leadership as a means of discrediting-by-association. And there are careless folks who lazily lapse into tropes and language that is grotesquely offensive but just about skirt the fine line between critique and prejudice. For some, it's a genuine mistake, but for others who've been around the block they should know better.

Here lies Ken Livingstone. Yes, he has an excellent record as a campaigner against racism. Yes, five Jewish members of the party went to his hearing as character witnesses for the defence, including the sainted Walter Wolfgang. But time and again, when it comes to matters concerning Israel Ken goes straight up to the fine line and dances all along it. Why? The historical record doesn't support his contention that Hitler supported Zionism before "he went mad", and Ken knows full well that most Jewish people in Britain find the mentioning of Israel in one breath and the Nazis in the next upsetting and disrespectful. So, again, why? I don't believe Ken is anti-semitic, but when you're consistently provocative and unrepentant about it to the extent you damage yourself, the faction of the party you're aligned with to the point of aiding the leadership's opponents, and the standing of the Labour Party itself, it's easy to see why many people aren't so forgiving.

The National Constitutional Committee therefore were right to find Ken guilty of bringing the party into disrepute but wrong to to give him a slapped wrist. His behaviour should have made the ultimate sanction a foregone conclusion.


James Semple said...

Well, I don't know. We all agree Ken is not anti-Semitic and you cannot get far in respectable politics by pandering to apologists for the policies of the government of Israel.

Anonymous said...

Somewhere in the middle of this piece, I went from agreement to disagreement, and I can't quite put my finger on where it happened.

Livingston is a fucking liability to the Labour Party given the anti-semitism smears that were launched at Corbyn straight after his election as leader. He has certainly brought the party into disrepute.

However, he wasn't accused of anti-semitism and he wasn't "tried" on that "charge" either. So really, what this boils down to is he's accused of offence A, some people believe he is guilty of offence B, and therefore he should have been treated as though he had committed both A and B in order to clear the air.

No, no way. The 'elephant in the room' is the suggestion that Livingstone should have had a show trial for the party to be seen expelling him. I realise that we are in a post-reality age, in which assuaging hurt feelings is valued above justice *by some people* but I'm not ready to move to that universe just yet, personally.

I find it utterly revealing that the hoo-hah that is being made over Labour's failure to turn Livingstone into a scapegoat has been given more attention than al-Jazeera's investigation -- from just three months ago -- into the way in which Labour members who are critical of Israel are being deliberately smeared as anti-semitic. Calls for investigations and kangaroo courts arising from that little stinker? One. From Corbyn. And nothing has happened.

As the recent incident involving an ex-Mossad guy attached to the Israeli Embassy amply demonstrated (I'd better not go into too much detail here, but we all know which MP was the one he was out to smear, and why), Israel is willing to 'contaminate' opponents from whatever political party, by daubing them with the anti-semitism brush. It's a very small brush, with a square of black bristles, and it fits neatly under the victim's nose and is almost impossible to remove.

Michael Kelly said...

I think the result makes sense in the present political context. You accept that he did something wrong, but you avoid making him a martyr, which he pretty clearly was trying to do. Didn't work, but I can see what they were trying to do.

IainF said...

"So, again, why?"

Zionism is the ideological underpinning behind Israel. If you constantly hark on about supposed links between Zionism and Hitler you delegitimise modern Israel.

It also acts to suggest that Jews are the agents of their own misfortune. This is a classic anti Semitic canard.

Livingstone knows exactly what he is doing. The suggestion too that Hilter went mad and enacted the Holocaust is inaccurate too. The Holocaust was (in Nazi terms) a rational end point to their anti Semitic politics. The last stage of an identifiable process.

Speedy said...

Yeah, KL is a dickhead - and his dickheadness is of a know-it-all baby boomer version that lives half in WW2 even though it didn't experience it (David Mitchell in the Guardian amusingly blamed Brexit on this, too - ie the generation that didn't fight but grew up in the atmosphere of WW2 and only has simplistic, cosy proaogandist memories of it).

I think there is anti-semitism in sections of the Labour Party though, a re-invented anti-zionism that marries this with identifying Jews with affluence and conservatism. Of course, many Jews are Zionists for historical reasons, therefore we have anti-semitism by another name. Certainly it is no different to Islamophobia and in a number of senses worse because it is so socially acceptable and cultural-historically blind and feeds into the Jihadist narrative that results into real harm against real people. Like anti-semitism too, it is actually a projection of weakness - ie, you can't do anything about the US so pick on Israel instead.

This is not to say that Israel can do no wrong - personally i find its actions shocking and would like to see it return to its 67 borders, end (and roll back) settlements and share a capital in Jerusalem with an independent Palestinian state. Yet this is not enough for many commentators and I am called a zionist loving flunky or whatever, just as when I critisise aspects of Islam or immigration, I am suddenly transformed into a racist. This kind of radical group think is straight up fascism, of course, and should be called out as such.

Ben Philliskirk said...


Ultimately Livingstone is making a very clumsy argument, but its message is clear. By supporting Zionism you are accepting that Jews 'belong' in Israel, and it is not a very big jump for actual anti-semites to suggest that they do not 'belong' anywhere else. As Livingstone's Jewish supporters suggested, it is not tolerable that Israel and Zionism should be elevated to positions where they are regarded as the only legitimate spokespeople or ideology for all Jews, and above all criticism.

You might be happy to exercise censorship and witchhunts in the Labour Party, but I expect many of the party's members will be quite keen on Livingstone's right to speak out.

johnny conspiranoid said...


Boffy said...


I am no lover of Livingstone for many reasons, going back to my time in Socialist Organiser back in the 1980's. I think that Livingstone is part of a trend on the Left that my old comrades in Socialist Organiser described as "Left-wing anti-semitism", i.e. a tendency, to hold Jews to a higher standard than anyone else in relation to questions about the existence of Israel. It is heightened by their "idiot-anti-imperialism", which leads them to support all sorts of reactionary governments and movements solely on the basis of their supposed anti-imperialism, many of whom as with Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah etc. are hostile not only to Israel but to Jews.

However, I also believe in facts and honest debate, which does not change according to who is making various statements. In this case Livingstone. So, when you say,

"The historical record doesn't support his contention that Hitler supported Zionism before "he went mad", and Ken knows full well that most Jewish people in Britain find the mentioning of Israel in one breath and the Nazis in the next upsetting and disrespectful."

I am not at all sure that this is correct, or that it is not open to honest debate, rather than simply closing that debate down. That would be to do what the "idiot-anti-imperialists" have often done, which is to close down debate of the activities of governments and organisations by cries of racism, or Islamophobia, whenever any criticism of some state or group is raised.

The fact is that the Nazis did reach agreement with some Zionist organisations to transport Jews to Israel, after the Zionist movement had settled on Israel as their new home, having discounted various other locations in Africa. Moreover, there were numerous connections between the Nazis and the Italian Fascists and Zionist Organisations that were fighting for such a Jewish homeland. For example, via National Bolshevism.

The Lehi group, whose members included future Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir was part of that trend, and according to WIKI,

"... initially sought an alliance with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, offering to fight alongside them against the British in return for the transfer of all Jews from Nazi-occupied Europe to Palestine. Believing that Nazi Germany was a lesser enemy of the Jews than Britain, Lehi twice attempted to form an alliance with the Nazis. During World War II it declared that it would establish a Jewish state based upon "nationalist and totalitarian principles". After Stern's death in 1942, the new leadership of Lehi began to move it towards support for Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union. In 1944 Lehi officially declared its support for National Bolshevism."

I'm not saying who is right or wrong. I'm saying its open to honest debate, and what brings the party into disrepute is closing down debate.

David Timoney said...

Livingstone's abiding weakness is his vanity. He clearly dislikes being yesterday's man so he relishes any opportunity to mount a public platform, even to the point of willingly serving up controversial statements. He doesn't even have to be enticed. He isn't making cogent arguments about the history of Zionism or the nature of antisemitism, he is merely taking his ego for walk.

This means he is undoubtedly guilty of bringing the party into disrepute, by virtue of allowing his saloon bar chunterings to occlude Labour's agenda. But being a vain, old fool is not in itself grounds for expulsion from the party. If it were ... [fill in your preferred names here]. A fitting response would be suspension and then a studied ignoral, which is what I suspect Corbyn was (perhaps naively) hoping for.

Of course, there are those who wish to instrumentalise Ken's gaffe's for pretty obvious political reasons, which have nothing to do with Israel or antisemitism, so a three-line whip was always going to be hard to enforce. Watson's hyperbolic intervention, coming hard on the heels of his McCluskey rant, was all too predictable. This helps lodge the unfair association of Labour and antisemitism in public consciousness, but I doubt you'd get a charge of bringing the party into disrepute to stick.

The irony of all this is that Corbyn is hoping Livingstone will go quietly, which is ultimately what Watson in angling for to, but with Corbyn in mind.

Gary Elsby said...

A very unfair attack upon Ken Livingstone.
Hitler and the Zionists did have agreement to give back some confiscated wealth and assets to all German Jews if they transferred to the lands we now call Israel.
Mussolini didn't have a problem with Jews until he became more reliant upon Germany (including the British Union of Fascists).
The attack upon Ken is to belittle his account of history and to curtail any further mention of Jewish history within the Labour party.
Democracy is a funny thing and certainly Democracy within the Labour party is an NEC gone mad.
So whatever you do, don't mention the war.
The Tories fuck this Country up on a daily basis and Labour can't get off the front page.
I say it's time for an academic debate on this issue of Zionism and Hitler and then let's agree on the outcome of that debate. Then let's have a debate on Hitler and his Muslim SS units and then another on the British SS.
All in all I disagree with Phil's point.
History books only to be written by the victors. That's new!

Anonymous said...

While it is clearly cack-handed, providing a means for Jews to go to Palestine with some of their goods could be seen as being co-terminous with the pre-Israel Zionist aims. As such what hesaid is not historically inaccurate. More to the point how is it anti-semitic? Are Jews who opposed the creation of Israel, or its current policies, or indeed Zionism (however that is defined) anti-semitic?

I dont want to live in the past but Ken was responsible for changing the agenda on racism (including anti-semitism), sexism and hmophobia in the 80s, in the teeth of racist, sexist and homophobic remarksand actions by the media, the Tories and much of the Labour Party, for which they punished him and Londoners by abolishing the GLC. Both wings of the Labour party are a joke and seem to consider infighting and disputes about angels and pins are more important than the real hardship and inequality British people face and will face. The deliberate plan of the press office of the Labour Party to elevate a dispute about historical interpretation into the most important thing non-labour voters will know about the Labour Party speak volumes for the lack of intellect and realism at its heart. Sad!!!

Boffy said...

And of course, this furore first erupted immediately before the last set of local government elections in 2016, when the opponents of Corbyn were trying to undermine him in the hope of poor election performance. That was clearly manufactured, because Livingstone has made similar statements over the last thirty years, and was never disciplined over them. Indeed, Blair asked him to come back into the Labour Party, and stand for London Mayor, despite his record in relation to Israel!

Despite all the claims about the effect it is having on Labour's vote, it appeared to have absolutely no effect in last year's elections, and despite Goldsmith trying to link Khan to antisemitism, support for Political Islam etc., Khan romped home as did other London candidates.

And now, right on cue, a year after Livingstone was suspended, the NCC eventually gets round to another hearing guaranteed to put it back in the media limelight ahead of this year's elections. A cynical person might think it had been engineered that way to get maximum publicity and have maximum detrimental impact on Labour's election performance.

What I think Corbyn hoped for was that it would go away, and I'm sure that what some had in mind was that if Livingstone is expelled and goes to court, he could well win, and that would be pretty damning for all those that have claimed that his statements have no basis in history. It would in fact open a whole can of historical worms.

Boffy said...

"Mussolini didn't have a problem with Jews until he became more reliant upon Germany (including the British Union of Fascists)."

That is true as the links between fascist Italy and the Stern Gang show. Moreover, Mussolini himself had a Jewish Lover, and financier Giusseppe Volpi, was a prominent backer of the Italian Fascists, serving also as Mussolini's Minister of Finance. It was only after 1938, that Mussolini began to introduce the anti-Jewish laws.

However, that can also be argued the other way. In other words, Mussolini changed his approach to Jews because of his reliance on Hitler, and so its clear that by 1938, Hitler's hostility to Jews was such that it determined Mussolini's change of course.

Jeremy Corbyn (Parody) said...

Ex-leader of the Tories insists that bombing Spain is sensible. Tory poll ratings go up. There's no real backlash, and the matter is forgotten about in just a couple of days. Ken Livingstone uses some clumsy language about Israel on the radio. Media meltdown. British political left squabble publically and piously ahead of an election like rats in a sack - again.

Think I'll give leafleting a miss this weekend.

Edward Morissette said...

Ken Livingstone's clumsiness hardly helps, but it's unfair to suggest that he explicitly said Adolf Hitler supported Zionism. He tried to make a point about collaboration between the Nazi regime and Zionist forces. It was hardly an appropriate remark or well expressed, but it's not anti-Semitic or a suggestion of Adolf Hitler having been an out-an-out Zionist. I don't think he should have made the remarks, but expelling him is not appropriate. This is an issue of free speech in the Labour Party. This all began by Ken Livingstone defending Naz Shah sharing a satirical post creating by a Jewish intellectual regarding "relocating" Israel. The real story is an attempt to close down any free speech on Israel in which hysterical screeching is followed whenever Israel is mentioned. They are succeeding. Being a defendant of free speech in the Labour Party, there can be no case for suspending or expelling Ken Livingstone. He should be reinstated immediately.

IainF said...

"I say it's time for an academic debate on this issue of Zionism and Hitler and then let's agree on the outcome of that debate. Then let's have a debate on Hitler and his Muslim SS units and then another on the British SS."

Yeah ! A real winner on the doorstep !

Speedy said...

Zionism was created in response to the Russian pogroms and historic anti-semitism - Jews created zionism because they acknowledged they would never be safe unless they had their own "safe space".

Hitler never "went mad" - from the outset of his involvement with the Nazi party he was a vicious anti-semite. Anyone familiar with post-war Germany will be aware of the preponderance of anti-semitic parties, and Hitler was firmly engaged in anti-semitic political activities from the EARLY TWENTIES.

It may well be that there was co-operation between Hitler and some zionists, but this was only because of Hitler's fierce anti-semitism. He didn't want to help the Jews, he just wanted to remove them and as he couldn't yet get away with killing them, this presumably seemed like a reasonable step.

In the light of these facts, it is sickeningly disingenuous for Livingstone, who has presumably cherry-picked the history to suit his argument, to say (while denying he said Hitler was a zionist, but we all know what he meant nudge nudge) Hitler helped Zionists, ergo Zionists are Nazis.

It is certainly wrong to say "he went mad" only later, and this is where the prosecution rests - because Livingstone is therefore saying it was presumably sane and okay for him to have been a raving anti-semite.

Only of course he didn't mean that... wait... he certainly can't claim to be someone who knows his history then infer that it wasn't mad for Hitler to be a vicious anti-semite, only a genocidal one.

Ben Philliskirk said...

"In the light of these facts, it is sickeningly disingenuous for Livingstone, who has presumably cherry-picked the history to suit his argument, to say (while denying he said Hitler was a zionist, but we all know what he meant nudge nudge) Hitler helped Zionists, ergo Zionists are Nazis."

But he hasn't said this. He is suggesting that there is no necessary connection between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, because even the world's most famous anti-Semite was prepared at one time to 'do business' with some Zionists. As I said before, anti-semites are often quite at ease with Zionism because it implies that Jews belong in a rather small country in the Middle East surrounded by enemies.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this article Phil, I agree 100%. I am thoroughly depressed by reading endless defences of Livingstone arguing that what he said has some historical basis - for me it's not what he said but the context in which he said it. What possible reason is there for bringing up links between Hitler and Zionism as a way of defending someone of anti-semitism? And regardless of the historical facts, he should have been canned for sheer bloody minded stupidity.

The last few weeks have made me gradually start to reluctantly come to the conclusion that Corbyn and the people around him really are not competent to lead - that not everything can be blamed on the PLP and the media. While this current debacle can't be blamed entirely on Corbyn, it's left me feeling that perhaps I don't want to be in the same gang as lots of Corbyn supporters either. I can't be the only one feeling like this and feeling thoroughly depressed about what's going on in the party.

davidjc said...

He shouldn't be expelled or suspended for being daft or for offending self appointed Jewish leaders like the Chief Rabbi and the bringing the party into disrepute category should be abandoned or very much tightened. It's a bureaucrat's dream.
More concerning is the way it's not only Ken that's on trial here but anti Zionism. Abbott was just on QT saying you can't mention Zionism and the Nazis together and Corbyn has accepted the new anti Semitic definition that includes anti Zionism.
The Corbyn crew's decision to throw ken and anti Zionism overboard is an insult to Palestine and a gift to the right who smell victory coming closer. A bit of me wrongly hopes ken takes the party to court.

Gary Elsby said...

Yeah ! A real winner on the doorstep !

It's not about promoting this sort of history on the doorstep, it's about setting the record straight and not letting opportunists, including socialist opportunists, from gaining the upper hand based on false history.
As we can all see, anti Corbyn elements are in their glory trying to make the false and fake news assertions stick that suggests the Labour party has anti-Semitic members in an anti Semitic party and therefore.........wait for it.......Jeremy is anti Semitic too!
If Phil puts this up on Left Futures he'll get wasted.

SimonB said...

For those who still say, "Yes, but..."

Ed said...

One to cut out and keep on this broad subject from this morning: Stephen Pollard, who has done as much as anyone (and more than most) to promote the idea that Labour is riddled with anti-semitism from his perch at the JC, has declared that Corbyn is worse than Marine Le Pen in his book. This was on the same day that he accurately accused Le Pen of peddling a form of Holocaust denial with her claim that France bore no responsibility for the mass round-up and deportation of Jews during WWII (as anyone who has read into those deportations can tell you, the Vichy authorities went above and beyond what they were asked to do by the Nazi occupiers; they were asked to round up the Jewish adults, but chose to arrest the children as well).

So there we have it from Pollard and the JC: Holocaust denial by a far-right politician, in a state that actively participated in the extermination of Europe's Jews, is less pernicious than, well, what precisely IS Corbyn guilty of in his book? We can dispense with the polite pretense that Pollard genuinely finds Corbyn's response to anti-semitism wanting, and recognize that it's entirely based on his support for Palestinian rights. Outright Holocaust denial is a lesser sin in Pollard's view than opposition to Netanyahu's land-grab programme. A rather disturbing insight into the mentality of someone who is habitually presented as a representative voice of Jewish opinion in Britain.

A lot of people will be justifiably angry with Livingstone for his comments (and especially for his mule-headed refusal to think about WHY he got it wrong; and seeming lack of interest in reading any source other than Lenni Brenner's deeply flawed, tendentious book, even though he's had the best part of a year to do so; and apparent inability to think for five f**king minutes about whether the priority here is to Triumphantly Vindicate Ken or to avoid doing damage to a left-led Labour Party or the cause of solidarity with the Palestinians). But that shouldn't lead us to believe that the people making the most noise about Livingstone over the past week are genuinely outraged. If exactly the same comments had been made by a politician who was known to be pro-Israel, Pollard and co would be falling over themselves to make excuses and ask why people were making such a fuss.

Gary Elsby said...

.....but there was 'agreement' signed by Nazi Germany and Zionist leaders which sat assets unfrozen and returned.
This is fact.
The way history is portrayed, the Nazi's persecuted Jews which was fact and that brown shirts stood at the door of Jewish shops forcing a boycott. This is also fact.
We have to be a bit cautious of how the events unfolded though because facts may not always play out accurately.
Nazi Germany was being sidelined for the persecution of Jews and the Nazis saw a way out by offering a return of assets to anyone wishing to leave to Palestine. A policy agreed by Zionists and criticised by other Zionists.
What is happening to Ken Livingstone is a play on words and 'suspension' is an offering of party power over the individual.
If Livingstone is expelled, my guess he will win his case in a legal setting and then all bets are off all over the world.

Anonymous said...

According to Wikipedia the German state negotiated an agreement with the German Jewish organisations that would allow them to remi PART of their assets to Israel, if they were emigrating there. This was in 1933. It was contoversial and not supported by all Jes. Remember too, the BILLIONS of Jewish assets which were confiscated, or businesses forced to sell at knockdown prices to 'Aryans'. Does Livingstone think that the only problem with what Hitler did was that he was 'mad'? What about the rest of them. We're the mad too?

Anonymous said...

The agreement was called the Haavala Agreement. Sorry about the typos.

Boffy said...

There is also a false logic that is entering into the discourse, which is that because Jews suffered horribly as a result of the Nazis, and six million were killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust, this precludes Jews from themselves sharing Nazi - though for this reason it is always better to describe it as fascist - ideology.

Anti-Semitism was a feature of German Nazism, but was not, for example, initially, part of Italian fascism. Far from it, Mussolini had a Jewish lover, and was heavily backed by Jewish financiers. His Finance Minister, for most of the 1920's, was himself a Jew. It was only later under pressure from Hitler that Mussolini introduced anti-Jewish laws.

There were also links between the Italian fascists and some Zionist organisations. One of the leading military organisations of Zionist, the Lehi Group, also known as The Stern Gang, openly stated that their ideology was based on National Socialism, and openly sought an alliance with both the Nazis and Mussolini because they believed that they were a lesser evil than the British, who they were fighting in Palestine.

As Wiki state,

"In 1980, Israel instituted a military decoration, an "award for activity in the struggle for the establishment of Israel", the Lehi ribbon. Former Lehi leader Yitzhak Shamir became Prime Minister of Israel in 1983."

There is no more reason to claim that because of their terrible experience at the hands of the Nazis Jews cannot also hold fascistic views, or create fascistic regimes, than there is to believe that because Muslims have suffered from colonial slavery, and racist attacks, they cannot create clerical-fascist organisations, and states.

Boffy said...

I should have added in relation to this last point that the argument that Zionists were fighting an "anti-imperialist struggle" against Britain, also did not prevent them from holding reactionary ideas, any more than the claims of Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Iranian Mullahs to be "anti-imperialist" prevents them also from being reactionary in nature.

In both cases, what we have is the same kind of "idiot anti-imperialism" on the part of those on the left, who blind themselves to the reactionary nature of the contending forces, in order to support their own moralistic, lesser-evilist political method.

Anonymous said...

Born into a Catholic household,I'm no expert on Zionism or Judaism.I expect few really are yet throughout the Ken Livingtone saga I've seen many commentators declaring their so called expert knowledge.I refused to opine simply because I didn't feel in any position to do so.However the facts remain that Ken Livingstone has offended people with his comments and therefore should have apologised.People should not lose sight of what the Labour Party stands for and its values.