Jeremy Corbyn must prove that pronouncements about zero tolerance towards antisemitism are more than just words, argues Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan MP
Despite being found guilty of bringing Labour into disrepute, Ken Livingstone was apparently saved from expulsion because of his long service to the party.
Let’s be clear: Livingstone has an equally long record of causing great offence to the Jewish community.
His comments last April suggesting that Hitler had been a supporter of Zionism were not only untrue, they were also part of a pattern. He has spent the last three decades making comparisons between Jews and Nazis; comparisons, in other words, between the Jewish people and those who tried to annihilate them.
There was, for instance, the occasion in 1982 when a newspaper edited by Livingstone featured a cartoon of the former Israeli prime minister, Menachem Begin, wearing a Nazi uniform amid the skulls and corpses of dead Palestinians with the words ‘The Final Solution’.
Then there was the occasion in 1985 when Livingstone told an Israeli newspaper that Jews had been ‘organising here in London, and throughout Britain, into paramilitary groups which resemble fascist organisations’.
And then there was the occasion in 2005 when Livingstone told a Jewish newspaper, Oliver Finegold, reporter that he was ‘like a German war criminal’ and a ‘concentration camp guard’.
Even when not drawing such direct comparisons, Livingstone has acted in a manner which shows an absolutely careless disregard for the feelings and sensibilities of Jewish people. He invited to City Hall, and then publicly embraced, Yusuf al-Qaradawi – a man who not only advocated the murder of homosexuals, but also suggested that Hitler had ‘put the Jews in their place’ and supported suicide bombing in Israel. He told the Reuben brothers, two London property developers, that they should ‘go back to Iran and see if they can do better under the ayatollahs’. And he took up paid presenting work for Press TV – the voice of the antisemitic, Holocaust-denying regime in Tehran.
Time and again, Labour has looked the other way and accepted behaviour from Livingstone that it would not accept from any other member and behaviour that it would find utterly unacceptable were it directed at any other minority group.
Time and again, too, Livingstone has shown an absolute lack of contrition. The Jewish community was being ‘obsessive’ about his relationship with al-Qaradawi. The row over the insults he levelled at Finegold were ‘a huge fuss over nothing’. Jews would not vote for him anyway because they were too rich.
Indeed, even last night Livingstone could not bring himself to apologise to all those who found his comments about Hitler and Zionism and his more recent suggestion that there had been ‘real collaboration’ between Nazis and Jews so offensive. As Professor David Hirsh has argued, this claim is ‘not only nonsense, it is also antisemitic; to say that Zionists are like Nazis designates the national liberation movement of the Jewish people as pure evil; it demonizes Jews and it normalizes Hitler; it licenses and encourages people to relate to Zionists, that is the overwhelming majority of living Jews, as they would relate to Nazis.’
But Livingstone has not only caused great hurt and insult to the Jewish community, he has also besmirched Labour’s reputation as a party which opposes racism in all its forms. We fought fascism and Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s. We fought apartheid in South Africa. We fought for an end to discrimination and intolerance at home. Livingstone’s words and actions are a betrayal of that legacy.
I do not believe that we can let this decision rest. Jeremy Corbyn has said that Labour must show zero tolerance towards antisemitism. Now he must prove that such pronouncements are more than just words. He should both ask the NEC to review this decision immediately and publicly call for Livingstone’s expulsion. Ken Livingstone should not, and cannot, remain a member of the Labour party.
Joan Ryan MP is chair of Labour Friends of Israel. She tweets at @joanryanEnfield
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