Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Livingstone verdict cannot rest

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.

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Joan Ryan MP is chair of Labour Friends of Israel. She tweets at @joanryanEnfield

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Joan Ryan MP

is member of parliament for Enfield North and chair of Labour Friends of Israel

7 comments

  • Ken has not been found guilty of anti-semitism. He is supposedly bringing the party into disrepute. As if this monkey trial is not doing the same thing, deliberately undermining Jeremy Corbyn at the local elections.

    Many Jewish people are distancing themselves from this. It is McCarthyism.
    Political aggression, by neoliberals who cannot see that their way failed in the financial crisis and will not accet that or our democratically elected leader.

    They prefer cruel cuts and abstain when the vote goes for them, and oppose a good man who would help the young and the poor.

    Shame, Shame, Shame.

  • Joan who?

    Like the MPs who attack Jeremy Corbyn, the MPs who attack Ken Livingstone need to walk down the streets of their own constituencies with him, to see who was recognised and who wasn’t. It would make hilarious television.

  • This is disgraceful. And so many apologists supporting him. This is like a cancer that will spread and spread if the party doesn’t stamp it out.

    Anti racism is not negotiable for a Labour member. Full stop.

    If it is, as a black woman explain why I should give one more penny or spend my time helping the party. There are so few of us as it is and with this new right wing apologist stuff there will be even fewer.

    This isn’t a tough decision. I’ve signed the Jewish Labour Party petition and I appeal to my brothers and sisters sign it too. We cannot allow our standards to be lowered because the country has become more right wing. Next year it could be us…….

  • Joan stop manufacturing false news! “His comments last April suggesting that Hitler had been a supporter of Zionism were not only untrue” This is a lie. Ken’s statement on Hitler was a matter of historic record.

    It’s hardly surprising that people of his age and mine have an interest in and are shaped by the politics of WW2 and show that during their lifetime. We were brought up to hate Hitler and all that he stood for, but it helps to understand the man behind the rhetoric and how such a drastic mistake can be avoided in the furfure. The real danger would be to pretend it could never happen again if we censure every mention of WW2.

    The rule number he is supposed to have broken quoted in the newspapers does not relate to the numbers in the Labour Party Rule Book. Why does no one state what the rule is and how he has broken it?

    Since when did stating historical facts become an expulsion crime?

    Roy

  • Tom Watson is in a unique position. For 20 years after the death of John Smith, the traditional Labour Right was as dispossessed as the Left was. Neither is going to be dispossessed again without a fight. Indeed, Watson and Jeremy Corbyn owe their positions in no small measure to the same person, Alex Halligan, as well as, of course, to the votes of very large numbers of the same people. More broadly, like the MPs who attack Corbyn, the MPs who attack Ken Livingstone need to walk down the streets of their own constituencies with him, to see who was recognised and who was not. That would make the most hilarious television.

    Lord Levy, meanwhile, has been let out of wherever it is that he is kept the rest of the time. Few people in modern times have brought the Labour Party into more disrepute than he has. All Prime Ministers have their little courts, of course. But it is impossible to think of another who was surrounded by quite as undistinguished, and by quite as downright crooked, a bunch as Tony Blair managed. With Alastair Campbell all over the place these days, and with Levy now reimposing himself on the public consciousness, by whom else are we soon to be delighted? Carole Caplin? Peter Foster? After all, either of those deserves to be taken with exactly as much seriousness as either Levy or Campbell. Or, indeed, Blair.

  • I think it is worth reading the ending of the letter on write you from Jewish members on the matter and stating Ken’s was correct in his historical statements.

    As Jews, we are appalled that such a serious issue as antisemitism is being used in this cynical and manipulative way. It is harmful to Jewish people that false charges of antisemitism are so casually thrown around. The Labour Party should decisively distance itself from this practice.

    Over many years the Labour Party in office has contributed consistently to the fight against antisemitism. In particular we pay tribute to the leading role that Ken Livingstone has played in this, both as Leader of the GLC and as Mayor of London.

    In sum we believe it would be a travesty if the Labour Party were to find Ken Livingstone guilty of conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the Party. We would urge the Party not to make such a damaging mistake.

    Signed by:

    Prof. Haim Bresheeth, Hornsey & Wood Green CLP

    Ron Cohen, Finchley & Golders Green CLP

    Li Doran, Tottenham CLP

    Michael Ellman, Islington North CLP

    Arye Finkle, Barnet CLP

    Murray Glickman, Ilford South CLP

    Abe Hayeem, Harrow East CLP

    Rosamine Hayeem, Harrow East CLP

    Riva Joffe, Holborn and St Pancras CLP

    Ann Jungman, Hornsey and Wood Green CLP

    David Kaye, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP

    Marion Kozak, Holborn and St Pancras CLP

    Simon Korner, Hackney North CLP

    Beverley Krell, Cheadle CLP

    Prof. Frank Land, West Devon/Totnes CLP

    Ralph Land CBE, Hammersmith & Fulham CLP

    Rachel Lever, Hastings & Rye CLP

    Susanne Levin, Cities of London & Westminster CLP

    Miriam Margolyes OBE, Lambeth CLP

    Helen Marks, Liverpool Riverside CLP

    Frances Rifkin, Holborn and St Pancras CLP

    Steven Mendoza, Twickenham CLP

    Glyn Secker, Dulwich and West Norwood CLP

    Angie Mindel, Nottingham East CLP

    Prof. Mica Nava, Islington North CLP

    Leon Rosselson, affiliated Labour Party member via Musicians’ Union

    Prof. Donald Sassoon, Islington South and Finsbury CLP

    Amanda Sebestyen, Holborn & St Pancras CLP

    Sam Semoff, Liverpool Riverside CLP

    Prof. Avi Shlaim, Oxford West and Abingdon CLP

    Prof. Annabelle Sreberny, Islington North CLP

    Sam Weinstein, Hampstead & Kilburn CLP

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