Labour and anti-Semitism: can’t get the stink off

by Rob Marchant

“Can’t get the stink off/He’s been hanging round for days”, wrote Thom Yorke in 1993. “You do it to yourself, you do/And that’s what really hurts”. Lines that could have been written for Labour’s troubled, Stockholm-syndrome relationship with one man. A man who is still hanging round a party which somehow cannot seem to shake him off, either.

Last Tuesday, Ken Livingstone was, essentially, let off. A man who for years has ridden perilously close to anti-Semitism in his behaviour – we shouldn’t forget the “concentration camp guard” incident with a Jewish journalist in 2005 – finally crossed the line a year ago when he decided to argue that Hitler was a Zionist.

It is difficult to overstate how offensive both remarks was to Jews.

First, the obvious: mentioning Hitler in this context immediately spells “Holocaust” in the minds of most Jews.

Second, because the term “Zionist” has lately become a term of abuse on the left and code for “Jew”, rather than its literal meaning of someone who believes in Israel’s right to exist (hardly a high bar for most people – if you don’t believe it has a right to exist, you must believe it should be destroyed and, presumably, all its inhabitants either killed or deported).

Third, because it is grossly insulting to pretend that Israel, for all its many faults, is directly comparable to a regime which systematically massacred a whole people – themselves – on grounds of their race.

And fourth, because it is simply factually incorrect anyway. Hitler was no Zionist and no reputable historian would suggest otherwise.

And so Livingstone was suspended. The hearing has taken almost a year and the original three complaints upheld. Never one for knowing when to stop, outside last Thursday’s hearing he doubled down and claimed that Zionists “collaborated” with the Nazis.

But instead of expelling him the party has decided –  unbelievably for a mainstream party – that expulsion in this case is just on the too-difficult path, and opted for the wrist-slap of one further year’s suspension.

A small child could understand the logic: “let’s kick this into the long grass and hope it’s gone away in a year.” But with things that are this damaging, you just can’t get away with it. It’s not good politics, let alone the moral case for action.

Yes, it would have been a pretty big admission that such a major party figure (let’s not forget he held the most powerful directly-elected role in the country for eight years) were to be expelled for anti-Semitism. But it would also have lanced the boil. And now the boil will fester longer and with greater malignancy, a bad smell hanging around a party already on its knees.

To recap: since the 2000s at least, parts of the left – and especially the far left, currently holding the Labour leadership – have taken a turn towards a way of thinking which we thought we would never see again in this party. That although we may be perfectly colour-blind when it comes to Asian or black minorities, some people are prepared to make an exception for Jews. And we dress it up as “anti-Zionism.”

There are various factors which have nurtured this unpleasant situation: hard-to-defend actions by Israel; what can only be termed prejudice among some party figures (Lord Ahmed, Livingstone, Naz Shah); the rise of the far left, the main promoters of this view, in mainstream politics; and the corresponding rise of the populist and far right, helping legitimise discrimination in general and make it fashionable once again.

The frustrating thing is that Labour is genuinely chock-full of decent people without a racist bone in their bodies. We are talking about a handful of cranks. But its leadership cannot continue let such people act with impunity. The message sent is just terrible, whatever your politics.

As my good colleague Damian Counsell tweeted: “French National Front took 3 hours to expel *its own founder* over historical revisionism.”

What does that say about Labour? A party which has spent two years with its head up its backside on this issue and has relations with the Jewish community at an all-time low as a result.

A party which doesn’t even know which way is up any more, let alone one that is serious about getting elected (which the Front National, for all its abhorrent politics, clearly is).

It’s bad enough we have zero credibility in such touchstone areas for voters as defence or the economy. Or that we are failing to provide any kind of effective opposition to the present government. One truly wonders whether the party can ever recover from its current polling.

But, for the vast majority of voters, this kind of thing is in a different league. Start having any kind of appeasement towards racism in your behaviour, and you can wash your hands all you like. You can’t get the stink off.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

Tags: , , , ,

20 Responses to “Labour and anti-Semitism: can’t get the stink off”

  1. David Mathers says:

    Livingstone should have gone, but whilst he and (in context) what he said are undoubtedly anti-semitic, there have been way worse incidents of left anti-semitism in the past that haven’t resulted in expulsion (though they should have.) Shah’s facebook posting strikes me as worse, since it was directly a joke about cleansing an area of Jews. And Tam Dalyell’s remark about Blair having a ‘cabal of Jewish advisors’ was certainly worse, since it was an explicit attack on the right of Jews to serve in government without their loyalty being questioned just for being Jews. But neither Shah nor Dalyell were expelled (though the former probably, and the latter definitely, should have been.) Given this it’s hard to see the Livingstone decision as some kind of watershed, though admittedly Ken is a repeat offender. (Though it’s hard to imagine the other two weren’t also, in private.) True, Shah apologized, but Dalyell didn’t as far as I know.

    Corbyn undoubtedly has a bad personal record on this issue (and I wish he’d go as leader), but the Dalyell remark of course comes from the good old days of Saint Tony of Blair.

  2. this story is still running. As Livingstone kept saying the same things after the verdict was announced Corbyn announced a new inquiry and Chakrabarti condemned what Livingstone was doing.

    It is hard to know why the NEC committee decided only suspension was appropriate, but the fact is they gave him enough rope to hang himself with. If he is not expelled this time, then the Party faces a real crisis, but if he is those like Jonathan Cook who supported him cannot claim he has been victimized – since on the central charge, of bringing the party into disrepute, that will be in the centre of the public vision.

    Trevor Fisher.,

  3. anosrep says:

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but for the first time ever Rob Marchant is actually right about something.

  4. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Have read this letter Rob,
    If you think this story ends with The Great and The Good throwing Livingstone out The Party and that the ‘stench’ as you like to call it, disappears with him, then think again.
    If he is expelled Livingstone will take The Party to court and with support from some of the signatories of this letter he’ll win.

  5. Just Cann says:

    Jewish Labour Party members speak up for Ken Livingstone
    Five people who gave evidence at his hearing denounce his suspension
    By Tristan Anthony 5 Apr 2017, 8:57
    Updated: 5 Apr 2017, 12:11

    Five Jewish Labour Party members who gave evidence in support of Ken Livingstone at his hearing into allegations of anti-semitism say they are appalled at his continued suspension.

    The former London mayor – who has been suspended since April last year – had claimed Hitler supported the creation of a Jewish state.

    A disciplinary panel decided on Tuesday that Mr Livingstone had brought the party into disrepute, but he will be suspended for a further year, rather than being expelled – which caused an immediate uproar from his opponents inside and outside of the party.

    However, in a statement shared on Facebook, Jenny Manson, Diana Neslen, Jonathan Rosenhead, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi and Walter Wolfgang, said: “We are appalled by the decision to continue the suspension of Ken Livingstone.

    ‘Upset had been caused by his (accurate) statement’

    “The case brought against Ken was not that he was antisemitic. Instead it was claimed that he upset a significant part of the UK’s Jewish population.

    “This upset had been caused by his (accurate) statement that some Zionists and Hitler had wanted to get Jews out of Germany, and that prior to the War they reached a temporary agreement to help bring this about. The Zionist motivation was to increase the numbers of Jews going to Palestine.

    “If a political party adopts the principle that it suspends every member that upsets some part of the population where would it all end? Labour should respect freedom of expression.

    “The decision to continue the suspension (of) Ken is mistaken. It is an attempt to protect Israel from criticism, while simultaneously weakening the position of Jeremy Corbyn, a principled supporter of Palestinian rights.

    “It is the verdict, not Ken Livingstone, that has bought the Labour Party into disrepute.”

  6. buttley says:

    it must be nice to live in this simplistic binary world

  7. @buttley

    I’d hate it. It’d be like living in a two-dimensional world.

  8. steve says:

    Well said, Rob.

    Surely now is the time for those who oppose Corbyn to leave the Labour Party in protest. Tom Watson and John Mann should lead from the front and join the LibDems – urging other right-thinking MPs to do the same. As with the recent defectors from UKIP, they will be able to hold onto their seats until the next general election at least.

    May I also suggest that, as an intelligent and respected blogger, you do the same, Rob?

    A lot could, and probably will, happen before 2020. It is not inconceivable that the Brexit disaster could drive many into Corbyn’s arms and propel him to victory in 2020. Let’s all do what we can to prevent that from happening. The last thing we want is a party riddled with unspeakable bigotry grabbing power in 2020.

  9. John P Reid says:

    If I understand it, the NCC has found that Ken was innacurate,and that they gave him evidence of this,of which he hasn’t retracted it, but suspended him, therefore his threat to take labour to court, is based on him believing he is right ,yet the anacC have concluded he’s wrong,or they would have reinstated him, as such, he must feel slandered if the anCC say he’s wrong,yet he says he’s right

    Ifso Ken should try to sue,in court the NCC to have his suspension lifted,of course the evidence the NCC gave was pretty strong,and I feel that he’d lose even if he has a host of backers,but that would either shut him up in the ill sue you if,you kick me out claim,or, do what the party should have done,if he loses his case and kick him out anyway
    A sad end to his 44 years in the party

  10. Innocent Abroad says:

    Is it anti-Semitic to oppose the policies of the Israeli government? If only we could all agree… Ken, of course, is being childish, and has been since he lost the Mayoralty, at least. What the NEC should do to or about him is hard to say. Perhaps it should find a rabid Zionist & then expel the pair of them…

  11. Leon Waksberg says:

    No, it isn’t antisemitic to oppose the policies of the Israeli government, and crucially, *no-one actually claims it is*. This is a complete strawman, maliciously spread by antisemites and their defenders, who just don’t like being called out for their racism. No one in Labour who has been recently accused of antisemitism was just a critic of the Israeli government, there was always something antisemitic that they’d said as well. Saying “Hitler supported Zionism” isn’t “criticising the Israeli government”. Saying “Jews were the chief financiers of the slave trade” isn’t “criticising the Israeli government”. All-lives-mattering Holocaust Remembrance Day isn’t “criticising the Israeli government”. Stop hiding behind this.

  12. Leon Waksberg says:

    It isn’t antisemitic to oppose the policies of the Israeli government, and crucially, *no-one actually claims it is*. This is a complete strawman, maliciously spread by antisemites and their defenders, who just don’t like being called out for their racism. No one in Labour who has been recently accused of antisemitism was just a critic of the Israeli government, there was always something antisemitic that they’d said as well. Saying “Hitler supported Zionism” isn’t “criticising the Israeli government”. Saying “Jews were the chief financiers of the slave trade” isn’t “criticising the Israeli government”. All-lives-mattering Holocaust Remembrance Day isn’t “criticising the Israeli government”. Stop hiding behind this.

  13. paul barker says:

    The stink around Labour is partly putrefaction surely ? Labour isnt dead yet but it is obviously dying. Its not just the 3,000 members leaving every week, the steady decline in The Polling Averages or the steady losses in Local contests. Its not just the divisions over Left & Right & Brexit & the divisions within those divisions( like the Momemtum split).
    Behind all Labours troubles lie the basic problem that it was formed to meet problems of the 1890s & its just not wanted any more.The Labour story is nearly over & its time to let it die with some dignity. Let it go.

  14. Les Wormald says:

    Sad really, Ken has shown in the past that left leaning leaders can run something well. I just wish he would shut up – the party has enough problems without this

  15. Tafia says:

    Whther or notthis was a crass thing to say or not, it essentially boils down to whether what Livingstone said was historically true or not – becuse if it was true and the NEC expelled him, Livingstone wouyld be well withiun his rights to sue., Leaving the Labour Party is a very uncomfortable position of having to defend in Court a decision to expel someone for stating a historical fact, which they would not be able to do.

    So, was what Lininvstone said true or not?

    IsLabour capitulating to the constant pressure by Israel to conflate anti-zionism as anti-semitism as anti-Israel – ie all one and the same thiong, which a patent nonsense.

    Meanwhile, in the real world voters find the whole thing of absolutely no interest at all.

  16. It would be helpful if the correspondents actually understood what Livingstone was accused of. As the Gen Sec is reported as saying, he is not accused of being historically inaccurate. The charge was bringing the party into disrepute, and this was what Chakrabarti was saying when she condemned Livingstone for continuing to say what he said.

    It is not relevant whether a statement is accurate or not in legal processes. Defamation exists when a statement damages reputation. Thus if I am a discharged bankrupt and someone rakes this up from my past, I am entitled to sue even if the statement is accurate and I am a discharged bankrupt. The court then decides if the statement has damaged me. Unless the law has been changed since I was in contact with civil law lawyers some time back, the Gen Sec is right. Labour was not interested in the historical accuracy of his statement, it has to defend its reputation. As Livingstone is now under investigation for his further comments, any analysis of what happened since the hearing is now sub judice.

    Trevor FIsher.

  17. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Well said Paul Barker. Labour MPs that think like you and there are many should stand down and cause a hundred byelections.

  18. steve says:

    Richard MacKinnon: “Labour MPs … should stand down and cause a hundred byelections.”

    But if they stand as independents/LibDems they will most likely lose their seats, income and other benefits. And this is why they won’t stand down ‘as a matter of principle’ no matter how important that principle is.

    Better to be realistic and have them jump ship to the LibDems without surrendering their seats. They will have made their point and at the same time will have given themselves three years to prepare alternative career plans.

  19. Peter Kenny says:

    Rob – get a grip, man! Democratic socialists who are anti zionist do not want the population of Israel killed or deported – I think you must know this. It is a really grossly offensive thing to say, isn’t it?

    The choices seem to be – two states – The PLO accepted this decades ago, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, does it? Settlements, very right wing Israel Gov’t, Hamas etc. It’s still the official solution but I wouldn’t bet on it!

    West bank/gaza under inceasingly constraint, territory shrinking, military clashes, etc. That is what is happening now.

    Mass expulsion of the Palestinians and a ‘greater Israel’ this is what some of the Israeli right, currently ascendant, want.

    A single secular/ non religious state with common and equal citizenship rights.

    Now the last sounds like Utopia – but what do 2 and 3 sound like?

    Rob, just get a grip about what anti-zionists actually think!

  20. buttley says:

    >George Kendall

    there are infinite points on a straight line.

    binary, only 0 or 1

    >Peter Kenny

    I must have had the same thought as you, when i read this toss a few days ago.

    “if you don’t believe it has a right to exist, you must believe it should be destroyed and, presumably, all its inhabitants either killed or deported”

    What like a failed retrospective planning application?

    Rob’s self imposed binary arguments, allow no room for nuance.

    i particularly enjoyed this “A man who for years has ridden perilously close to” inference,

    it reminded me of the time, i was obsessed with David Carradine and came perilously close to mastering the Shaolin death wank in my wardrobe.

Leave a Reply