For anyone who has not been overcome with matzos in the last few days, it has been almost impossible to avoid the nearly 24/7 news coverage by the British press of further expressions of antisemitism in the Labour Party. Each news bulletin seems to bring fresh revelations, and it has been hard to keep up.
The latest scandals, a continuation of many previous antisemitic outrages connected to the Labour Party since the ascent of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership, began with the Labour Party aide to the Shadow Chancellor Naz Shah and some old Facebook posts of hers where she expressed several antisemitic sentiments, including suggesting that all Israeli Jews be forcefully transported to the US. When these were uncovered, Shah apologized. In truth, her apology sounded genuine and truly remorseful though of course it is hard to tell what is really in her heart. But according to some sources, elements in the Labour party “edited” her apology so that what was eventually published removed all reference to Jews and Israel – which made the whole effort an exercise in futility, not to mention double-talk. Nevertheless Shah resigned her position and she was also suspended from the Labour Party.
But this was just the beginning.
All this was further exacerbated by former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, he of the infamous Livingstone Formula, who forms one half of what I consider to be the Dastardly Duo™ (the other half being George (Israel-free) Galloway) when he outrageously – and insanely – jumped to the defense of Naz Shah by claiming that Hitler was a Zionist!
It was the second time in two days that Labour has had to take action over complaints of antisemitism. The Bradford West MP Naz Shah was suspended over Facebook posts from 2014, including one suggesting Israelis be deported to the US.
In defending Shah, Livingstone intensified the row by claiming Hitler had supported Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews” and claimed there was a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticises Israel policy as antisemitic”.
The former London mayor then went on the BBC’s Daily Politics to express his concern about a blurring of antisemitism with criticism of Israel, and defend his comments about Hitler as “historical fact”.
His comments provoked such anger within the party that John Mann, an MP and campaigner against antisemitism, accosted Livingstone in a stairwell at the BBC. Their encounter was filmed as Mann branded Livingstone a Nazi apologist, told him he had “lost it” and that he needed help over the “factually wrong, racist remarks”. Within the hour, Livingstone had been suspended.
Watch John Mann in his Sky News interview and feel the rage and disgust emanating from him:
We can take further comfort from Mann’s direct confrontation with Livingstone as they entered the BBC studios:
UPDATE: When challenged on his antisemitism, Livingstone denied that he was an antisemite, using a very strange – and VERY low threshold – to describe what he thinks antisemitism is, in an interview on Daily Politics (h/t Brian Goldfarb in the comments):
Livingstone’s exact words are “a real antisemite doesn’t just hate the Jews in Israel, they hate the Jews in Golders Green… or in Stoke Newington — it’s a physical loathing.’”
For Red Ken, nothing more or less than that counts as antisemitism, The man is a lunatic.
Watch the incredible interview here:
Engage Online (h/t Brian Goldfarb) has the story of how the Livingstone Formulation failed to save Livingstone:
He is famous for the Livingstone Formulation: the insistence that Jews raise the issue of antisemitism dishonestly in order to silence criticism of Israel; that they don’t even believe it themselves. Talk of antisemitism on the left is a conspiracy to mobilize Jewish victim power against the Palestinians.
There is no kind of hostility to Israel which Livingstone would recognize as antisemitic. Not even if somebody called for the forcible ‘transport’ of every Israeli Jew to Nebraska, as Naz Shah, Labour MP for Bradford West did; Livingstone would say it was criticism of the Israel. Of course, he would not have the same leniency with Jews who call for the transport of Palestinians out of the West Bank; that he would rightly characterise as racist.
Today Livingstone said that Hitler supported Zionism. Most people know that Zionism was a response to antisemitism; most people know that Hitler wasn’t in the business of responding to antisemitism but was himself the greatest antisemite of all time. Livingstone smears Jews, at least those who refuse to identify as anti-Zionist, by saying that they are like Nazis. He encourages people on the left and in the student movement to relate to Jews as though they were Nazis; unless they disavow Israel. Antisemitism? No, just criticism.
Ken Livingstone and a significant minority of people in the UK still do not see that there is a problem of antisemitism.
They see a right wing Zionist witch-hunt against good people who oppose austerity, imperialism, the Israeli occupation and Islamophobia. They are enraged by the injustice of the antisemitism smear. They are entrenched in their position that the influence of Israel, and the Jews who support it, is toxic. They are worried how this influence seems to seep into the dominant ideology of the ruling class and the mainstream media. Their blood boils more and more intensely about Israel, its human rights abuses, its vulgarity, and the racism that is to be found there; their anger is mixed with shame at this European Colonial outpost, created under British rule. They see Islamophobia, imported from Israel and America, as the poison of the post national Europe hope. They feel that everybody has learnt the lessons of the Holocaust except for the Zionists, who, having rejected Christian forgiveness and love, find themselves stuck more and more in the Nazi era.
In spite of the fact that these people oppose Nazis and skinheads with all their hearts, and in spite of the fact that they stand in the tradition of Cable Street, these people are antisemites. But they think they are opponents of antisemitism.
So what now for Livingstone? Well, he was suspended by Corbyn – belatedly, after so many instances of outright antisemitism:
And what will the Labour leadership do? Jeremy Corbyn shares many of the same core values as Livingstone regarding Israel and the Jews who are held to support it. Corbyn also supports Hamas and Hezbollah; Corbyn has also fronted for Press TV; Corbyn has also jumped to the defence of antisemites.
But at the moment, Corbyn isn’t jumping to the defence of Livingstone.
Adding to Labour’s woes, Corbyn ally, MP Diane Abbot dismissed the charges of antisemitism, calling them “a smear” against the party.
She then accused Andrew Marr of smearing ordinary Labour Party members for simply raising the possibility that the LP might have a problem with antisemitism. When he countered that if there was no problem, why was an inquiry being set up to deal with the issue, she answered that the problem was simply one of ‘process’. She then, by way of further deflection, insisted that antisemitism was a problem everywhere.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, also had plenty to say about the antisemitism scandal:
Mark Regev, Israel’s ambassador to London, called for Corbyn to distance himself from Hamas, which he described as an antisemitic organisation. “The left has a wonderful, proud history of fighting antisemitism, but we have seen some language over the last two or three weeks which is very concerning,” Regev said.
“They have the right to criticise the Israeli government, Israeli citizens do it every day,” he said. “It is about demonising the Jewish state. It is not about criticising this or that Israeli policy it is about the demonising and vilification of my country and its very right to exist.
This whole antisemitism row could very well affect Labour’s chances in the upcoming election for Mayor of London as well as in other local elections. Labour’s candidate for London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, had a good chance of winning until the ordure hit the fan:
At the start of what turned out to be, in the words of shadow chancellor John McDonnell, “a dreadful week”, Khan had been quietly confident, the clear favourite to succeed Boris Johnson in the mayoral race, which concludes on Thursday. One poll put him 11 points ahead of his Tory rival Zac Goldsmith.
Voters go the polls in elections not just in London, but across England, Wales and Scotland. Labour is expected to struggle in English councils and to take a drubbing in Scotland and Wales. But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn hopes he will be able to hail a Khan triumph in London as great news to offset the less good tidings expected.
The wind was in Khan’s sails and he seemed set fair. He had fought energetically on issues such as housing and transport, and felt, with good reason, that he had outsmarted Goldsmith by depicting the Conservative campaign as racially divisive and unpleasantly negative. On matters of race and faith, Labour’s team thought they had won the argument and seized the moral high ground.
This weekend, however, Goldsmith and the Conservatives in London have renewed hope, while Khan, Corbyn and the entire Labour party have reason to worry. In an interview with the Observer, a defiant Khan insisted there was no way he would be “knocked off course” by the antisemitism arguments raging within Labour. But he accepted that the events of the past week – first the suspension of the Labour MP for Bradford, Naz Shah, over antisemitic posts on Facebook, followed by Livingstone’s extraordinary defence of her in which he linked Hitler to Zionism – had not exactly helped.
“I accept that the comments that Ken Livingstone has made makes it more difficult for Londoners of Jewish faith to feel that the Labour party is a place for them, and so I will carry on doing what I have always been doing, which is to speak for everyone,” Khan said.
The repercussions for Labour have spread far and wide, as former donors, particularly Jewish donors, are running a mile from the party. Even Israel’s Labour Party (now renamed the Zionist Union) leader, Isaac Herzog, reprimanded Corbyn:
The repercussions are spreading abroad. In a devastating intervention, Isaac Herzog, leader of the Israeli Labour party, has written to Corbyn saying he is “appalled and outraged” by the recent examples of antisemitism by senior Labour officials in the United Kingdom. He invited Corbyn to bring a Labour delegation to visit Israel’s national Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, “to witness that the last time the Jews were forcibly ‘transported’ it was not to Israel but to their deaths”.
Within the Labour Party itself reactions were furious, some expressing anger at Corbyn for his slow reaction to Livingstone’s racism, and others livid at John Mann for making the internal row so public.
This whole scandal has played out in the British press to an extent that has taken me by surprise. Outrage has been expressed across the board in the British press, which is not always so sympathetic to accusations of antisemitism:
The headlines, articles and editorials in Friday’s newspapers were unusually united in their condemnation of a politician whose clumsy attempts to quell allegations of antisemitism within Labour have had the opposite effect.
As the Guardian said: “With singular crassness, instead of clearing the air yesterday, Mr Livingstone encouraged the accusation.”
Rather than helping his party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, he has sunk him into what the Daily Mirror called “a toxic swamp”.
“Bizarrely”, said the Independent’s political editor, Andrew Grice, Livingstone “leapt to the defence” of the suspended MP Naz Shah – for suggesting that Jews be transported to America – “when she was no longer defending herself.”
The Times viewed Livingstone’s “grotesque analogies” and “demagoguery” as symptomatic of Corbyn’s “calamitous leadership”.
For the Daily Telegraph, Livingstone’s “idiotic remarks” were a “gross inaccuracy” but “indicative of a philosophy that has been validated by Mr Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour party.”
That view was echoed by the Daily Mail, which scorned Livingstone’s “absurd claim that Hitler was a Zionist” and thought Corbyn had failed to understand that it was “monstrously and deliberately offensive.”
Ditto the Daily Express: “There is a poisonous bigotry within Labour and its leader is not taking the action necessary to get rid of it.”
And the Sun, dancing delightedly on Labour’s political grave with an editorial headlined “Red and buried”, viewed Corbyn’s reaction to Livingstone’s “repugnant Hitler outburst” as pitiful.
This unity across the national newspaper board is very unusual indeed. Corbyn and his main media aide, Seumas Milne, should heed the message it sends.
As to why the British Left, in fact any Leftist party anywhere in the world, is so infected by antisemitism, or its alter-ego anti-Zionism, stay tuned for my next post.