Friday, 29 April 2016

In Defence of Ken Livingstone

As the title of this post will doubtless raise eyebrows, I would like to say that I hope Mr Livingstone appreciates what I have to say about him. At the moment, he needs all the defenders he can get, even if he probably would not like what I say here. As he and I differ on the vexed issue of Palestine, he can expect nothing better.
Let me start by saying that if Ken were on trial for his statements yesterday and I was his defending lawyer , I would be advising him to plead insanity. His comment, made yesterday on BBC Radio London was crassly stupid:
"When Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews."
This is utter nonsense; there was no state of Israel in 1932, as has been pointed out by Professor Timothy Snyder. Nor did Hitler "go mad"; his genocidal intent towards the Jews was clear from the day he became leader of the Nazi Party in 1921. Yesterday, Ken defended himself against the infuriated John Mann by saying that he was simply sticking to historical facts. What a pity that his knowledge of facts is so inadequate - Hitler came to power in 1933, not 1932. Nor did the Nazi dictator "go mad", as Ken says. By conquering Europe, Hitler had the means to carry out a policy of annihilation that he had outlined in "Mein Kampf" (1925), and which he implemented with fanatical venom. In mitigation, then, we can say that Ken did not get his facts right, and should read more history. Perhaps he is simply getting old and forgetful?
Now, Ken has rightly been condemned for what he said. Owen Jones (no Tory!) vehemently attacked Ken on TV yesterday - please see here. Sadiq Khan, Labour candidate for London Mayor said:
“Ken Livingstone's comments are appalling and inexcusable. There must be no place for this in our Party".
Tom Watson, M.P. has pledged action against anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. The BBC says here: " Mr Watson said he and Mr Corbyn had been looking at whether "Labour's own structures" needed changing "to make sure that we send a very clear signal to people in our party that we will have a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism".
"Do we need to change our rules to explicitly rule out racism and specifically include anti-Semitism in that?" he said.
"We are going to deal with this."
After a number of anti-Semitic outbursts by Labour activists recently, that is very good news. It is also good news for the Jewish community, who are rightly concerned.  In defence of Ken, though, when challenged on his statements yesterday, despite sticking to his inaccuracies about Hitler, he went on to say that he was concerned about what he saw as the true face of anti-Semitism, which is the growth of anti-Semitic hate crime. He mentioned the increase in attacks on Jews, synagogues and cemeteries. If I remember rightly, he said that such crimes dropped during his tenure as Mayor of London and he seemed genuinely shaken by the controversy he had aroused.
So, I do not believe that Ken is an anti-Semite, at least according to his understanding of the term. Rather, I think he sees himself as an anti-Zionist. I wish I had a tenner for every time I'd heard someone say that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism; the proponents of this view repeat it mechanically, and seem to think they are saying it for the first time. Far from being devastatingly original, it is simply facile. What this view fails to acknowledge is that 72% of British Jews regard themselves as Zionists, which is understandable, as so many have relatives in Israel. As Keith Kahn-Harris says in the Guardian:
" While for some anti-Zionism is always synonymous with antisemitism, it is more accurate to suggest that in at least some cases many anti-Zionists are naive to assume an absolute distinction between Jews and Zionism."
Nor do anti-Zionists endear themselves to people like me when we hear of outbursts like Ken's, like those of Naz Shah and the presence of Hamas and Hezbollah on pro-Palestinian rallies, regularly attended by Ken Livingstone and Jeremy Corbyn. Ken has problems with facts, and there is another factual problem of which he is woefully ignorant. The perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks are made up of three main groups: The far Right, racist yobboes and Moslem extremists opposed to Israel - the latter group being composed of people who probably attend the same rallies as Ken and Jeremy Corbyn (Neo-nazis attend as well, but without a banner).
In a nutshell, I support the decision to suspend Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party. Not because I believe him to be an anti-Semite, just a steaming great prat. As Hugh Muir has said:
"With a light shining brighter in his direction than he might wish, Livingstone will again face charges of antisemitism. He will deny them now, as in the past...
But what he will struggle to deny is that once again, his own quirks and a lack of care and precision in his language have allowed those charges to be repeated, and at a time when both he and his party are vulnerable to them. He will have to explain why he is a repeat offender, knowing that each time his explanations seem less credible.
The wound is self-inflicted. It was unnecessary. And if this time it proves fatal to his place in the party and public life, he has only himself to blame."


  1. I endorse all that this article contains. I can only add that Ken has always appeared to me to be a naïve prat, who is only surpassed by George Galloway in lacking intellectual rigour.

  2. I've been mulling this over for a few days.

    “I wish I had a tenner for every time I'd heard someone say that anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism”. The fact that you may have heard it a lot doesn't make it wrong. As you know, Zionism is not a religion, whereas Judaism is, so we should be able to distinguish between a religion and a political movement. The fact that we are being discouraged from doing so constitutes something of a propaganda victory for Israel.

    You state that 72% of Jews regard themselves as Zionists. So what? The majority of British citizens consider themselves to be Christians, but it would be facile (to use your term) to treat the terms 'British' and 'Christian' as interchangeable. In fact, Theodor Herzl, one of the founders of modern Zionism, was an atheist. How can that possibly be if the terms 'Judaism' and 'Zionism' are, as you imply, largely synonymous?

    However, you are not alone in confusing the political ideology with the religion. When Netanhayu was in the USA as guest of the Congress, he persisted in referring to “the Jewish state” rather than Israel, which is after all the official name of the country. In my opinion, he was doing it deliberately so that any criticism of Israel's actions could be dismissed as prejudice. Countries, like people, are not perfect, and Israel is no exception. When Archbishop Desmond Tutu went to see for himself, he – a prominent anti-apartheid campaigner as well as a respected churchman – stated that the treatment of the Palestinians reminded him of apartheid South Africa. However, we are being conditioned to believe that any criticism whatsoever of Israel constitutes anti-Semitism.

    You quote Keith Kahn- Harris of the Guardian as saying that “in at least some cases many anti-Zionists are naive to assume an absolute distinction between Jews and Zionism.” He has created a false argument there; I have never come across anyone who holds such a view. Zionism is a political movement that relates exclusively to Jews, certainly, but that does not make it the same as the religion, and it is a tenet of democratic government that political movements can be scrutinised, criticised and even condemned when they deserve it. Furthermore, assuming your 72% figure is correct, that leaves 28% of Jews who do not regard themselves as Zionists. That is between a quarter and a third of the total, which is not an insignificant number. What are these? Are they, as the Zionists say, self-hating Jews? That's how Zionists denigrate the opinions of Jews who do not buy into their ideology. So much for: “I disagree with what you say, but I defend your right to say it.” No, they are virtually calling such Jews traitors. Firstly, it shows that Zionism brooks no dissent, but secondly, that the distinction between the political movement and the religion is not facile, but based on hard fact. You must be aware that there are organised Jewish groups, including some very Orthodox rabbis, who actively oppose to Israel's actions. Are they being facile too?

    Whatever people's views on the Israel-Palestine situation, it is completely unacceptable that we cannot criticise one party to the conflict without being accused of prejudice.

    For the record, I do not believe all Palestinians are saints. The Munich Olympics and the Achille Lauro hijacking are sufficient evidence to the contrary.

  3. A good post by RedNev that illustrates how convoluted this subject is. To obscure the subject matter further, I will add the following:-
    The growth of the Zionist movement in Eastern Europe during the latter part of the 19th and early 20th century was a reaction to the strengthening anti-Semitism in those regions. The Balfour Declaration and the League of Nations declaration (1920) called for the creation of a Jewish state in the Holy land/Palestine. Zionism may be called a political movement in that it is dedicated to the recreation of the state of Israel but it is a Jewish movement and the state of Israel was to be a Jewish State.
    The fact that there are Jews that are anti-Zionists may be misleading to non Jews. Many devout Jews in the Diaspora believed that only the Messiah could lead them back to the Promised Land and recreate the perfect State. Hence the State of Israel is an imperfect man made construct and not the true Zion (such believers can also try to evade National Service/work/taxes/etc.)
    My argument is that all Jews are Zionists - only some, mainly the ultraorthodox, are waiting for the Messiah to create it. Hence is an anti-Zionist an anti-Semite? Probably.

  4. Thank you both for your comments, chaps. It's a shame you, Neville, completely missed the main point of my post, which is a defence of Ken Livingstone (not that ken has thanked me). You have gone off at a lengthy tangent ( and Phil has followed you). I could let myself be diverted, of course. I could point out that I never said it was "wrong" to repeat the platitude "Anti-Semitism isn't anti-Semitism"; I just find it tedious. I could also point out that no-one has claimed that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism. The Israeli opposition criticizes the government all the time, and I myself, as a member of AI, have supported campaigns for Palestinian prisoners of conscience on a number of occasions. But I won't. Instead, I repeat my charge of stupidity against Ken Livingstone, which caused Sadique Khan so much anxiety during the London Mayoral campaign. I would also draw the attention of both you gentlemen to the fact that up to 50 Labour Party members have been suspended for anti-Semitism in the past two months. Thanks again for your contributions, chaps, but anti-Semitism is not a simple matter of semantics.

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  5. In that case, your original post wasn't clear enough.

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  7. Well, I must apologise for the typo in my comment. I should have said "...the platitude "anti-Zionism isn't anti-Semitism". I am also sorry if terms like "crass stupidity" and "steaming great prat" failed to make clear my view of Ken Livingstone.