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."