Labour’s crisis of anti-Semitism

Ken Livingstone plunges Labour into crisis

In the week before the local and London Mayoral elections, interviews with Ken Livingstone about allegations of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party exploded into a crisis that overshadowed Labour’s local election campaign.

Ken Livingstone in an interview with Venessa Feltz defending suspended Labour MP Naz Shah, who had posted anti-Semitic material on Facebook, alluded to an agreement between the Nazis and a Zionist organisation for the resettlement of Jews in Palestine. He commented that:

“…when Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel, he supported Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews”.

Listening to the interview there was no apparent context to make the reference to the Haavara Agreement and it’s unsurprising it caused offence.

Amongst the responses was the reaction of John Mann MP who confronted Ken Livingstone before a Daily Politics interview with accusations of being a Nazi apologist and being a racist. The manner of John Mann’s intervention was guaranteed to generate headline news…

The Livingstone defence

Ken Livingstone’s defence is that he was factually correct on there being an agreement between Nazi Germany and Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland (Zionist Federation of Germany).

However even though factually correct in that there was an agreement, the Hitler going mad bit is nonsense, the conclusion that Hitler ‘supported’ Zionism is problematic on two counts:

1) The motivation of the Nazis and the Zionist Federation of Germany were completely different. Hitler had no sympathy for the reasons that the Zionist Federation of Germany entered into the Haavara Agreement. He was motivated by a long standing hatred of the Jews.

2) Using the word ‘support’ invites the danger of victim blaming. This is analogous to choosing to raise the point that Africans were also involved in supplying captives to white slave traders when discussing the discrimination against black Americans in the USA and the historic injustice of the slave trade. Racists can use this as cover to shift responsibility from those who commissioned the crimes to its victims, one has to exercise extreme caution when discussing the history of the Zionist movement as with any other discussion that can carry undertones of racism.

Naz Shah’s Facebook posts

Naz Shah’s Facebook posts of anti-Semitic images, in particular the image falsely conflating the Holocaust and the military occupation of Palestinian lands, are clearly anti-Semitic.

Facebook Posts
Naz Shah Facebook Posts

Naz Shah’s apology in the House of Commons and the Jewish News acknowledged this along with her suspension from the Labour Party.

There was no need for comment from Ken Livingstone beyond allowing and stating that the process dealing with Naz Shah would follow its natural course.

Ken Livingstone’s comments were bound to be pounced on and he has to accept responsibility for handing ammunition to Labour’s enemies, both inside and outside the Labour Party.

A sense of proportion: How widespread is anti-Semitism in the Labour Party?

On the Andrew Marr Show 1st May 2016 Dianne Abbot made the point, in response to a question where Marr implied that anti-Semitism was a deep problem in the Labour Party, that to date there had been a dozen incidences of anti-Semitic and racism and all those had been suspended within 48 hours.

In a party of around 400,000 members and registered supporters those are tiny numbers and are not enough to show that there is a systemic problem. Having said that, the enquiry into racism to be chaired by Shami Chakrabarti will not only reassure that the Labour Party is not a comforting environment for anti-Semites but also set out clear guidelines that nip any further incidents in the bud.

The membership and the cloud of anti-Semitism

There is great frustration in the Labour ranks that their efforts to challenge Conservative policies such as enforced academisation have been over shadowed. They will be further frustrated at Labour MPs taking to the airwaves to criticise the party and the leadership.

While Labour figures are right to raise the issue of anti-Semitism, they need to exercise more care in the manner they express their concern. Otherwise there is the risk of giving the misleading impression that the bulk of the membership are tolerant of anti-Semitism.

There are of course those who are deliberately resorting to distortions and slurs to attack the party and the left in general. Typical of this was a Newsnight interview, 27th April 2016, with Rabbi and Baroness Julia Neuberger who asserted that:

“At the moment it [anti-Semitism] is much more specific to Labour, it is attached to the Jeremy Corbyn becoming leader, and therefore, old… some of this existed probably within Militant. For those of us old enough to remember Militant, it existed there, it is an issue with the hard left and in particular a criticism of Israel, and I suspect that peoples whose views would not have been acceptable in the Labour Party have rejoined or they have joined…”

No evidence is offered to back up these rather meandering claims (I had personal experience of Militant at the time and there was no evidence of anti-Semitism in that group), and is a crude attempt at smearing Jeremy Corbyn.

The Conservatives anti-Semitism problem: Cameron’s hypocrisy

Cameron’s lecture on anti-Semitism at Prime Ministers Questions is particularly grotesque given that he willingly forged alliances with openly anti-Semitic groups in the European parliament.

Labour should not take any lessons from the Tories. It’s frustrating that they have been given such a light ride on the use of Islamophobia in the London mayoral election, where they have tried to link Sadiq Khan to ‘radical and extremist Muslims’. At times this has been farcical. One of those so called extremists that the Tories condemned, Suliman Gani, turned out to be a Tory supporter! It goes without saying that neither Zac Goldsmith nor David Cameron have apologised to Suliman Gani.

Cameron’s record and his defence of the Conservative’s behaviour in the mayoral election shows that for the Tories racism is a systemic problem in their party.

Labour is duty bound to rip out all signs of racism from its ranks, not because of negative headlines or that it gives ammunition to those opposed to Jeremy Corbyn, but because it is the natural party of all those who face prejudice and discrimination.

Gary Hollands – May 2nd 2016.

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