Who would’ve thought it? Ken Livingstone has finally been suspended from the Labour Party for anti-Semitic comments. Not by Tony Blair, who always considered Livingstone a royal pain in the behind, nor by Ed Miliband, Labour’s first Jewish leader, but instead by his close friend and political ally, Jeremy Corbyn.
The response from many of the left-wing Labour members has been predictable: “Antisemitism? In our party? Never!” You only have to scroll through the comments on Owen Jones’ Facebook status explaining why Corbyn was right to suspend Livingstone to see the mental acrobatics that people will go through to defend a man who has said “a real anti-Semite doesn't just hate the Jews in Israel, they hate their Jewish neighbour in Golders Green or in Stoke Newington”, and argued that it is over the top to consider anti-Semitism and racism the same thing.
Ken has a history of ill-considered comments and actions. He said that a reporter who was questioning him was reminiscent of a concentration camp guard, even after being told that the reporter was Jewish. He told two Iranian-Jewish businessmen to “go back to Iran and see if they can do better under the ayatollahs.” He claimed, in a leaked letter to Ed Miliband, that Jews wouldn’t vote for him because they were all rich.
But anti-Semitism isn’t the only reason Ken has been reprimanded by the Labour higher-ups: several months ago he said that Kevan Jones, a Labour MP with depression, “might need some psychiatric help. He's obviously very depressed and disturbed.” He’s also been accused of homophobia, saying that gay Labour MPs had all come out publicly because “if you came out as lesbian or gay you immediately got a job”, but that most gay Conservative MPs were still closeted, even though the Tories were “riddled” with homosexuals.
But the thing that has got Ken in the most trouble is his disconcerting comments about Hitler’s views on Zionism. Now, it’s worth pointing out that even if everything Ken had said (that Hitler was a supporter of Zionism in 1932) were accurate, it would have been in horrible taste, given that this was in defence of Labour MP Naz Shah’s support of the idea that the Holocaust was legal and that the “Jews are rallying”. Ken Livingstone has refused to apologise for his comments on the grounds that his assertions were correct, but he is actually completely wrong.
What Ken refers to, when he talks about Hitler’s support of Zionism, is the NSDAP’s original “solution to the Jewish question”, which was the forced emigration of Jews out of Germany, rather than their “Final Solution”, which was the murder of all Jews. The basis for this proposed solution was not Hitler’s keenness on the idea of the Jewish people having their own state, as is implied by Ken’s suggestions, but rather the desire for a mass exodus of Jews, firmly rooted in anti-Semitism. At first, the Nazis toyed with the idea of forcibly expelling all Jews to Madagascar. However, after this was concluded to be untenable, the Nazis made an agreement (The Haavara agreement) with the Zionist organisation to allow Jews to emigrate to Palestine more easily.
To imply that this agreement had its roots in Hitler’s support of Zionism and Jewish self-determination rather than a deep-seated hatred of Jews contradicts what Hitler himself had already written in Mein Kampf: “while the Zionists try to make the rest of the world believe that the national consciousness of the Jew finds its satisfaction in the creation of a Palestinian state, the Jews again slyly dupe the dumb Goyim. It doesn’t even enter their heads to build up a Jewish state in Palestine for the purpose of living there; all they want is a central organisation for their international world swindle.” When he wrote this, according to Ken Livingstone, Hitler was a supporter of Zionism who had not yet “gone mad”.
Despite all of this, the Corbynista “Twitterati” have decidedly declared themselves “Team Ken”. Abuse is hurled at everyone from Owen Jones to Nick Cohen to Jonathan Freedland; anyone who says that Ken has gone too far, regardless of their political persuasion, is fair game. Although there is certainly a degree of truth behind it, the idea that you can be critical of the Israeli government and Zionism without being anti-Semitic is becoming something of a disclaimer in the vein of “I’m not racist but…” and “Islamophobia isn’t racism because Islam isn’t a race”.
Although the membership might have some questionable characters with questionable opinions, Corbyn’s Labour Party is standing firm against antisemitism. John McDonnell has been especially clear about the fact that Labour will not stand for anything that could even be perceived as anti-Semitic. The direction that Labour is moving in is an encouraging one; Corbyn could easily have buried his head in the sand and ignored Labour’s problem with anti-Semites, instead, he has addressed it directly, and has reaffirmed his credentials as an anti-racist. In the prelude to the London mayoral election on May 5th, Zac Goldsmith has already linked Sadiq Khan with Muslim extremists in his recent article in the Daily Mail. Fortunately for Labour, because of Khan’s condemnation of Livingstone’s comments, and because of the Party’s quick action against both Shah and Livingstone, the person who has to worry about losing votes amid racism accusations is not Sadiq Khan.