Ken Livingstone: Stubborn and Wrong, But Not Anti-Semitic 327

After careful consideration I have decided to venture into the question of Ken Livingstone and his suspension from the Labour Party.

To my knowledge, nobody has intimated that Ken Livingstone is an anti-Semite in the sense that he is a racist who acts with prejudice towards Jewish people. I do not think it even vaguely probable that he is that. I know him only slightly, and have shared a platform with him on a couple of occasions. But from everything I can find in his history, I believe he has been a genuine campaigning anti-racist his whole life.

There is however a perfectly open movement to define anti-Semitism not as prejudice against Jewish people, but as deviation from accepted political views on the formation of the state of Israel and its current position and policies. I do not accept this attempt to argue that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. I believe that the attempt to conflate the two needs to be resisted for the sake of maintaining our own political freedom of expression.

But that does not mean Ken Livingstone acted wisely or even properly. The disaster that attended European Jews in the second world war was so huge, that it needs to be approached with great sensitivity. Livingstone claims that certain Jewish Zionists had a pre-Holocaust deal with the Nazis. To me, that is very analogous to alleging that an acknowledged rape victim had some previous relationship with her abusive rapist. It has no possible relevance other than to be some kind of “she asked for it” point.

Livingstone’s point may or may not be true but, even if it is, we do not go around throwing out random facts out of context. Just because something is true does not make it helpful to say it at any given moment.

I quite genuinely have no idea whether the point Livingstone makes is historically true, and if so how fringe or not were the elements involved in the relationship. But it is not relevant. It would be surprising if there did not, in the very early stages of Nazi power, appear to a few fringe elements to be some room to explore common interests between those who wanted Jews to leave Germany, and those who wanted to establish a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. Everyone was trying to accommodate to the difficult fact of Nazi power. The British royal family and aristocracy, the Pope, Northcliffe and his Daily Mail, David Lloyd George, pretty well all of corporate Germany and, I even admit, a very few isolated Scottish nationalists, failed at some stages to realise or to respond correctly to the evil of Nazism and sought various ways to use Nazi Germany to forward their own interests. Some of these were very culpable. You can find attempts on that difficult spectrum from accommodation to collaboration in various forms everywhere, in almost every community.

I do not want to see the apartheid state of Israel continue in its current form, though as with apartheid South Africa I wish to see a solution to unifying Palestine that does not involve further forced movement of any population. But I do not in any sense accept a historically important link between Israel and the Nazis, except in the obvious sense that revulsion at the Holocaust created the conditions for international acceptance of the violent establishment of Israel. Picking at the oddities of history on such a sensitive subject is mischievous.

Freedom of speech has limits. There is no doubt that Holocaust denial is very closely linked de facto to Nazi apologism and to anti-Semitism. I say that with a clear acceptance than there were many other victims of the death camps too – Poles, Gypsies, Homosexuals, Communists, Freemasons etc. etc. But the fact there are other victims does not reduce the Jewish disaster and attempts to deny or minimise what happened to the Jewish people under the Nazis are not acceptable.

I therefore think that Livingstone was wrong to blunder into discussing Hitler’s alleged early support for Zionism, and much more wrong not to then realise this was a mistake and to apologise. I do not however believe that in any sense his motivation was personal anti-Semitism, and I do not believe that anybody believes he is genuinely somebody who dislikes Jewish people.

I am not a member of the Labour Party and it is not my fight. But it seems to me in consequence the suspension of Ken Livingstone for a further year is about the correct punishment. He was wrong-headed and distasteful, but not a racist. Nobody truly thinks he is a racist, so the light suspension was Labour’s way of reflecting this while not meeting head-on the question of the ludicrous expansion of the meaning of anti-Semitism.

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327 thoughts on “Ken Livingstone: Stubborn and Wrong, But Not Anti-Semitic

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  • Barry

    I heard he compared Hitler to Zionism. It is a long debate but Jews need to grow up. Not the choosen people. When I talk to them and they start this shit they get told to can it.

  • Robert

    Mr. Murray’s thoughts on this matter are largely accurate and much better than the derisive response of left commentators and Labor, except for the fourth paragraph which is flatly false. The scholar Lenni Brenner has documented the “transfer agreement” wherein the World Zionist Organization brokered a deal with the Nazis, via a German businessman, to pressure American Jewish organizations to call off the boycott of Germany in exchange for the transfer of $1 million worth of farm equipment to Palestine as well as a small number of the Jews exiled from Germany (this was in 1933).

    Chomsky cites this source when asked the question about Zionist collaboration with the Nazis prior to the Holocause. He’s rather good at discerning the validity of sources.

    The rape analogy is not serious. No matter how extensive the collaboration, it does not therefore mean that European Jewry was responsible for its own destruction.

    The book is available here:

  • George P. Smith

    The Haavarah (or Haavara; “Transfer Agreement”) is a fully established fact of history. Livingstone’s statements have been a little confused in details, but they aren’t a malicious made-up anti-Semitic myth. The Haavarah has been written about extensively by Jewish writers such as Lenni Brenner, who deplores the agreement, and Edwin Black, who defends it. Collaboration between Labor Zionism and the Nazi regime is far from beside the point. It shows that for the leadership of the Yishuv (the Jewish settler community in pre-state Palestine), establishment of the Jewish state was of such prime importance that they were prepared to compromise the anti-Nazi struggle to some extent in order to bring money and the right sort of Jew into Palestine. The Revisionist Zionists fought bitterly against doing any business with the Nazis, though they called themselves fascist and allied themselves with Mussolini before his alliance with Nazi Germany. Sure, the Haavarah is not like a rape victim collaborating with her rapist, but unthinking valorization of this troubled chapter in Zionist history is completely inappropriate.

  • Lost

    There is no doubt that Ken should have been more careful with what he said! Whilst what he says appears to be correct, there was no real benefit from saying it at the time he did. He was being deliberately baited by a rather obnoxious individual and trying to defend a colleague but he does have enough experience to know better.

  • Muscleguy

    I’m with you Craig. I suspect Livingstone is trying to make a stand because he too is trying to resist the creeping Anti-Zionism = Anti-Semitism. There are Orthodox Jewish Anti-Zionists (on religious grounds, the true Messiah hasn’t come back so the Jews cannot go home type of thing) and only complete loons say they are Anti-Semitic.

  • Ba'al Zevul

    More synthetic outrage from the usual suspects, who had no trouble in finding 1000 stooges, or at least their signatures. In the print edition, the Guardian subtly slants the report to indicate that these are in some way representative of Labour: they include some donors, though, and the coercion is pretty clear.

    And when the Daily Mail got antisemitic on Ed Miliband’s ass? Not a peep from any of this lot.

  • Smiling Through

    I largely agree with your headline and sentiments on Ken Livingstone, Craig.

    Can I add this on Labour’s alleged “antisemitism problem”?

    This condition is apparently so chronic that Labour’s leader until 2015 was a Jew, one elected five years before in competition with another Jew. So no evidence of an “antisemitism problem” then.

    What has changed since 2015 that has provoked this confected outrage?

    Labour has moved away from dependence on funding organised by Michael (now Lord) Levy, Jon (now Lord Mendelsohn, David (now Lord) Sainsbury and David Abrahams to resources resulting from a greatly extended membership with the consequent freedom on policy making, candidate choice and many other things that financial viability affords.

    New Labour came about on the back of money initially raised by Michael Levy, a man with no previous record of
    Labour party activity. He was introduced to the newly elected leader, Tony Blair, in 1994 by Gideon Mair, a senior diplomat at the Israeli embassy in London:

    When Blair stood down, so did Levy whose close Labour Friends of Israel colleague, Jon Mendelsohn, took on the same fund-raising role for Gordon Brown.

    Along this New Labour road periodic financial scandals arose including the one involving another associate of Levy and Mendelsohn, David Abrahams:

    What came to many in the party as a welcome freedom from dodgy donations with the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader was seen as a huge threat to those who backed the one preferred by New Labour.

    Ever since, they and their media pals have repeatedly raised the “antisemitism” issue as a club with which to beat Corbyn and those who support him, including Jewish members themselves accused of “antisemitic” activity.

    • Ba'al Zevul

      Trevor Chinn’s still in the game as far as I know. Signed the letter I linked above.

  • Ron

    Just how can a ‘dead and meaningless’ party have the temerity to suspend anyone?
    We all know that the 170 tories in the labour party charade enabled that same party to betray the people of this country. The sheer existence of this group of people is surely fraudulent

  • Resident Dissident

    “I believe that the attempt to conflate the two needs to be resisted for the sake of maintaining our own political freedom of expression.”

    I am not going to join in the bunfight as I have known what Livingstone is for a long time. I do think it is worth pointing to the above sentence of Craig’s re not conflating Anti Zionism and Anti Semitism – and then look at the comments to see how some of the “anti Zionists” here are also posting comments on unrelated matters pertaining to those of the Jewish religion or ancestry. Perhaps Craig and others might wish to consider a little resistance and clean up the shit form their own stable.

  • Jayne Venables

    With reference to para.5, and possibly of peripheral interest, a couple of literary references for folk:

    Read, and if you hear of a production let me know please, the play The Representative, or The Deputy, which is shockingly powerful, stunningly moving, caused great controversy when it came out in 1963, and concerns the nature of the Catholic Church’s relationship with the Nazi regime. The German playwright, Rolf Hochhuth, provides documentation.

    The White Crow; Eichmann in Jerusalem, a very cerebral and challenging play by Donald Freed. Previously performed at York Theatre Royal and in the US and Europe.

    Both plays look into and behind the issue of betrayal and examine the human aspects. Always relevant but particularly relevant at this time of year.

  • Ian Bell

    “I quite genuinely have no idea whether the point Livingstone makes is historically true, and if so how fringe or not were the elements involved in the relationship. But it is not relevant.”

    The degree of truth or otherwise of a histrocal statement found constructively “offensive” by those with an agendae appears to me to be deeply “relevant”. How long otherwise before unwelcome truths become unspeakable?

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