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.
As regular commenters know, holocaust denial is strictly banned on this blog and anti-Semitism has been by far the most common cause of comments being deleted. It is therefore very probable that your comments will get blocked for moderation by various keyword captures we have set up. Be patient.