Fighting the bogey of anti-Semitism
Always a contentious figure, this veteran of the British left was once reviled for talking to Irish nationalists. Now “Red Ken” has provoked uproar with remarks about Jews and Israel hugely embarrassing to the Labour Party and its leader, his old ally, Jeremy Corbyn.
Livingstone was speaking up for the Muslim Labour MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah, after it emerged that at the time of the 2014 Gaza war she posted a furious Facebook comment: “Solution to Israel-Palestine conflict: Relocate Israel into US.” Seeking to explain the comment — which has led to Shah’s suspension from the party pending an inquiry — Livingstone maintained she was expressing hostility to Zionism not Israel. What caused outrage was his further observation that “before he went mad” Adolf Hitler was a Zionist who had favored the transfer of Jews.
Widely seen as anti-Semitic, Livingstone’s remarks — which have led to his own suspension from the Labour Party — could hardly have been more counterproductive. A hard-bitten septuagenarian, who well knows that perceptions are the very stuff of politics, he has given the Labour Party’s enemies the opportunity to portray the British Left as rife with anti-Semitism. And this at a moment when the party is about to contest local elections and the London mayoral election, with Labour’s Muslim candidate for the mayoralty, Sadiq Khan, already the target of smears by his Conservative opponent, Zac Goldsmith, that he is in league with militants committed to destroying Israel.
Jeremy Corbyn, too, is contending with claims that he has shared platforms with anti-Semites. At the same time, student unions in British universities, where Corbyn enjoys much support, stand accused of having given hospitality to preachers of hatred toward Jews.
It is true that Corbyn is a long-standing critic of Israel; it is also true that many of the young people who have recently swelled his party’s ranks and who helped to elect him as leader, not a few Muslims among them, were students or ex-students won over by his inveterate championship of justice for the Palestinians and his opposition to US foreign policy. That Zionist Jews in the Labour Party and British universities face bitter opposition can hardly be doubted.
Yet what must also be acknowledged is that everything about Jeremy Corbyn’s “progressive” stance is abhorrent to much of the UK political and media culture. Demonized by the Conservative government and by most British newspapers, the Labour leader is demonized no less by the marginalized “New Labour” faction of his own party once led by the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. There are “Blairite” MPs and members of the Labour Party whose zeal to oust Corbyn does not stop short of deliberately exploiting anti-Semitism as a means of discrediting him.
Interviewed on the BBC current affairs program, Newsnight, the erstwhile Labour Party fund-raiser, Lord Michael Levy, who served as Blair’s Middle East envoy, declared that the problem of anti-Semitism in the party ran deep. Levy was speaking from Tel Aviv — not perhaps the best vantage point from which to establish the veracity of such a claim. A truer picture may emerge following the independent inquiry into alleged Labour Party anti-Semitism that has been set up by Corbyn under the aegis of the veteran British human rights lawyer, Shami Chakrabarti.
It is arguable that Tony Blair and Zionist allies like Levy bear no little blame for exacerbating anger on the British Left with regard to Israel and its supporters. For years they purported to be pursuing an even-handed approach to resolving the Palestine-Israel conflict. Yet their words were to be belied by their actions, or rather lack of them, and by their conspicuously close ties with the Israeli political establishment.
Meanwhile, as controversy over alleged anti-Semitism in the Labour Party rages, coverage of the latest terrible phase of the Palestine-Israel conflict, far from copious to begin with, has dropped off the agenda of the British media. About this, it must be said, British “friends of Israel” appear to nurse no qualms whatsoever.
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