This week Ken Livingstone, ex-Mayor of London and long-time campaigner for those at the sharper end of capitalism’s rusty knife said the following in reference to comments by suspended MP Naz Shah – it was stupid and wrong, and he should apologise:
“It’s completely over the top but it’s not anti-semitism. Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”
Ken said other things that are apparently offensive in the interview, largely about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, but they are so blatantly factual that any one finding themselves offended by them is clearly Islamophobic (see what I did there? Read on to see the divine logic).
Livingstone’s comments were a one day front page story at best – especially given the decades awaited verdict this week apportioning blame to South Yorkshire Police in the case pertaining to the Hillsborough disaster.
How this could possibly have garnered more attention than the race baiting Zac Goldsmith has attempted in his London mayoral campaign requires contortions the likes of which only the British media can manage. This however, I expect. After all – it is the very same media that decided 96 deaths at an FA Cup semi-final were most probably the fault of drunken hooligans.
What disappoints me so much more is to see Labour members, and supposed Labour advocates in the press (special mention must go to Owen Jones here), helping virulently hostile media machines to keep the story going throughout the week. Further continuation of this thread – that bonds together the alleged Labourite anti-Semitism conspiracy – serves only those who seek to destroy Labour and working class representation in this country. These people should really know better. I suppose there are not many column inches in saying ‘calm down and be serious’.
Ken was suspended, and rightfully so. Corbyn has set up an inquiry into anti-semitism and racism in the party, again rightfully so. What more is required here? The media have decided in unison that Labour is now a hotbed of anti-semites before a moment of investigation has taken place, and by extension Jeremy Corbyn must also be an anti-semite, yes? Well as you are likely beginning to understand it is not particularly important wherther he is or not. What is important to his detractors is that he falls on that sword, even if most of the reported incidents occurred before his leadership began.
Here I would like to ask the question, what does it mean to be anti-semitic in the context that someone like John Mann means it, by which I mean a very narrow political-media context? How sharp is the sword destined for the leader of Labour Party’s knape when the term anti-semitism is so carelessly stapled on the backs of those who dissent from the UK line on Israel?
With this territory comes a certain inevitability. Observers may read my subsequent words, and those of others simply seeking to balance out the torrential attack, and think – “he’s clearly trying to mask obvious anti-semitism”. In the face of charges of that ilk no satisfactory justification will ever be provided. I have attended meetings packed with relatively representative cross sections of society on the issue of Israel/Palestine for years, meetings that largely displayed no philosophy more radical than simple peace advocacy. Very few of the attendees felt Israel had ‘no right to exist’ at all – as is often claimed. I was called an anti-Semite for attending those. After the fifth or sixth occasion I stopped hearing it. I believe something similar is happening in our political culture.
But let me say, I am not interested in winning some moralistic debate about the correct terms and accordance for various treaties and myopic 20th century decisions in a contested land more foreign to me than the Arctic circle. I just want to prevent people from being murdered and having their homes stolen because we have so internalised the idea that anti-Zionism is the same as anti-semitism to a point at which we cannot reasonably criticise these actions. I am not interested in winning the approval of such catastrophically pathetic individuals as Wes Streeting and Luke Akehurst. They would appear as tadpoles in a teaspoon of water. So please call myself and others what you like, I am not the sensitive type.
I see a great deal of evidence both anecdotally and in the current media hyperbole, that attacks such as those laid at the door of Labour this week have served to nullify the term ‘anti-semite’ to the point of near redundancy.
There will be few who may describe themselves as pro-Palestinian activists who will not have been called an anti-semite on numerous occasions. At this point trying to decipher between those who are principled peace activists, and the tiny minority who are ‘THE ROTHSCHILDS ARE RUNNING THE WORLD’ delusionists is utterly impossible. For decades the tarpaulin of shame has been cast over each and every one of them, unsuccessfully. If you want a serious discussion about this issue then let us have some respect and admit that pro-Palestinian activism is a legitimate and worthy cause, and allow for some media reflection on the imperialism club that is Labour Friends of Israel. Until that day your claims are beyond hypocrisy, they are ashes in the mouths of lemmings.
So when I am told that you can be anti-Zionist, and not be an anti-Semite – I wonder why it is so many people who are the former are referred to as the latter? I can only conclude therefore that an anti-semite, at least in one variety, is someone who critcises the current borders of Israel. If I am wrong then there is hope yet.
Livingstone is most definitely a buffoon. There is little of intellectual merit or even contemporary relevance about discussing whether or not Hitler had Zionist sympathies (for my own money I see no evidence of this, only the fact Hitler was happy to utilise it as an apparatus of manipulation), no matter what you say you are going to end up discussing Hitler in some sort of revisionist light. Ken should know better both as a seasoned politician, and as a man of principle that this would not end well for him, or the party, and would undoubtedly upset a constituency of people who demand respect on this issue. Gladly the Jewish Socialist’s Group and a number of concerned and prominent Jewish members of Labour have written to express a more balanced approach in recent days.
There is one big aspect missing from all of these balanced accounts however, and that is how the media seek to report this entire debate. Stories such as those detailing the air assaults on Gaza hospitals in 2014 received only cursory attention in the British press in comparison to this week’s pantomime (thankfully Channel 4 were a rare exception), while the moralistic chieftains of ‘sensible’ Labour so vocal this week could not have been quieter in their opposition at the time. Where it did exist, it was meek and cautionary.
Is it fair to take these two events, anti-semitism in British politics and Israeli aggression, and draw indicative comparisons? I would say yes, it most definitely is. The reason I do so is simple. The same individuals today chaining themselves to the fences of social media in opposition at the evil that is Ken Livingstone, were tacitly justifying this barbarity as ‘self-defence’ but two summers ago.
Where lies the moral compass of these individuals? The Nick Cohen’s and Tim Stanley’s of this world? Do they expect us to believe that a foolish statement from a politician is tantamount to the collapse of credibility on the left, yet tangential support for child murder is significant of political maturity? I am no pacifist, far from it, yet I would have to witness irrefutable evidence not seen since Bernadette bumped into the Virgin Mary at Lourdes before you could get me into a conversation about the strategic and moral legitimacy of firing missiles at hospitals.
If those of us seeking balance are justifying anti-semitism, then the logic that defending Israel justifies such egregious attacks, holds true also. You simply cannot have it both ways.
The reason Ken Livingstone will be dragged out for the next year or more for summary tar and feathering, is the exact same reason the bombing of hospitals is swept under the carpet. That reason is the oldest of all, power.
Muslim bashing is de rigueur in this country, it’s almost an entire media sub-industry. Very few people, beyond those with some sense of consistency, find this troublesome whatsoever it seems. Naturally many will opine that each subsequent attack has ‘gone a bit far’, but you will never see a week long media circus and resignations aplenty over it. Let us take the case of Zac Goldsmith’s race baiting in London again, where he claimed the Labour candidate and Muslim Sadiq Khan did not want to talk about Tamils when in government and expressed a desire to tax jewellery and heirlooms in leaflets directed at Hindus. Policies one onlooker stated “seemed as though he picked the brains of an adviser and has played on the anxieties of the south Asian community.” I have neither the time nor inclination to quantify the relative column inches, tweets, and television minutes the two tales received in comparison – but I am willing to make a healthy bet that the one which gave succour to those wishing to dethrone Corbyn received a great deal more.
These power dynamics, and resulting slavish devotion to ignoring them from our pensmiths and politicians, create perverse situations such as Saudi Arabia, a despicably anti-Semitic country, being treated as friends and welcomed with open arms. It’s the same reason Hillsborough will finally reach some sort of conclusion in the coming years, yet those murdered by the state in Northern Ireland will die without answers.
Power and politics, that’s all it is. Keep your eyes away from the petrol being poured on the fire, it’s the flames that are important…..nothing more. There are people holding anti-Semitic views who are members of the Labour Party. No one can deny that. There are also members of the SNP and Conservatives who have publicly exhibited such inclinations, facts that appear fundamentally disinteresting when not coupled with an emerging coup opportunity.
As long as we focus on Livingstone’s peculiar understanding of history, not the junior doctors leaving the country because they are being overworked and understaffed this perpetual idiocy will continue, and with it so too the intelligence vacuum that is Tory rule will continue.
After all, it makes for a better headline – and that’s what really matters…
Addendum: I did not have time to comment on the actions of John Mann here.