Amid New UK Labour Party Antisemitism Row, Ex-London Mayor Claims Offensive Comments About Jews Are ‘Not Antisemitic’
The former Labour Party mayor of London, Ken Livingstone — long the bête noire of UK Jews for his association with Islamists and his constant allegations that Adolf Hitler was a supporter of Zionism — told a radio station in the British capital on Wednesday that making “offensive comments” about Jews was not necessarily a sign of antisemitism, amid a new row over antisemitic displays at Labour’s annual conference.
“Some people have made offensive comments, it doesn’t mean they’re inherently antisemitic and hate Jews,” Livingstone said during an interview with the London station Talk Radio. “They just go over the top when they criticize Israel.”
Livingstone did not say whether his promotion of the libel that Hitler “supported Zionism” and similar outlandish claims — for example, that the “SS set up training camps” for German Jews immigrating to Mandatory Palestine — constituted “going over the top.” In April 2016, Livingstone was suspended from the Labour Party for his Hitler comments — a move strongly criticized by those, including Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson, who argued that expulsion was the only proper penalty.
Livingstone’s latest comments came in the context of a wider defense of his friend and ally, party leader Jeremy Corbyn, over the consistent stream of antisemitism scandals plaguing Labour — including one speech at this week’s annual conference that called for Jewish groups to be “kicked out” of the party, and another, by anti-Zionist Israeli activist Miko Peled, that presented the question “Holocaust: yes or no?” as a legitimate subject for debate.
Jeremy Newmark, the head of the Labour-affiliated Jewish Labour Movement, said that such comments amounted to “a thinly-veiled call to purge Jews from the Labour Party.” But according to Livingstone and others on the far left, the antisemitism scandals have largely been manufactured to undermine Corbyn’s leadership.
On Tuesday, the Labour Conference voted to tighten rules governing antisemitic behavior by party members, shortly after Corbyn said that antisemitism was “completely at odds with the beliefs of this party.” But one prominent critic of the party said the rule change was pointless without an agreed definition of what constituted antisemitism.
The rule changes “make it easier to expel antisemites from the party, however they do not make it easier to prove that an antisemite is actually antisemitic,” the Campaign Against Antisemitism said in a statement. This has “been a major part of the Labour Party’s problem,” the group said.
Joe Glasman — head of Political and Government Investigations at the Campaign Against Antisemitism — cited new research from the group “showing that antisemitism amongst Labour officials is eight times higher than in any other party.”
“If Labour wants to shed its well-earned reputation for accepting Jew-hatred, it will have to walk, not talk.” Glasman said.
The head of the government-sponsored Equality and Human Rights Commission also joined the criticism of the antisemitism on display at Labour’s conference. “Antisemitism is racism and the Labour Party needs to do more to establish that it is not a racist party,” the commission’s chief executive, Rebecca Hilsenrath, said in a statement.
Hilsenrath continued: “A zero tolerance approach to antisemitism should mean just that. When senior party figures are saying there’s a problem, then the leadership should take swift action. It is simply not acceptable to say they oppose these views.”
Corbyn’s own attitude toward Jews in the Labour Party has been another thorn in the side of its conference. On Tuesday night, Corbyn became the first party leader to skip the annual reception given by Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) — where Israeli Labor Party MK Stav Shaffir led guests in a moment of silence for the three Israelis killed earlier in the day in a Palestinian terrorist attack near Jerusalem.
Although LFI organizers were told that Corbyn was unable to attend because he was working on his speech to the conference, the Labour leader was photographed on the same evening at four different receptions. His address on Wednesday made no reference to antisemitism, drawing forthright criticism from the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
“After disgraceful anti-Jewish incidents at the conference, and the opportunity provided by Labour’s adoption of more specific rules on antisemitism, Jeremy Corbyn’s speech was a missed opportunity to address specifically the issue of antisemitism,” Board of Deputies Chief Executive Gillian Merron said.
Merron added: “It was also troubling that Jeremy Corbyn made reference to what he called the ‘oppression of the Palestinian people’ without mentioning terrorist attacks, like the recent cold-blooded murder of three Israelis.”
During his long career as a Labour parliamentarian, Corbyn described Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends,” chaired the pro-BDS and anti-Zionist Stop the War Coalition and was a generously-paid presenter on the Iranian regime’s international broadcaster, Press TV.