In Wake of Livingstone Resignation, UK Jewish Groups and MPs Say More Needs to Be Done About Labour Antisemitism
British Jewish leaders and MPs have hailed former London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s decision to resign from the Labour Party in the wake of a years-long antisemitism scandal.
Livingstone — a prominent far-left figure once known as “Red Ken” — has a long history of anti-Israel statements, but ran into serious trouble in 2016 when he told an interviewer, “When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”
The Jewish community and others reacted with outrage to the comments, which were part of a larger series of antisemitism scandals involving Labour activists and officials following the 2015 election of Jeremy Corbyn as the party’s leader.
Livingstone refused to apologize, asserting that he merely said Hitler supported Zionism rather than that Hitler was a Zionist. He did not elaborate on the distinction between the two.
In his resignation statement, Livingstone remained unrepentant, saying, “I do not accept the allegation that I have brought the Labour Party into disrepute — nor that I am in any way guilty of antisemitism. I abhor antisemitism, I have fought it all my life and will continue to do so.”
“I also recognize that the way I made a historical argument has caused offense and upset in the Jewish community,” he added. “I am truly sorry for that.”
Corbyn himself lamented Livingstone’s exit, stating, “Ken Livingstone’s resignation is sad after such a long and vital contribution to London and progressive politics, but was the right thing to do.”
Jewish community leaders and MPs hailed the resignation, but noted that it was in many ways too little, too late.
Joe Glasman, head of political and government investigations at the Campaign Against Antisemitism, said in a statement:
Even with the resignation of Ken Livingstone, the Labour Party is growing worse. Jeremy Corbyn has already rubbed salt into the wound by saying that Mr Livingstone’s departure makes him “sad” and is still trying to promote Mr. Livingstone’s defender, Martha Osamor, to the House of Lords. Just today, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, run by senior Labour figures including the incoming Chair of Labour’s Disputes Panel passed a resolution backing Mr. Livingstone and calling for the reinstatement of Marc Wadsworth who was expelled for accusing a Jewish Labour MP of orchestrating a media conspiracy. The Labour Party’s antisemitism problem seems to be growing, not receding. Perhaps had the Labour Party expelled Mr. Livingstone when it had the chance, that might have started to change. Mr. Corbyn must apologize for his statement, and confirm immediately that Mr. Livingstone will never be readmitted to the Party.
The Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies of British Jews echoed these sentiments in a joint statement.
“Ken Livingstone’s resignation makes it clear that he wanted to avoid going through a disciplinary process,” the statement read. “His resignation does not detract from the need for the Labour party to take the concrete action to counter anti-Semitism that we set out in our letter of 28 March. It does not solve any of the party’s issues with anti-Semitism, it simply avoids a potentially messy disciplinary process.”
Labour MP Luciana Berger, who has been the target of threats for her opposition to antisemitism in the Labour Party, reacted to the news by saying, “Glad to hear it. Should have happened 2 years ago.”
MP Ruth Smeeth, who has also faced threats, said, “Ken Livingstone’s behaviour has been grossly offensive to British Jews. His departure is welcome, but the fact that he still refuses to accept responsibility for his actions is a disgrace.”
“The truth is that Ken’s despicable and hurtful attitude should have seen him expelled years ago,” she added.