Opinion

Labour’s Refusal to Shun Livingstone Normalizes anti-Semitism

The former London mayor’s claims go well beyond lazy moral equations of Israel with Nazi Germany ubiquitous in anti-Israel circles. They have more in common with Holocaust denial.

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone leaves his home in London, Britain April 29, 2016.
Peter Nichols / Reuters

Another day, another step into the abyss for the Labour Party’s relationship with British Jews. The decision to allow Ken Livingstone to remain a member of the party was not taken in haste, without full consideration of the implications and impact of such a move. It followed days of deliberation and a finding that Livingstone was guilty as charged: but being guilty of repeatedly and wilfully hacking away at Jewish sensitivities is, seemingly, not sufficient to make somebody unsuitable to hold a Labour Party card.
 
It wasn’t enough that Livingstone, a year ago, had claimed that Hitler “was supporting Zionism” in the 1930s. He dug this hole deeper than anyone thought possible by claiming, on the threshold of his own disciplinary hearing, that in the 1930s “The SS set up training camps” to prepare German Jews for life in Palestine and Nazi Germany sold weapons “to the underground Jewish army” as part of “real collaboration” that continued up to the start of World War Two.

Needless to say, neither of these particular claims are true, and his other examples of supposed collaboration between the Nazi authorities and the Zionist movement are either completely baseless or such distortions of history as to be fundamentally misleading. But that’s not the point.

Livingstone’s claims go well beyond the lazy moral equations of Israel with Nazi Germany that have become ubiquitous in anti-Israel circles. They even exceed the claims of ideological kinship between Zionism and Nazism that Trotskyists like Lenni Brenner (who Livingstone cites as a key influence) have worked up for decades.

Livingstone’s latest claims have more in common with Holocaust denial than with Holocaust equivalency, because to believe that on the eve of the Holocaust, the SS – the most anti-Semitic organization in modern history, dedicated to the mass murder of Jews and to the extermination of the Jewish people – provided weapons and training to the Zionist movement requires a complete suspension of reality. It is false history for a political purpose.

By this way of thinking, either the SS was not as anti-Semitic as we think; or the Jewish national movement was so morally depraved and wicked that it would connive in the destruction of its own people. Given that Livingstone has called the Holocaust “the greatest racist crime of the 20th century,” it is presumably the latter conclusion that he wants people to draw.

That Livingstone can repeatedly say these things and remain in the Labour Party makes it impossible to still see it as a party that consistently opposes anti-Semitism in all its forms, as Jeremy Corbyn insists. The two are not compatible.

There is not a single serious historian of the Holocaust or of Nazi Germany who agrees with Livingstone’s interpretation of history, but his comments have been applauded by Nick Griffin, former leader of the British National Party, and by Gilad Atzmon, who calls himself a “proud self-hating Jew” and is generally shunned by many pro-Palestinian activists because of his record of anti-Semitic statements. It may not be a coincidence that both Griffin and Atzmon have indulged in Holocaust denial in their own past.

Atzmon brings us to another event in the past week that highlights the foul attitudes present in anti-Israel circles: a three-day conference on Israel’s legitimacy, held in Cork and hosted by Cork City Hall and University College Cork.

One of the key organizers of this conference was Professor Oren Ben-Dor of Southampton University. There is really no point shunning Atzmon but embracing Ben-Dor, because their views about Jews, Judaism and Jewish identity are so similar. Ben-Dor was reported as telling the Cork conference that Jews have a “victim mentality” and a "suppressed desire to be hated... to be boycotted," and that they need to "become human again". These comments are in line with his previously stated view that “pathologies that pertain to Jewish being and thinking” cause Jews to bring hatred and violence, including the Holocaust, onto themselves.

Other speakers compared Israel to Nazi Germany and one person even claimed that Israeli parents deliberately starve their children of affection so as to raise them as heartless killers. Another suggested that “Mossad agents” were involved with the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

This was, remember, an academic conference, where standards of evidence and reasoned argument are meant to be upheld and the outcomes, once published, can influence generations of students.
Livingstone would have us believe that these complaints are really a devious attempt to silence criticism of Israel. In reality, none of the comments outlined here have anything to do with normal political criticism of Israeli policies. Instead, they are part of an obsessive hatred of Israel, detached from reality and ever more inventive in its slanders, that both reflects and fuels contemporary anti-Semitism.

In Cork, as with Livingstone, the message is that “Zionists” and Israelis are a uniquely inhuman category of evildoer, both in history and today. The people spreading these views would presumably insist that they oppose anti-Semitism, and they have their fringe Jewish supporters who are willing to endorse and excuse almost anything they come out with. But given that over 90 per cent of British Jews consistently say that Israel is part of their Jewish identity, it’s not hard to see how this type of anti-Zionism easily creates an atmosphere that most Jews would experience as anti-Semitic.

The British left is not anti-Semitic per se, but it is increasingly becoming a place where a certain type of anti-Semite feels more comfortable than an average British Jew.

None of this is new. CST and others have warned for years that anti-Semitic attitudes are allowed to pass unchecked and unchallenged in anti-Israel circles, and have become normalized and widespread as a result. This is the source of the Labour Party’s anti-Semitism problem, which the party is failing to tackle effectively. It will continue to be a problem in the anti-Israel movement for as long as leaders and activists are willing to share platforms, hold conferences and organize petitions for people who express such appalling views.

Dave Rich is Deputy Director of Communications for the Community Security Trust and author of The Left’s Jewish Problem: Jeremy Corbyn, Israel and Anti-Semitism (Biteback, 2016).