There is a world of difference between criticising Israeli government policies and anti-semitism, writes WALTER WOLFGANG
AS A Jewish member of the Labour Party, who escaped nazi Germany, I take the issue of antisemitism extremely seriously.
I am 93 years old. I was born in Germany in 1923. My family were persecuted by the nazis. So in 1937, at the age of 13, I left and came to live in Britain.
The nazis embraced anti-semitism and exterminated six million Jews. Their vile ideology must be fought and defeated.
It was the strength of my commitment to Judaism and Jewish ethical values of human equality which caused me to join the Labour Party in 1948.
I was a member of its national executive committee from 2006 to 2008.
Allegations of anti-semitism should be made only when people express hostility to Jewish people because they are Jewish. Such allegations should not be made when this is not the case.
It is not anti-semitic to hold or express views about the government of Israel or about zionism.
Anti-semitism is hostility to Jews because of their religion, race, culture or ethnicity. Many Jews, zionist and non-zionist — including myself — disagree with the present policies of the Israeli government, many of which are clearly contrary to UN resolutions and against international law.
#In terms of the current international situation, those who confuse opposition to the policies of Israeli governments with anti-semitism render a great disservice to all Jews around the world and to the Palestinians, but also to Israelis who, like the Palestinians, need a peaceful settlement.
Indeed, the lack of international pressure on Israel to make the necessary concessions to achieve a twostate solution which respects Palestinian rights has prevented a resolution of the last colonial conflict — the Palestinian-Israeli one.
Political views on this conflict, such as opposing the policies of the government of Israel or opposing zionism, are entirely legitimate opinions for people to express.
Zionist political opinions — that is support for the state of Israel or its policies — are views held by Jewish people and non-Jewish people.
It is also the case that anti-zionist views are also held by Jewish people and non-Jewish people. Freedom of expression of such views should be defended by the Labour Party.
It is important that the Labour Party does not conflate antisemitism and anti-zionism. It should uphold the distinction between opposition to a person or people because of their race, religion, culture or ethnicity (racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia) and opposition to a political view such as zionism.
Within this context, Labour’s national constitutional committee hearing into Ken Livingstone this week is a travesty.
His observations about the 1933 Transfer Agreement are broadly and historically correct. At that time Hitler was in favour of Jews leaving Germany for Palestine. The agreement reached between the nazis and some zionists are simply indisputable facts. It is not anti-semitic to discuss this period of history.
Advocacy of Jews leaving for Palestine was made by some Jews who were zionist, some non-Jews who were anti-semitic, by some non-Jews who were friendly and some who were indifferent to Jews.
Livingstone has an outstanding record of fighting against racism and anti-semitism, including in his time as leader of the Greater London Council and two terms as mayor of London.
Thanks to Livingstone, Jewish community organisations and cultural events received significant support and the annual Holocaust Memorial Day was appropriately marked by the capital’s government.
And these initiatives against antisemitism were one part of a widely acknowledged broader programme of activities celebrating multiculturalism and our diversity, including through the promotion of public, free, celebrations and commemorations of all the main faith and secular cultural festivals and anniversaries observed by London’s communities.
In Livingstone’s own words: “The purpose of such events was twofold. On the one hand to celebrate the cultural and social contribution of London’s diverse communities and on the other to encourage inter-faith and inter-community awareness to reduce prejudice born of ignorance and promote understanding.”
To me, it is evident that Livingstone is being attacked because of his long record as a leading figure in the left and because he supports the Palestinians, and not because he is either offensive or anti-semitic.
His suspension this past year has been entirely unjustified. The Labour Party owes him an apology and should restore his membership forthwith.