THE decision by Labour’s national constitutional committee (NCC) to suspend Ken Livingstone for a year has predictably failed to satisfy anyone.
Loudest are the howls of outrage from those demanding a more severe penalty for Livingstone, who argue that it is perverse to find the former London mayor guilty of something as serious as anti-semitism and not to expel him from the party outright.
This misrepresents the actual charge the NCC found Livingstone guilty of, which was that he “engaged in conduct that in the opinion of the national executive committee (NEC) was prejudicial and/or grossly detrimental to the Labour Party” when he stated last year that Hitler had at one time “supported zionism.”
It’s obvious that Livingstone’s behaviour since the investigation began has not made things easier either for himself or for the Labour Party.
His determination to prove he was merely stating historical fact ignores the real offence caused when the nazis, authors of the greatest crime in history in the form of the Holocaust that sought to wipe out the Jewish race, are compared to or associated with their victims.
To acknowledge that there was a phase of nazi policy which considered expelling Jewish people to Palestine is a very different thing from claiming that this amounted to “supporting zionism,” a nationalist movement aimed at empowering rather than deporting Jews.
Livingstone should have acknowledged this and apologised, however infuriating that might be when so many of his critics have no record of fighting racism and were clearly targeting him as an ally of leader Jeremy Corbyn on the NEC, rather than because they were genuinely offended. However, a clumsy way with words and a dogged insistence on defending oneself do not amount to racism.
The danger in the NCC ruling is that it appears to concede that charges of anti-semitism are justified when they are not. And the announcement of a new probe into Livingstone to be carried out by the party’s NEC is absurd.
MPs immediately took to the airwaves denouncing their own party for the hearing’s decision (which, as Livingstone pointed out, came on the day Labour launched its local election campaign in a sinister coincidence of timing). And predictably it did not take long for a ruling in which Corbyn had no part to prompt calls for his resignation.
Giants of the movement such as Mike Creighton, the party’s “former director of audit and risk management,” opine that the NCC’s conclusion means it is time Corbyn considered “retirement.”
It is outrageous that the most consistent and principled anti-racist ever to lead the Labour Party has been constantly harassed by bogus accusations of anti-semitism — which are clearly inspired by fear of the effect a supporter of the rights of the dispossessed Palestinian people could have on British foreign policy if he becomes prime minister.
There are many on the left who have no sympathy for Livingstone — in some cases for understandable reasons. But they need to grasp the political context of the entire “anti-semitism” row that has emerged in the Labour Party since last year.
It serves two closely linked purposes. One is to undermine solidarity with the Palestinian people and ensure MPs and public figures dare not criticise the state of Israel’s institutional racism, illegal occupation of the West Bank or murderous siege of Gaza for fear of being denounced as anti-semites.
The other is to discredit Corbyn, both because he does support Palestine and simply because he is a socialist who has come to lead the largest political party in western Europe — making him a mortal threat to the British Establishment.
Conniving with the unprincipled authors of these attacks on the Labour Party is an insult to the real victims of anti-semitism and damages the whole of the left.