There are few sights more pitiful than Labour ‘moderates’ – I prefer to call them what they are: Corbyn-enablers – plating up meagre scraps as a feast of optimism for the party’s future. Last week, it was the routing of Momentum – and Unite-backed candidates for the Lewisham East by-election. That didn’t last long. Now, it’s Ken Livingstone, allowed to resign rather than risk possible expulsion. In its ‘all out war’ on anti-Semitism, Labour sued for peace on the enemy’s terms without firing a single shot.
Expelling Livingstone would not have undone the bias and abuse the party has inflicted on British Jews. It would have been a hollow gesture in lieu of recognising and dismantling the institutional anti-Semitism which is now as Labour as the Red Flag and 11am pints at party conference. But it would have been something. In the end, Labour couldn’t even manage a hollow gesture to reassure Jews that they were safe staying in the party, voting for the party, or, heaven forbid, being governed by the party.
Even so, any criticism of Labour’s failure to act under Jeremy Corbyn should also ask why Labour under Miliband, Brown, Blair, Smith, Kinnock and Foot was prepared to tolerate Livingstone for so long. The following are 12 instances in which Livingstone should have been expelled but wasn’t. The list is by no means exhaustive but it does illustrate the apathy and cynicism of Labour – left and right alike – when confronted by a morally straightforward but politically difficult situation.
1982: Livingstone’s Labour Herald runs a cartoon depicting Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin standing on top of a pile of Arab corpses. Begin is drawn giving a Hitler salute in a Nazi-style uniform, with the swastika armband replaced by a star of David. The headline, etched in Fraktur typeface, reads ‘The Final Solution’.
1983: The Labour Herald promotes Lenni Brenner’s ‘Zionism in the Age of Dictators’ and Livingstone later confirms that the book ‘helped form my view of Zionism and its history’. Brenner is a Trotskyite crank whose claims about Zionist collaboration with the Nazis have been repeatedly debunked. Paul Bogdanor accuses Brenner of ‘factual manipulations’ and relying on ‘pseudo-scholarly apparatus’ to reach his pre-existing conclusions and says that Brenner’s book is ‘a fixture of anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic propaganda about the Holocaust on both the far left and on the far right’.
1984: Livingstone, as leader of the Greater London Council, claims the Board of Deputies of British Jews is ‘dominated by reactionaries and neo-fascists’.
July 2004: Livingstone, now mayor of London, welcomes Islamist hate preacher Yusuf Al-Qaradawi to City Hall. Al-Qaradawi has called Palestinian suicide bombing ‘martyrdom’ and ‘evidence of God’s justice’, and justified the killing of pregnant Israeli women. Livingstone calls him ‘a progressive figure’.
March 2006: Livingstone, in dispute with Jewish property developers Simon and David Reuben, suggests to the brothers to ‘go back (to their own country) and see if they can do better under the ayatollahs’
2011: Livingstone writes in his memoirs: ‘Anyone questioning the injustice done to the Palestinians is denounced by hard-line supporters of Israel as anti-Semitic. Even the renting of a church hall by a Palestinian group in Britain to commemorate the Arab expulsion would be criticised in the Jewish Chronicle.’
March 2012: Jewish leaders write a letter of complaint to Ed Miliband following a disastrous meeting in which Livingstone, according to the Jewish Chronicle, ‘used the words Zionist, Jewish and Israeli, interchangeably, as if they meant the same, and did so in a pejorative manner’ and ‘stated that he did not expect the Jewish community to vote Labour as votes for the left are inversely proportional to wealth levels, and suggested that as the Jewish community is rich, we simply wouldn’t vote for him’.
April 2016: Livingstone goes on Vanessa Feltz’s radio programme and tells listeners: ‘When Hitler won his election in 1932 his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism. [He then] went mad and ending up killing 6 million Jews.’
May 2016: Livingstone tells Al-Ghad Al-Arabi that the creation of the modern state of Israel was ‘fundamentally wrong’ and ‘a great catastrophe’ and argues that, after the Holocaust, Jews should simply have been ‘absorbed’ into British or American society or ‘resettled’. He says that he personally boycotts Israel, claims Jews under Arab rule prior to Israel’s founding ‘never suffered threats or attacks’, and again alleges that Hitler’s early policy ‘was not directed toward killing the Jews. He wanted to deport all the Zionists to Israel’.
September 2017: Amid Labour’s anti-Semitism-riddled 2017 conference, Livingston tells Talk Radio: ‘Some people have made offensive comments, it doesn’t mean they’re inherently anti-Semitic and hate Jews. They just go over the top when they criticise Israel.’
January 2018: Livingstone appears on Press TV on Holocaust Memorial Day to discuss the topic, ‘Has the Holocaust been exploited to oppress others?’ The Iranian state broadcaster is infamously anti-Semitic and, perhaps unsurprisingly, has become a favourite of the Corbynistas.
The truth is that Labour has long tolerated anti-Semitism and those who profess to abhor it have muttered the occasional tut or delivered the odd indignant speech but done little else. Their love of Labour was always stronger than their concern for or solidarity with Jews. The worst Labour MP was better than the best Tory and thus were blind eyes turned, prejudice brooked, and torpor passed off as long-game strategy.
Ken Livingstone’s departure does not mark a turn in Labour’s conduct. The party hurtles on into the mire of bigotry and extremism and the Corbyn-enablers are tagging along for the ride, vainly hoping they can still wrest the steering wheel away.