Politics & Economics

Stop the antisemitism witch hunt in Labour

07 April 2017

The decision by Labour’s National Constitutional Committee, NCC, to suspend Ken Livingstone for a further year for “bringing the party into disrepute” is a victory for the Labour right and the Zionist movement.

It is a victory for the right, who have cynically manufactured claims of antisemitism against leftwing party members in order to undermine Jeremy Corbyn and to sow division amongst his supporters.

It is a victory for the Zionists in the Jewish Labour Movement, and outside the party, who claim a monopoly on the definition of antisemitism, seek to speak on behalf of all Jewish people, and wish to ensure that Labour never again elects a leader with a principled record of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Despite the fact that the NCC did not find Ken Livingstone guilty of antisemitism, the Labour right and Zionists called for his case to be referred to the National Executive Committee (NEC). This proves they are not concerned with challenging antisemitism, but are conducting a witch-hunt in which expulsion is used to claim a high profile scalp and legitimise the Zionists’ attempt to equate criticism of Israel or Zionism with antisemitism.

From the outset of the artificial antisemitism ‘scandal’, Jeremy Corbyn has conceded to every single one of the demands made by the Zionists. The reward for his political cowardice is the humiliation of agreeing to lead the witch-hunt by endorsing their call for Livingstone to be referred to the NEC.
Shami Chakrabarti has also endorsed Livingstone’s suspension and Angela Rayner has backed Corbyn’s call for Livingstone to be tried twice for the same ‘thought crime’.

The purpose of the hysteria is to put the NEC on notice: expel Livingstone or face the same treatment and take responsibility for the consequences on Labour’s May local election campaign.
Whatever the outcome, the result of the antisemitism scandal has been to strengthen the right and demoralise and divide Corbyn’s supporters in the party. The prime responsibility for this lies with Corbyn, and to a lesser extent with the leadership of Momentum, who sought to demonstrate their loyalty by joining in the witch hunt against Jackie Walker.

The pretext for referring Livingstone to the NEC is the charge that he has repeated his comments about the relationship between Zionists and Nazis during the 1930s and that this has brought the party into disrepute.

Livingstone’s comments, originally made in an unsolicited attempt to defend Naz Shah, were poorly judged and not helpful in her defence; although it is true that some Zionist leaders collaborated with the Nazis in the early 1930s, that has no bearing on accusations of antisemitism today. That policy was wrong but it was the mistaken policy of a political current within an oppressed people. Livingstone’s reference to it could be seen, was almost bound to be seen by some, as suggesting an equivalence between the Nazi oppressors and the Zionists, or as downplaying the genocidal goal of the Nazi movement from its foundation (one of the SA’s most persistent slogans was Perish Judah!) or denying Hitler’s long term, pathological desire to destroy the Jews. That would, indeed, be offensive and, having seen that response in the past, Livingstone must have been aware of the likely consequences of his remarks. In Attlee’s words, a period of silence from him on this matter would no doubt be appreciated by many.

Nonetheless, bad arguments, even offensive ones, are not the same as any sort of incitement to racial hatred. They should not lead to suspension or expulsion from the Party, especially under the catch-all of “bringing the party into disrepute”. Plainly, Livingstone’s enemies knew they could not make the charge of antisemitism stick (except as the mud of slander). But we must also ask; disrepute with who? Those cited; the Chief Rabbi and the Board of Deputies, or the Jewish Labour Movement for that matter, are passionate defenders of the state of Israel and its crimes against the Palestinian People. At a time when Israel is advancing settlements on Palestinian land in league with Donald Trump, trying to silence critics (and discredit or remove the first pro-Palestinian Labour leader) is clearly a goal of many supporters of Israel.

Socialists and anti-Zionists recognise that Livingstone is being made an example of because of his high profile and long record as a leftwing antiracist and anti-Zionist campaigner. His expulsion would signal that no one can safely speak their mind on the crimes of the Israeli state or the Zionists without fear of being branded an antisemite and drummed out of the party. It would remove an important figure of the left whose time at the GLA showed that there is not a choice to be made between anti-racism and pragmatism, but that principled work delivers material improvements.
That is a salutary lesson in the era of Brexit and when Corbyn has declared that the right of workers to free movement is no longer a principle.

The fear of the right within the Parliamentary Labour Party and much of Labour’s officialdom, is not that the combination of Corbyn’s leadership and Labour’s new membership will mean that the party will lose elections; what they fear is that this combination could lead a fight for the principles and programme on which he was elected and that this would have a real impact in generating a fight against the austerity they also believe is necessary.

The attack on Livingstone is an attack on the members’ right to free speech, it is an attack on the Palestinian solidarity movement, it is an attack on anti-Zionist Jews who are undifferentiated from the “British Jewish population”. It trivialises and undermines genuine struggles against antisemitism and, despite his shameful capitulation, it is an attack on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and the millions of workers who look to the party to provide a genuine alternative to Tory austerity.

For all these reasons we oppose Ken Livingstone’s suspension, we defend the right to criticise Israel and Zionism, and we urge all socialists and left wing groups in Labour to reject this witch-hunt and step up the struggle to kick out the right wing and fight for socialist policies.


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