One hundred Labour MPs signed the following motion to express their belief that Ken Livingstone should have been expelled from the Labour Party rather than being suspended for a further 12 months:
‘This week the institutions of the Labour Party have betrayed our values. We stand united in making it clear that we will not allow our party to be a home for antisemitism and Holocaust revisionism. We stand with the Jewish community and British society against this insidious racism. This was not done in our name and we will not allow it to go unchecked.’
Given that the Labour Party has declined to make any of the papers of the case available including the charges against Livingstone and given that some of its points clearly have nothing whatsoever to do with the Livingstone case (e.g. Holocaust revisionism) this statement has all the hallmarks of a political hounding in which those doing the hounding have no concern for the issues of the case or even for basic norms of natural justice.
All of the MPs who put their name to the above statement should be asked the following questions.
1. In what way has the ruling against Ken Livingstone provided any evidence of either any alleged anti-Semitism and Holocaust revisionism on his part?
2. Did you read the text of the ruling before voting? (My guess is that most and possibly none of the 100 MPs had done so.)
3. If you have the text can you please send me a copy because I can’t find it anywhere?
4. Would you agree that ordinary party members should be able to read the ruling and judge for themselves?
5. Would you agree that passing judgement without knowing the exact details of the ruling would be a violation of the norms of reasonable discussion?
6. What values do you think have been betrayed and just how have they been betrayed?
But what were the charges against Ken Livingstone and do they stand up?
At a hearing of a panel of Labour’s National Constitutional Committee of 4th April 2017 Ken Livingstone was deemed to have brought the Labour Party into disrepute. That much more or less everyone knows. What far fewer people know is the exact nature of the charges brought against him.
The flurry of press reports on the matter have been uniformly uninformative about that. He faced three charges which were as follows:
(i) In media interviews between 28th April 2016 and 30th April 2016 you repeatedly denied that media posts made by Ms Shah were anti-Semitic, and repeatedly sought to minimise their offensive/scurrilous nature by stating that they were merely criticism of Israeli policy at a time of conflict with the Palestinians, and by alleging that scrutiny over her conduct was merely an extension of an apparent smear campaign to undermine and disrupt the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn MP.
(ii) In a media interview on BBC London with Vanessa Feltz on 28 April 2016 you made further comments about Hitler and Zionism, which you have subsequently repeated on a number of occasions.
(iii) You have refused to apologise for the comment you made about Hitler’s ‘support’ for Zionism, and have repeatedly attempted to justify it on the grounds of historical accuracy.
The first charge is not that Livingstone has said anything anti-Semitic but rather that he has denied that media posts by Ms Shah were anti-Semitic. The second charge is non-specific in that it merely says that he made ‘further comments’ about Hitler and Zionism in a media interview. The third charge is that he refused to apologise for his comments and that he tried to show that they were based on historical fact.
By any measure this is a strange set of charges. If these were grounds for suspension (and in the view of 100 Labour MPs grounds for expulsion) then the same must apply to anyone who agrees with Ken Livingstone and says so publicly. Certainly if anyone does that and talks publicly about Hitler and Zionism on a number of occasions and then tries to show that their remarks are based on historical fact then the NCC would be bound by its logic in the Livingstone case to suspend him or her. In his letter to Ken Livingstone outlining the charges Labour’s General Secretary Iain McNicol writes:
‘The historical accuracy, or otherwise, of whether Hitler “was supporting Zionism” in 1932 is not the central issue for these purposes (although for the avoidance of doubt, it is not accepted that this characterisation is historically accurate) As stated above, to assert that Hitler “supported” Zionism, in a context where Israeli government policy is criticised, is likely to deeply offend the Jewish community by implying a connection between Nazism/Fascism and the State of Israel. Repeatedly to attempt to justify the comment on the basis of historical accuracy only compounds that offence, by evincing an apparent lack of awareness of, or concern for, the Jewish community’s justified sensitivity at such an implication.
This passage reveals total confusion about what can be legitimately said about historical events, the offence that some people may take at what is said and finally, the idea that offence is taken by a whole ‘community’, which means that people are deemed to feel in a certain way merely by belonging to such a ‘community’.
(1) The dealings of some Zionists with the Nazis are a matter of clear historical record. They were and continue to be a contentious issue within Zionist circles and beyond. No one with any knowledge of the issues doubts this.
(2) The offence that some people may take at someone else’s stated views cannot be taken as determining the illegitimacy of those views.
(3) The assumption that the Jewish ‘community’ as such has a reaction to the issues is redolent of the very racist assumptions that those attacking Livingstone claim to reject. There are Jews who disagree with him but others who do not. Jews no more than any other group should not be treated as a homogeneous entity in which all think in the same way.
Has Livingstone shown lack of judgement in what he says and where? In my opinion yes. Should he heed the advice of Normal Finkelstein who argues that in talking about the Palestinians ‘… the Nazi analogy is gratuitous and a distraction’? Again, in my opinion, yes. But does any of this constitute anti-Semitism? Clearly not. Lack of nuance and awareness of context perhaps, but racism no.
In short, the charges against Livingstone are unsound and the judgment should be annulled. The whole affair is a hangover from the feverish round of suspensions and expulsions surrounding the second election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. It is time to move on. Ken Livingstone should play his part by refusing to dance with the journalists on this issue. Enough has been said. Anyone genuinely wanting to know more has all the references that they need. The issue is a distraction but because of its destructive use it should not be ignored.
David Pavett, 9 April 2017