Today is a day of disgrace for the Labour Party. That Ken Livingstone has been guilty of expressing grossly offensive views is of itself obvious: that Labour has failed to execute a moral duty to expel him has been astonishing, the more so that the Party now admits that he is guilty as charged.
It is important to understand the context of Mr Livingstone’s allegations, because despite the seeming complexity of the history he espouses, the nature of his claims is of a classic and easily-recognised type.
From the allegation that ‘the Jews killed Jesus’; the Rothschild conspiracy myths; the slur that Jews controlled the slave trade; to Mr Livingstone’s tirades about Hitler and Zionism, there is a recognisable pattern. In all of these conspiracy myths, a tale of Jewish malice is woven using scraps of real historical events. Scholars of antisemitism will attest that having fabricated what is apparently a technically-supportable claim of Jewish malevolence, those who wish to attack Jews then try to draw their opponents into a debate that grants their false tale parity with the truth. Attempts to not engage by Jews are then represented as suppression of free speech, or an example of ‘Jewish power’.
To engage with such tales in such a way is to betray a misunderstanding of the very nature of antisemitic discourse. In this particular case, the key aim is to manipulate the history of Zionism in a dishonest way so as to degrade and poison the reality of Jewish self-determination as a whole; from there to project it onto both the post-Holocaust period and contemporary Israel to reinforce a wider dialogue on the Left that continues to demonise Jewish self-determination and Israel as the Jew amongst nations. From there it impacts directly on Jewish communities such as those in the UK, forcing them to choose between supporting ‘evil Jewish self-determination’ or being ‘good Jews who forfeit their own rights’.
Mr Livingstone is also being true to the eponymous ‘Livingstone formulation’, a method of deflecting accusations of antisemitism named after him by academics: by saying that accusations of antisemitism against him are being brought by those “motivated by a plot to undermine the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and his supporters in the party” he doubles down by attributing sinister motives to those bringing the accusations themselves.
That respected historians will continue to engage with the detail of Jewish history in the inter-war years, is a given. Mr Livingstone is a famous politician with a history of embracing an Islamist antisemite; of likening a Jewish journalist to a “concentration camp guard”; of publishing a cartoon depicting an Israeli leader as a Nazi; of claiming that Jews were too “rich” to vote for him; and of backing the comments of an MP who subsequently admitted those comments were antisemitic. When such a man supports his claims only by reference to a discredited book by an antisemitic journalist he himself acknowledges to be so , then alarm bells should have rung so loudly in Labour that their response should have been swift and summary. Instead they succumbed to a process by which, over a long period of time, Mr Livingstone was allowed to parade such lies for a wider audience, while portraying himself as a victim. He has succeeded in doing so.
Ken Livingstone has been portraying Jews as Nazis for decades. His claim that Hitler acted in support of Zionism, along with his constant repetition of that distortion, has been a repulsive spectacle. We felt sure that the Labour Party, blighted by antisemitism as it is, would reclaim some of its former self and expel him. Labour has long had a moral duty to expel Ken Livingstone, but instead it has allowed his vile views to gain support in the party. Today’s verdict confirms our worst fears: that it is possible to husband and broadcast such repellant beliefs and still remain a Labour Party member has shocked even us. This surely represents the last of the death throes of the Labour Party’s long relationship with the Jewish community. The Party had this one last chance to prove that it is not beyond salvation. Today’s decision is the Party’s final act of brazen, painful betrayal.