Is Labour’s anti-Semitism row overblown?

Amidst the furor of the anti-Semitism row within the UK Labour Party, there has been little in the way of a levelheaded discussion about a variety of issues this episode has raised. This is hardly a perplexing phenomenon in a political arena where reasoned, substantial debate rarely triumphs over vacuous and doltish slogans.

The mainstream media all enacted the same dance and failed to provide ample factual and intellectual nutrition to the closed, conformist minds of many. This wasn’t limited to the journalists hungrily swarming around Ken Livingstone as they waited for him to emerge from a toilet, as politicians were equally guilty in robotically observing the prevailing wave of outrage at alleged anti-Semitic comments from Labour Party MP’s, Councillors and members with each politician bolting out the same dreary words of condemnation. Independent thought has not been given license to roam.

For those who have inexplicably remained unaware of this controversy, the details are as follows. The Guido Fawkes political blog revealed a series of comments on social media from the Labour MP Naz Shah which included unpleasantries including the ‘relocation’ of Israel to the United States and the ‘transportation costs’ involved. She was subsequently suspended from the party.

When questioned about the matter in an interview with BBC Radio London on April the 28th, The former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, someone synonymous with the egregious, denied that Mrs Shah was anti-Semitic. He added that Adolf Hitler ‘was supporting Zionism’ after his election in 1932 ‘before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews’. This provoked an understandable outrage, not least from Labour MP and head of the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism, John Mann, who confronted Livingstone outside the BBC studio later in the day and dubbed him a ‘Nazi apologist’ and a ‘disgusting racist’. Livingstone was later suspended from the party.

'Nazi apologist': John Mann (left) confronts Ken Livingstone
‘Nazi apologist’: John Mann (left) confronts Ken Livingstone

The storm which followed has done enormous damage to the Labour Party particular since the leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has come under heavy criticism himself for referring to Hamas and Hizbollah as his ‘friends’ although he claims this was merely a ‘collective’ term for ‘people I talk to’, claiming ‘you have to talk to people with whom you may profoundly disagree’ since ‘there is not going to be a peace process unless there is talks involving Israel, Hizbollah and Hamas’.

The Daily Telegraph claimed that up to 50 Labour members were secretly suspended for anti-Semitic and racist comments. What really arises from this is how to accurately define ‘anti-Semitism’. No one in the media nor any politicians offered any challenges or a rebuttal to the content of what Livingstone said. It was merely tagged as anti-Semitic without a contention of the facts. John Mann, when debating Ken Livingstone on a BBC TV political show later that day first merely objected to the fact that Hitler was in favour of a Jewish state in Israel and then resorted to ad hominem attacks. He never disputed the substance of the claims regarding Nazi policy post their rise to power. The somewhat awkward truth emerges that what Mr Livingstone had said was not completely inaccurate and has tangible historical basis.

The Haavara (Transfer) Agreement was an agreement between Nazi Germany and Zionist German Jews signed on the 25th of August 1933. It was a major factor in making possible the immigration of approximately 60,000 German Jews to Palestine in the years 1933–1939. Initially, Hitler criticized the agreement, but reversed his opinion and supported it in the years 1937-1939. After the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the program was ended. Despite ceasing to support the agreement anymore, the Nazis were at this stage still seeking to deport the Jews out of Germany.

In May 1940, Heinrich Himmler wrote to Hitler saying that he hoped to see “the term ‘Jew’… completely eliminated through the massive immigration of all Jews to Africa or some other colony”. In June of that year, Franz Rademacher, the recently appointed head of the Jewish Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recommended that the French colony of Madagascar should be made available as a destination for the Jews of Europe as one of the terms of the surrender of France, which the Germans had invaded on the 10th of May. This became known as the Madagascar Plan.

With Hitler’s permission, Adolf Eichmann released a memorandum on the 15th of August calling for the resettlement of a million Jews per year for four years, with the island governed as a police state under the SS. The plan was not viable due to the British naval blockade. The subject was discussed by Hitler with Italian leader Benito Mussolini shortly afterwards. Hitler continued to mention the plan until February 1942, when the idea was permanently shelved. British Empire forces took the island from Vichy France in the Battle of Madagascar in November 1942. At the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, the Nazis embraced the Final Solution. Only then was the extermination of the Jews the conclusive policy of the Nazis.

Livingstone was also not combated on his assertion that the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, had stated something identical. Indeed, in October, Netanyahu said of Hitler’s 1941 meeting with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time. He wanted to expel the Jews”.

Ex-London Mayor Ken Livingstone
Ex-London Mayor Ken Livingstone. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

If what Mr Livingstone said is factually valid, why were his remarks slammed as being anti-Semitic?

Firstly, Livingstone engaged in a despicable and distasteful distortion by claiming ‘Hitler was supporting Zionism’. Whilst this doesn’t make the statement anti-Semitic per se, it displays a crass mentality to manipulate facts until they are bent into the most ironic and hideous of shapes. The unconscionable indignity involved in alleging ‘Hitler was supporting Zionism’ is so exorbitant that this prompted many, whatever the validity of the details involved, to label it anti-Semitic. Hitler never supported any return of the Jews back to their biblical homeland and his anti-Semitism certainly wasn’t subsequent to going ‘mad’.

Applying the anti-Semitic label to these comments is certainly consistent with the society we now reside in where causing offence is an arrestable crime. Many may see this as a positive development since the line is indeed acute between the verbalisation of an offensive remark and an actual anti-Semitic or racist proclamation which may incite hatred and/or violence. However, this does infringe on the freedom of the individual to the point where legitimate criticism of a group or religion becomes subdued in order to avoid offence. More fundamentally, it enforces a virtual state ideology where the narrow strip of allowable opinions is sandpapered down on all sides rendering some things unfit and unlawful to say or think.

Secondly, the whole episode was significantly revved up by anti-Corbyn elements within the Labour Party and those opposed to him in general. Livingstone claimed this was a campaign by ’embittered Blairite’ and this probably has some basis. Centrist opponents of Corbyn within his own party have been restlessly waiting to pounce on any such controversy in an attempt to overthrow the leadership and regain control of the party. This presented the perfect opportunity. The affair promoted Corbyn to launch an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism within the Labour Party.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

Additionally, large segments of the media reported Livingstone to have said ‘Hitler was a Zionist’ which although is not an immoderate alteration to ‘Hitler was supporting Zionism’, exhibits the emblematic tendency of the sensationalist, tabloid media to inflate, theatricalise and jump upon the bandwagon whichever way it may be headed.

Tangentially, the media never noted that there was a significant percentage of those suspended who were Muslim. These include, Nottingham councillor Ilyas Aziz, ex-Blackburn mayor Salim Mulla and Burnley councillor Shah Hussain. Unfortunately, it is not a rarity within Muslim circles for there to be derogatory and odious remarks about Jews. By omitting this obvious commonality, the media and the ’embittered Blairites’ could fixate the spotlight on Jeremy Corbyn and the far-Left in general as being solely responsible for the whole affair.

This is not to say that the far-Left doesn’t have a problem with anti-Semitism. On the contrary, by all historical accounts there has been an unceasing undercurrent of anti-Semitism present throughout on the far-Left. Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in the Labour leadership election – not dissimilar to whenever tensions flare in the Middle East – haven’t caused a surge in anti-Semitic sentiment; they have merely revealed it. The mandatory ‘not all anti-Zionists are anti-Semites’ must be inserted here, yet there is compelling evidence of a quasi-obsession with Jews on the far-Left dating back to On the Jewish Question; Karl Marx’s notoriously anti-Semitic work. Perhaps this goes some way to explain the far-Left’s bizarre and unnatural alliance with radical components of Islam who stand in direct contradiction with everything the far-Left supposedly value.

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