Open letter to the Left: Ditch Ken Livingstone and his supporters

Last month, the Community Security Trust (CST) published the results of its anti-Semitic incident report for 2017. The incidents report found a 34 percent increase in the number of violent anti-Semitic assaults and the highest total for overall incidents CST has ever recorded in a single calendar year.

Another landmark report, released less than a fortnight ago, provided analysis of over 2.7 million twitter posts relating to Jews and anti-Semitism.

The findings of both reports are cause for serious concern.

Such results, though incredibly alarming, shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has been listening to the concerns and fears of our Jewish compatriots here in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.

And whilst right-wing anti-Semitism is still the biggest threat, what we are routinely failing to discussing, particularly in the Labour Party, is how anti-Jewish bigotry is manifesting on the left.

This relates directly to the scandal surrounding Ken Livingstone’s continued membership of the Labour Party and the deeply disturbing outpouring of support he receives from certain strands of the hard left.

Livingstone has a history of crass and deeply insulting remarks towards the Jewish community in the United Kingdom. As early as March 1985 we can see documented instances of Livingstone clashing with the Jewish community. Just six years ago he allegedly stated that “he did not expect the Jewish community to vote Labour as votes for the left are inversely proportional to wealth levels”, going on to suggest that as the Jewish community is “rich” that they wouldn’t vote for him. More recently he has said numerous deeply insulting things, including his ludicrous claim that ‘Hitler supported Zionism’.

What is perhaps equally as disturbing, indeed an indictment against the left, is that Livingstone’s clear cut anti-Semitism has been met with a defecit of outrage, and total absence of efforts to exclude him from leftist spaces & movements at a grassroots level. Indeed, a number of those on the left have repeatedly and adamantly defended him.

Repeated anti-semitism scandals, coupled with an abject failure to deal with reported incidents in a timely fashion and the uncertainty of whether action will be taken on clear cut cases, essentially exposes a serious moral failing within the left. This damages our credibility when it comes to campaigning on a wide range of issues and threatens the very integrity of our long standing work.

At this time there are huge social, economic and political upheavals in a number of places throughout Europe. This has created space allowing far-right elements to germinate and grow. Historically speaking, such periods of uncertainty and upheaval have proven particularly bad for minority communities, especially Jews who have been repeatedly blamed and used as scapegoats when ordinary people seek someone to blame for their misfortunates.

A core resource for anyone seeking to explore and educate themselves on the extent of anti-Semitism in the United Kingdom is the latest report from the Institute of Jewish Policy Research (JPR). This report, a trove of detailed information too extensive to cover fully here, highlights that the levels of anti-Semitism in Britain are “among the lowest in the world”, and that the “antisemitism is no more prevalent on the left than in the general population”.

Despite this, it is my experience that one of the main contributors to the level of anti-Semitism in British society that does exist is that the broader left have abandoned our responsibility to our Jewish compatriots and consigned anti-semitism a place where it is no longer viewed as a priority. We have become complacent. We believe that anti-Jewish hatred is a thing of the past. We are no longer able to recognise the oppression that our Jewish compatriots endure and experience, after all Jews have a certain level of privilege, in our minds, when we make the error of comparing anti-Jewish oppression to anti-Black oppression or Islamophobia. This in turn has led to a dismissive attitude that plays one oppressed group against another in an extremely problematic hierarchy that the left has created.

Any allegation that the left has a problem with anti-semitism is met with dismissive and often accusatory responses that frame the issue as one where the accuser is concluded to be raising concerns about anti-Semitism in bad faith. Anti-Semitism has been ‘weaponised’, and this is all being said because Livingstone and others like him are anti-Zionist. This infers that any and all allegations of anti-Jewish bigotry are to be regarded as merely one big Zionist conspiracy to further the agenda of the Israel lobby and shut down pro-Palestine activism.

I noted the despicable anti-Semitic attacks against Momentum leader and major Corbyn supporter Jon Lansman on twitter this weekend. A number of the hate-filled tweets about him are tied to the issue of Lansman’s opposition to Ken Livingstone, George Galloway, Jackie Walker and the disgraced Tony Greenstein.

See how it is already decided by these detractors that Lansman is a Zionist and that he is part of some plot to solidify ‘Zionist control’ (read: Jewish) of the Labour party. It is this derogatory use of the word Zionist, basically used in place of the word Jew, coupled with a plethora of anti-Semitic tropes, language and memes that is cause for so much concern. It should be clear to any rational observer that anti-Jewish oppression is equally pernicious on the left, even if the number of genuine anti-Semites within our ranks is tiny, and that it is mind boggling that anti-Semitism is not taken as seriously as all other forms of oppression and racism.

This is where the far left reveals just how far down the rabbit hole some are in terms of anti-semitic conspiracy theories and how readily their poison is swallowed by the broader left.

To my fellow leftists I say to you that there is nothing remotely progressive, anti-fascist or anti-racist about countenancing and condoning the kind of language and ideology that Ken Livingstone espouses. It has absolutely nothing to do with legitimate anti-Zionism and critique of Israeli government policies.

I call upon the left to start challenging problematic figures and activists within our ranks. I demand that fellow leftists withdraw all respect and admiration from anyone who is engaging in anti-Jewish oppression, especially those of us who claim to be genuine anti-racist and anti-oppression campaigners. Vast majority of Ken Livingstone’s remarks go against the core morals and principles of progressive left-wing philosophy.

Be under no illusions that we will continue to come up against figures such as Livingstone in our leftist movements until we arrive at a point where we all have adopted a consistent anti-oppression philosophy and opposition to anti-Semitism, by educating ourselves and incorporating the fight alongside our Jewish compatriots in all the work we carry forward.

We must deny Ken Livingstone a platform. We must eschew him from leftist spaces, campaigning and organising. We should also challenge those who still give support to him using the facts and rational debate. Those who refuse to listen should also be isolated and expelled from left-wing spaces.

Ken Livingstone must never be re-admitted to the Labour Party. He was given an opportunity in 2012 by the Jewish community to atone for what were viewed as his mistakes.He can no longer be given any further chances. It’s time for the left to ditch Ken Livingstone for good.

Until we take our responsibilities seriously, ensuring to do our job in speaking up and speaking out with a consistent message, then we all remain complicit in anti-semitism and are guilty of rendering assistance to those who seek to divide us and sow the seeds of anti-Jewish hatred within our ranks.

An excellent resource, allowing leftists to really get to grips with anti-Semitism, is provided by April Rosenblum in her pamphlet – The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere: Making Resistance to Anti-Semitism a part of all our movements. This is a core text that I urge fellow leftists to use as we stand in solidarity with our Jewish compatriots and re-build relationships that have been severely damaged.

About the Author
Gary Spedding is a cross-party consultant on the Israel-Palestine conflict and an applied peace and conflict researcher with a specialisation in comparative conflict analysis, conflict transformation and restorative justice.
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