Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jewry, reacts to Livingstone's latest remarks on Adolf Hitler and Zionism
When I read Ken Livingstone’s latest comments on Hitler and Zionism I wasn’t surprised, I was disappointed. But then it seems Ken Livingstone is totally unrepentant. He seems much more interested in peddling a line taken by a single writer of a book, who is Marxist, and whose view of events has to be influenced by his politics, than attempting to see an alternative point of view.
Despite the wealth of academic opinion debunking his fake history, Ken of course doesn’t want to accept the inevitable but would rather stick to his own prejudices, to my sadness, and peddle this cod history, because it suits his twisted political narrative - which is that Zionism is somehow responsible for all the ills in the world.
Of course it’s nothing new. Wherever there are extremists, right or left, Jews usually end up in the crosshairs. Jews have always been a prime target – after all, we believe in fairness and moderation, seeing other points of view and that no-one has a monopoly of right and wrong - exactly the opposite of the immovable myopia that underpins extremism. We saw it in Communist Russia and, of course, we saw it in a right-wing totalitarian state of the same period, something which seems to have passed Ken by.
I’m horrified that, in 2016, we have someone as bigoted as Ken Livingstone. And I’m concerned by the fact that he’s not yet been brought to account by the Labour party machinery. There’s simply no place for him in British politics, he and his views have been utterly discredited.
Yet Jeremy Corbyn still hasn’t thrown him out. He should stay ‘Ken, enough is enough’ but he hasn’t. I don’t think Corbyn is an anti-semite, but as many people have said (and the evidence has suggested) he has a certain blind spot towards extremism. The Board of Deputies has previously pointed to his meetings with extremists, and every change of position on Corbyn’s part had had to be wrung out of him by public and media pressure. He had to be forced by the Home Affairs Select Committee to admit he was wrong to meet Hezbollah and Hamas, terrorist organisations which hate the West and Christians, as well as Jews, , and I was shocked it took him so long to do that.
But then Corbyn and Livingstone have long been brothers-in-arms on the far left of British politics. Perhaps that’s why the disciplinary wheels are taking so long to grind into motion.
There is also a wider problem here. Support for Palestine, which has become very much a cause celebre for those who align themselves with the left, all too often is conflated with hatred of Israel and Zionism. It has become a zero game, one in which you have to take one side or the other.
But Israel-Palestine is not a zero sum game. Jews across the country, with a natural affiliation to Israel, have sympathy for the Palestinians and the people of Gaza – I have sympathy myself. Equally, you can feel a natural affinity with Palestine and not hate Israel and its people. You can be pro-Israel, pro-Palestine, pro-peace, and anti-hatred.
But it seems Ken Livingstone didn’t get the message. He says the world in black and white, a world in which Israel and its people are always wrong. In saying that Hitler was somehow a supporter of Zionism, he is trying to smear the belief in a Jewish national home; Zionism is no more than the basic right to self-determination, a basic right under the UN Charter of Human Rights and that applies to Palestine as well as Israel. The clear aim of Livingstone and his ilk is somehow to make Zionism into a dirty word, and therefore he seeks to smear it.
At the moment I have to say the left-wing of British politics is more worrying than the right. We’ve seen that the right has garnered a neglible number of votes in recent elections, they currently have little or no traction. The left on the other hand, particularly with the impetus given by the election of someone from the far left, is seeing a resurgence and their voice is much louder. They have more votes, and more traction.
It worries me that, if Corbyn is reelected, we’re going to see more of the same, a Nelsonian blindness to the homophobia, racism and anti-semitism that is all too prevalent in Labour. We’re seeing intolerance towards women, we’re seeing intolerance towards minorities, and we’re particularly seeing intolerance towards Labour’s own MPs who the far left disagree with. That’s not a labour party that I recognise.
Hopefully Livingstone’s latest disaster will make people sit up and take notice. They need to realise that the Labour party is in a terrible state that has to be addressed. Otherwise the slow-motion train crash will continue before our eyes.
You can read more about the Board of Deputies and their work by clicking on the website here.