Ken Livingstone. Photo: Wikipedia Ken Livingstone. Photo: Wikipedia

The suspension and investigation of Ken Livingstone is a witch-hunt, argues Kara Bryan

Jeremy Corbyn has announced that Ken Livingstone will face a new investigation into fresh comments he made to the media since his suspension on 4 April which will be examined by Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC).

Livingstone was originally suspended from the party last year after he waded into a row in defence of Naz Shah when she was accused of antisemitism for reposting a meme suggesting that Israel should be relocated to the U.S.

He was subsequently accused of antisemitism himself by MP John Mann, who ambushed him with a film crew for comments he made suggesting that Hitler had, early on, supported the transfer of Jews to Israel.

What Livingstone actually said was that it was Hitler’s policy in 1933 to move Jews to Israel and that he was supporting Zionism before ‘he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.’

Livingstone has refused to apologise and repeatedly defended the comments he made last year referring to the Ha’avara Agreement of 1933, in a string of car crash media interviews.

Former Mayor of London, Livingstone, a life-long anti-racism campaigner and long-time critic of Israel, who has been a member of the Labour Party for nearly fifty years, was suspended for two years, this week, a year of which he has already served since he originally made the comments in April 2016.

Whilst Livingstone’s comments were remarkably clumsy, there is a considerable body of evidence suggesting Nazi support for the transfer of Jews to Israel leading up to 1937.

Whilst there is no evidence to suggest that Hitler himself was a supporter of Zionism, as Livingstone has argued, it is unlikely that he was unaware of the Ha’avara Agreement or ‘transfer agreement’ given his obsession with the ‘Jewish problem’ as it was signed by the Nazi government in 1933.

Nor did he suggest Hitler was a Zionist as subsequent media coverage has portrayed. What he did was to state the existence of the Ha’avara Agreement which is a point of historical record.

The Chakrabarti enquiry last year found that that antisemitism in the Labour Party was ‘not endemic’ and notably, Livingstone was not suspended for antisemitism by the National Constitutional Committee, but rather ominously for ‘bringing the party into disrepute.’ Nor has he been expelled.

In fact, it was made abundantly clear to Livingstone by Labour’s general secretary Ian McNicol that the case against him was not concerned with historical record but whether his behaviour had been ‘grossly detrimental’ to the party.

Media interest in Livingstone’s comments, in part due to John Mann’s over the top ambush in calling him a ‘Hitler apologist,’ and the ambiguous ‘catch-all’ language are intentionally difficult to defend in the absence of a clear infraction.

The hearing, which was not open to public scrutiny, called Jeremy Newmark of the Jewish Labour Movement, who submitted a 170-page document supporting accusations against Livingstone. Himself a controversial figure, given his active role in the Israel lobby its recent exposure on the Al Jazeera documentary ‘The Lobby’ which revealed the extent of undue influence by Israeli officials on British politics.

Livingstone was represented by the eminent Michael Mansfield QC. The NCC was represented by Clive Sheldon QC who, interestingly, successfully defended the party’s decision to raise the registered supporter fee from £3 to £25 last summer.

It doesn’t require a huge leap of the imagination to see why the £25 fee was introduced given that the vast majority of Labour supporters and new members registering were supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Ken Livingstone has campaigned against racism for most of his career. He is an ardent critic of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, its breaches of international law and maltreatment of Palestinians. He is not a racist, nor is he antisemitic. Only those who seek to redefine antisemitism and conflate it with legitimate criticism of Israel, will regard him as such.

Under Netanyahu’s tutelage, the Israeli government is actively engaged in the violent dispossession of the Palestinian people and has flouted international law time and time again. Ken Livingstone’s clumsy commentary has awkwardly reminded the world of an uncomfortable truth long since forgotten.

But while the witch hunt pursues him over fresh comments, one cannot help but wonder why the Labour Party held no such investigation into the war crimes of Tony Blair or indeed, an inquiry into the extent of political interference by the Israel lobby.

Livingstone’s comments have understandably caused offence and consequently resulted in his suspension, and potentially his expulsion, but for a lie that results in the deaths of a million Iraqis, its business as usual.

The relentless pursuit of Ken Livingstone by the Labour Party has only one intended end. To undermine and weaken the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and villify his allies, and paint him as an ineffectual leader soft on anti-Semitism.

The Chakrabarti enquiry has already demonstrated that antisemitism is not endemic in the Labour Party. This is a witch hunt to oust the ‘old guard’ – the socialists and those critical of the occupation of Palestine.

There have been repeated attempts to depose the twice, democratically elected leader since his first election in 2015 and sadly shows little sign of abating anytime soon. One thing is certain, the Labour right would rather lose a general election than serve under a socialist prime minister.

Kara Bryan

Kara Bryan is a writer and activist and regular contributor to the Counterfire website. She is a member of Counterfire and Stop the War

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