ken livingstone Ken Livingstone. Photo: Flickr/Brisbane City Council

Anti-racists should oppose the hysteria around allegations of antisemitism against Livingstone

The attack on Ken Livingstone is turning into a full scale assault spearheaded by the Labour right, supported by the press across the board and backed by pretty much all elements of the establishment. It may not be the issue that people on the left want to fight over, Livingstone may not have put the right argument at the right moment, and it may be uncomfortable to some that he won’t back down, but it is important people see that this is now open season not just on everyone who is critical of Israeli policy but on the left as a whole. And when you are under attack ducking the issue or giving ground isn’t a good policy.

The fact is the actual case against Livingstone is woefully weak, for many reasons. The notion that he is antisemitic really doesn’t sit well with the fact that he has a record of fighting racism, discrimination and scapegoating of all kinds as good as pretty much anyone in public life. Many of the media outlets attacking him now were the same ones that mercilessly abused him in the 1980s when he was in charge of the Greater London Council for his high profile anti-racist, anti-sexist, pro LGBT statements, policies and campaigns. These were brave bold initiatives that had a big impact on London life.

Second, leaving aside the distortions of the things Livingstone has said, the statements he has actually made about Nazi support for Zionist policies, while they may have contained some inaccuracies, also contain core truths. Discussion about this history will inevitably be intense, but the idea that just raising these issues is antisemitic is simply to shut down legitimate historical debate and effectively rule out scrutiny of Zionism’s history.

The hypocrisy of all this is astounding. The people who claim that Livingstone is bringing the party into disrepute are the very ones turning the whole issue into a cause celebre by touring the TV studios, distorting what Livingstone has said, circulating letters in the press and now refusing to accept the ruling of the decision of the properly constituted Labour Party body designed to deal with these kind of issues.  

Unsurprisingly, Labour’s National Constitutional Committee was unable to sustain the case that Livingstone’s conduct was antisemitic, so the accusation against him now boils down to the idea that his crime has been to offend sections of the population. If offending people irrespective of facts  becomes a disciplinary offence in politics everyone’s in trouble, and the left are in most trouble of all.

Of course it is essential to challenge antisemitism in all its forms and wherever it appears. But that requires clarity. Conflating criticism of Zionism with antisemitism hopelessly confuses the issue and makes that job more difficult. If the allegations aren’t supported by the facts, if this whole episode isn’t about a coherent challenge to antisemitism at all, it is necessary to look for other explanation for the campaign against Livingstone.

Ultimately the aim here is two fold. First to discredit critics of Israel and supporters of the Palestinian struggle and second, and most important, to damage Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. It is incumbent on the left and all anti-racists not to give ground but to oppose this hysteria.

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.