Labour ruling 'fails Jewish community', says Chief Rabbi

The Chief Rabbi has accused Labour of “failing the Jewish community” by not expelling Ken Livingstone.

The former London mayor was suspended from the party for two years on Tuesday for comments he made about Adolf Hitler and Zionism.

Ephraim Mirvis said the decision “yet again failed to show” that the party is “sufficiently serious about tackling the scourge of anti-Semitism”.

Mr Livingstone said he will launch a campaign to overturn the suspension.

The row first erupted in April last year when Mr Livingstone was defending Bradford West MP Naz Shah over claims she had made anti-Semitic social media posts.

He said: “When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

He has repeatedly defended his version of events, saying there had been “real collaboration” between Nazis and Zionists before World War Two.

Anti-Semitism and Zionism

  • Anti-Semitism is “hostility and prejudice directed against Jewish people” (OED)
  • Zionism refers to the movement to create a Jewish state in the Middle East, corresponding to the historic land of Israel – anti-Zionism opposes that
  • Some say “Zionist” can be used as a coded attack on Jews, while others say the Israeli government and its supporters are deliberately confusing anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism to avoid criticism

What’s the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism?

An internal disciplinary panel upheld three charges against Mr Livingstone for breaching party rules, including rule 2.1.8, which says that “no member of the party shall engage in conduct which in the opinion of the NEC is prejudicial, or in any act which in the opinion of the NEC is grossly detrimental to the party”.

But rather than expelling him as a party member, he was suspended from standing for office or representing the party at any level for two years – which will expire in April 2018, taking into account the suspension he has already served.

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Rabbi Mirvis released a statement condemning the decision by the panel.

“This was a chance for the Labour Party to show that it would not tolerate wilful and unapologetic baiting of the Jewish community, by shamefully using the Holocaust as a tool with which to inflict the maximum amount of offence,” he said.

“Worryingly, the party has yet again failed to show that it is sufficiently serious about tackling the scourge of anti-Semitism.”

Rabbi Mirvis added: “The Labour Party has failed the Jewish community, it has failed its members and it has failed all those who believe in zero tolerance of anti-Semitism.”

‘Betrayal of values’

Jeremy Newmark, chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement, called the suspension “quite insufficient”.

“It seems the party is operating some kind of revolving door policy where one can make deeply hurtful and offensive comments, denies the history of the Holocaust, and dip in and out of party membership,” he said.

“It’s a betrayal of the values of our party and what it stands for.

“I feel they’ve fudged an incredibly important and significant decision, a moment that could have been a turning point for the Labour Party in proving that it has zero tolerance for anti-Semitism appears to have been wasted.”

Speaking on BBC’s Newsnight on Monday, Mr Livingstone again defended his comments, accusing publications of not covering what he said accurately, before repeating his comments that Hitler “did a deal with the Zionists”.

“I am not damaging [to Labour],” he said. “When I was suspended, I couldn’t walk down the street for hundreds of people stopping to say we know what you said is true.”

When asked whether he accepted he had poor judgement over the remarks, Mr Livingstone replied: “No.”

He added: “If anyone is upset, I am sorry, but get them to check what I said, because I cannot tell you the number of Jewish people who came up to me who said ‘I know what you said is true’.”

‘Morally wrong’

Labour MP Wes Streeting told the programme that Mr Livingstone had “displayed a bizarre fascination with a tiny part of World War Two history”.

He said the situation was affecting Labour in their campaigning for the upcoming local elections in May, adding that Mr Livingstone was “not welcome” to come to his constituency.

“Your poor judgement, crass remarks and lack of apology brings the Labour Party into disrepute,” he told Mr Livingstone. “It is losing us votes hand over fist and is morally wrong.”

Labour’s shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti, who carried out an inquiry into allegations of anti-Semitism, said the party had “showed its ability to look at itself fairly and carefully in the mirror in more difficult times, however painful this might be.”

She added: “I hope people might now revisit my report and remind themselves of better ways to argue about difficult issues without compromising our values of solidarity, tolerance and respect.”

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