Other articles relevant to the Ken Livingstone controversy
AWL statement on how we think Livingstone should be dealt with
Ken Livingstone: bad history, worse politics
Trotsky and the Jewish question
Jeremy Corbyn, Zionist?
“We condemn the Oder-Neisse frontier established by the victors and the practice of mass expulsions as inhuman measures which can never be approved by socialists. But we warn the refugees against the illusion that their problems can be solved through conquest by force of their former homeland through World War Three. A new war would destroy their homeland along with the rest of Europe. At present, it is important to absorb these refugees into economic life with equal rights and in accordance with their occupations. Reactionary elements among the “displaced persons” attempt in collaboration with their West German friends to distract the refugees from defending their real interests by illusory promises of a return to their former homes. But we tell them that they can get a life worth living only by joining in the common struggle with the socialist labour movement.”
From the 1950 draft programme of the German Trotskyists, discussing the ethnic Germans who were expelled from eastern Europe at the end of the Second World War.
The Ken Livingstone affair focuses attention on one of the major problems inside the left. Is Ken Livingstone an antisemite? Livingstone is a Jekyll-and-Hyde character. Inside Livingstone, there is the do-anything-for-an-advantage careerist, Livingstone-Jekyll. And there is always a Livingstone-Hyde, raging to get out. As Livingstone-Jekyll’s careerist phases are left behind, Livingstone-Hyde gets stronger. Is he an antisemite? As they say: “if it quacks, most likely it’s a duck”.
There was the incident of a few years ago when, evidently drunk leaving a social gathering, he compared a reporter to a Nazi concentration-camp guard — meaning, I suppose, that they were conscienceless mercenaries, “obeying orders”. When the reporter told him that he was Jewish, and therefore found the comparison especially offensive, he would neither retract the statement nor apologise for it. He repeated it. Now there is: “Hitler was a Zionist, until he went mad and started massacring Jews”.
The full-strength underlying idea alluded to here is the notion that Zionism is more or less identical with Nazism, an idea widely accepted on the ostensible left. It’s not the facts and factoids he juggles with here —there was Nazi talk, before the war, of deporting Europe’s Jews to Madagascar. It’s the spurting malice with which he lets it out. In his time, and over a long time, he consorted with antisemites. He worked closely with a strange organisation, the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, which was financed – and widely known to be financed – by Gadaffi’s Libya and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. In turn, the WRP subsidised a paper which Livingstone put out, Labour Herald.
God knows what goes on in Livingstone’s mind, but he is a functional antisemite. Of course he should be expelled from the Labour Party! Why wasn’t he expelled? Because he was so heavily “lawyered-up” that he intimidated his judges. He threatened to fight expulsion in the courts if they dared expel him. That he wasn’t expelled is a measure of Labour Party justice — and of the Labour Party’s seriousness in fighting the anti-Zionist antisemitic hysteria which grips much of the left.
The horrible fact is that much of the ostensible left is in the grip of an “anti-Zionism” and an “anti-imperialism” identical to Livingstone’s that is almost, in its attitude to Israel and Jews, indistinguishable from antisemitism. It trades in the woes of the Palestinians, but it is much less pro-Palestinian than it is anti-Israel. It rejects the PLO programme of a Palestinian state side-by-side with Israel. Its central policy is the destruction of Israel.
Hysterical? It is out of all proportion to the crimes and alleged crimes of Israel against the Palestinians. It expresses in its concern with Israel and Palestine all sorts of political frustrations and other hostilities. It incorporates vicious lies and has made of them articles of political faith. It doesn’t see anything odd or inhibiting in its sustained animosity towards exactly the same sort of people who have been the target of religious bigots through the centuries and were the victims of Nazi mass murder on a colossal scale in the 20th Century.
The distinction between Jews, who, naturally, support Israel, however critically, and Israel is largely meaningless here, a sleight of mind. It doesn’t just criticise or politically condemn Israel’s actions and policies and advocate redress. It seeks an armageddon for Israel, its total destruction. With the old Christian antisemitism it wasn’t that there were no Jewish financiers or Jewish money-lenders, etc., as objectionable as any others of that species. It was the identifying of a whole people with such villains. Now, it is not that there is nothing to object to in Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians — towards whom Israel is a brutal colonial power — but the identification of all Israelis and non-Israeli Jewish Zionists with the worst aspects of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. And the conclusion: that the Israeli state and its Jewish citizens should be conquered and Israel wiped off the map.
This left says Israel doesn’t have the right to exist and therefore doesn’t have a right to defend itself. From the identification of Jews — even poor Jews — with money to the identification of the Jewish state with its outside supporters with imperialism — with some sort of essence of imperialism — and the same conclusion as Hitler reached about the Jewish people, about the Jewish state — wipe it out. And to an enormous extent this is based on lies and half-lies.
Take, for example, the question of the Palestinian refugees and their “right of return”. It is routinely asserted that there are six million Palestinian refugees. In fact, the figure includes two or three generations of people who are of Palestinian descent, not Palestinians. The number of Palestinians who fled or were driven out in the 1948 war was about 750,000. There can’t be all that many of these people still alive. The figures of six million refugees is a straightforward ideological lie, and a big one.
The idea that these six million descendants of Palestinian refugees have a moral “right to return” and that Israel should be abolished and its people deprived of national rights so as to allow that, is implicitly, the idea that their grandparents (or in some cases great-grandparents) can pass on to them a right that is greater than the rights of Israeli Jews to go on living where they and their parents and in some cases their grandparents were born and have lived their lives.
The underlying idea on which this is based is also an ideological lie — the idea that Israel, founded in 1948, was and is entirely and solely responsible for the plight of Palestinians living for decades as refugees. Israel, but not the host Arab states which refused to give them the right to settle and work and build normal lives where they lived. It is, like so much of the Arab chauvinist and the Islamist “case” against Israel, a historical frame-up.
The idea that the “destroy-Israel” ostensible left champions the Palestinians is also an ideological lie or at least a serious misunderstanding. The “Israel must be destroyed” people, who reject a two-state solution thereby make any progress for the Palestinians depend on the destruction of Israel. Nothing less will do. This, if it ever happens, will not happen for a very long time, calculably, not for generations.
For the “anti-imperialist” left, the Arab states and the political Islamists, progress for the Palestinians is very much less of a consideration than hostility to Israel. If — as is possible — expanding Israeli settlements on the West Bank makes a political solution impossible, the blame will not lie alone on Israel but also on the Arab forces that again and again refused at crucial turning points to make peace with Israel, accepting its right to exist. For instance, at the end of the Six-Day war in 1967, when Israel immediately offered to vacate the territories it has occupied in return for recognition by the Arab states. The left uses the Palestinians, but their first concern is not what is best for the Palestinians.
Finally, the idea that the 750,000 Palestinian refugees of 1948 are a unique event in modern history and therefore should have a unique solution — the extirpation of Israel — is wrong from the start. In the years after 1948, almost 600,000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries, their property seized, and made their way to Israel. It amounted to a brutal population transfer between Israel and the Arab states. Do their descendants now have a right of return? If not, why not? Because the Zionists-Jews are uniquely evil?
Compare also the case of the ethnic Germans expelled from East Prussia, Poland and Czechoslovakia at the end of World War Two — 13 million of them, people whose ancestors had lived there for hundreds of years. They were severely ill-treated and large numbers of them murdered by revenge-maddened people. They were victims of the often racial anti-Germanism preached, for instance, by the Russian state.
The expulsions were done with the prior agreement of Britain, the USA, and Russia. The ethnic Germans were driven into a Germany that was in a state of ruination. Over half a million ethnic Germans died in these transfers. It is calculated that one in four Germans today are descendants of those 13 million ethnic Germans. Only those whom the Stalinist press used to call “West German revanchists” talked of reversing these expulsions. What the West German Trotskyists said about it is at the head of this article.
There is much to criticise and denounce in Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Israel should be criticised and denounced for specific actions and policies, but not for existing. The living political root of left-wing antisemitism today is in the rejection of Israel’s right to exist. It is nourished, of course, by Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian Arabs. The left needs sane, rational politics on the Middle East, not the hysteria now dominant .
The cause of the Palestinians, of winning a Palestinian state alongside Israel, is too important to be left to those whose first concern is not the Palestinians but hysterical opposition to Israel’s existence.