On 4 March Ken Livingstone wrote a piece in the Guardian explaining where he stands on anti-semitism, what he thinks about the Israeli state, and why criticising the actions of that state is not anti-semitism. I wrote this letter in response. It wasn’t published.
Is Ken Livingstone an anti-semite? His motley career includes four years as an upfront editor of Labour Herald, a “Labour left” weekly so dependent on the Workers’ Revolutionary Party (WRP) that it collapsed when that organisation did, in 1985. David Blunkett, Margaret Hodge, and others such were regular Labour Herald contributors, but its technical editor was a WRP Central Committee member, Steven Miller.
The WRP itself was financially dependent on Arab governments (including Iraq). Livingstone spoke on WRP platforms; he benefited politically from a WRP press campaign denouncing his predecessor in Brent East as “the Zionist Freeson” — i.e. the Jew Freeson.
He backed a WRP campaign in the trade unions against a Jew being appointed chair of governors of the BBC.
On page 3 of one issue of the WRP daily paper Newsline, 9 April 1983, Livingstone, responding to an interview question, said, yes, a recent BBC “Money Programme” investigation of WRP financial links to Gaddafi’s Libya had been the work of “Zionists”. Across on page 2, a lunatic editorial explained that the BBC was part of a world “Zionist connection” stretching from Ronald Reagan through Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet all the way to the editors of a paper critical of the WRP, and inter alia of anti-semitism, Socialist Organiser (I was one of those editors).
It was “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” stuff, with “Zionist” substituted for “Jew”. In the next Socialist Organiser I asked Livingstone, who could not, I said, agree with the Newsline editorial, to dissociate from it. He never did — or from any of the other crazy “anti-Zionism” in Newsline.
Ken Livingstone is surely not a moron-level anti-Jewish racist. I doubt that, day to day, he automatically dislikes people who are Jewish or of Jewish background.
But he is an anti-semite in that he subscribes to the dominant kitsch-left (originally Stalinist) account of 20th-century Europe and of the Middle East which demonises Zionists and Israel; denies the right of the Jews in Palestine and then in Israel to defend themselves, to aspire to self-determination (in fact, though it is less “politic” than it used to be to say so, their right to exist as a collective); habitually equates Zionism with Nazism; and condemns Jews, especially Jews who will not share this attitude to Israel, as suspect or downright “racists”.
In practice this cannot but mean hostility to all Jews who, critically or chauvinistically, support Israel, that is, to most Jews alive. Necessary and proper criticism of Israel is here only an “occasion” to express this root and branch antagonism.
It is out of this background that Livingstone — surrounded by ex-Trotskyist advisers who vehemently share such politics — began abusing an Evening Standard reporter and then, when told he was a Jew, carried on verbally jabbing him in the solar plexus with jeers about being like a concentration camp guard.