Ken Livingstone, billed since January as debating with us at the Ideas for Freedom summer school on 22- 23 June, has now withdrawn, pleading family commitments. Sean Matgamna responds with an open letter.
Ken: it’s a shame you have bottled out of our scheduled debate. I’ m bitterly disappointed. I was looking forward to kicking your butt. It’s been quite a while since I had a chance to do that. We will keep an empty chair on the platform for you in that session, and give extended speaking time to anyone ready and willing to come and argue your case.
You have been an active antisemite since at least the early 1980s! You let Gerry Healy finance a newspaper for you — Labour Herald — even though you knew for a certainty that Healy himself was being financed by Colonel Gaddafi of Libya and other such tyrants, murderers, and aspirant butchers of the Israeli Jewish people as Saddam Hussein. I documented that recently in my introduction to In Defence of Bolshevism. You told us in conversations about this planned debate that you are now “not interested” in Zionism, and do not disagree with us about the case for a “two states” settlement in Israel-Palestine. I don’t know about that.
Back in 1985, when you were re-positioning yourself as a “soft left”, you told a student conference that you had realised that Zionism was not “racism” but only a form of “nationalism” (see our pamphlet Arabs, Jews, and Socialism, p.62). Yet since then you have gone a long way to establishing that the issue with you here is not a matter of a horrible political logic growing out of comprehensive hostility to Israel (as it is with many), but much more personal than that. Even now I hesitate to ascribe to you person-to-person antisemitism. But the man who in 2005 (I guess you were drunk) jeered at a reporter, after being told that he was Jewish, that he was “just like a concentration camp guard”, shows strong signs of that.
Bottling out of a chance to defend yourself in debate with someone whom you can’t plausibly dismiss as a “right-winger” shows that you are man who cannot muster the courage of your own malign convictions. A pity.