Labour Party: no room for anti-Zionists

Ken Livingstone’s resignation from the Labour Party on 21 May, following a two-year suspension for alleged anti-Semitic comments, is a victory for the Party’s reactionary, pro-Zionist wing. His supposed crime had been to point out that the German Zionist leadership had sought to collaborate with the Nazi state for a period of time in its early years. However, historical truth is anathema to pro-Zionist Labour politicians; they are determined both to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and to drive pro-Palestinian sentiment out of the Labour Party. In a campaign over the last two years they have constantly claimed that the left is riddled with anti-Semitism. Instead of standing against this, the Labour left has chosen to retreat. Livingstone’s decision to throw in the towel is just the latest example of its cowardice. Robert Clough reports.

The campaign against Livingstone started with a TV interview he gave in April 2016 when he came to the defence of Labour MP Naz Shah who had compared the Zionist colonisers to the Nazis during the summer 2014 onslaught on Gaza, which resulted in the death of over 2,000 Palestinians. Shah subsequently offered a grovelling apology to the House of Commons; in the meantime, Livingstone said:

‘Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews. The simple fact in all of this is that Naz made these comments at a time when there was another brutal Israeli attack on the Palestinians and there’s one stark fact that virtually no one in the British media ever reports, in almost all these conflicts the death toll is usually between 60 and 100 Palestinians killed for every Israeli. Now, any other country doing that would be accused of war crimes but it’s like we have a double standard about the policies of the Israeli government.’

As we reported at the time, ‘Labour’s Zionist rent-a-mob went into overdrive. MP John Mann chased Livingstone along London streets and up a BBC stairwell, calling him a “Nazi apologist” and a “disgusting racist”, in a confrontation that was repeatedly broadcast throughout the day. Labour Friends of Israel (LFI) MPs John Woodcock, Rachel Reeves, Louise Ellman and Luciana Berger weighed in ...The supposedly radical journalist Owen Jones echoed the call for suspension while Jon Lansman, chair of the left Labour pressure group Momentum, went further and tweeted that “A period of silence from Ken Livingstone is overdue, especially on anti-Semitism, racism and Zionism. It’s time he left politics altogether”‘ (see ‘Labour left crumbles in the face of Zionist attacks’, May 2016). Lansman went on to state that the term ‘Zionism’ was not ‘politically helpful’: given that it has a very precise meaning, he was already cutting off any future Momentum challenge to Labour’s support for Israel.

Corbyn made significant concessions: he confessed his admiration for the Israeli state, and explicitly opposed the BDS movement which seeks to isolate Israel through a cultural and academic boycott, disinvestment and economic sanctions. Yet BDS is the minimal position that any pro-Palestinian campaign can take. Israel is a racist colonial-settler state: based on the dispossession of the Palestinian people, it must maintain itself by extending that dispossession through violent means, and has done so constantly since the 1993 Oslo Agreements.

On 26 March, the Zionists upped the ante with a widely-publicised demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament, timed to cause maximum damage to Labour’s fortunes in the May local elections. Led by the Zionist Jewish Labour Council (JLC) and the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and supported by the Labour Friends of Israel (LFI), their immediate aim was the expulsion of Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker from the Labour Party. JLC chair Jonathan Goldstein declared that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is ‘now the figurehead for an anti-Semitic political culture, based upon an obsessive hatred of Israel, conspiracy theories and fake news’. 1,500 people, including members of the Conservative Party and LFI, attended the media event. Overnight, Corbyn capitulated: having claimed that anti-Semitism in the Labour Party was not an issue, he now said: ‘We recognise that anti-Semitism has occurred in pockets within the Labour party, causing pain and hurt to our Jewish community in the Labour party and the rest of the country. I am sincerely sorry for the pain which has been caused.’

Momentum followed suit: retracting its own assertions about the absence of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, it now decided that anti-Semitism ‘is more widespread in the Labour Party than many of us had understood even a few months ago’.  Its statement said nothing about Zionism, or about the nature of the Israeli state, other than to repeat Corbyn’s response to the 26 March demonstration about ‘newer forms of anti-Semitism which have been woven into criticism of Israeli governments’. Lansman himself went on to describe the event as an ‘anti-racist’ demonstration.

The fictitious ‘anti-racist’ nature of these Zionists was revealed in their response to the 14 May massacre in Gaza. The Board of Deputies claimed that ‘Israel [was] defending its people from repeated violent attempts at mass invasion’ and placed all ‘responsibility for the violence’ on Hamas, which it claimed was using children ‘to join known terrorists in violent attempts to break through the border and kill Israeli citizens’. LFI – which has 80 Labour MPs among its membership – tweeted a victim-blaming statement which said: ‘Tragic events on the Gazan border; all civilian deaths are regrettable. Hamas must accept responsibility for these events. Their successful attempts to hijack peaceful protest as a cover to attack Israeli border communities must be condemned by all who seek peace in the Middle East.’ The implication that Palestinian people only protest because they are told to by Hamas is thoroughly racist. As for Momentum – it offered no statement at all on this appalling crime.

LFI was forced to remove its statement after an explosion of condemnation. Its chair, Joan Ryan, however repeated its sentiment when she told parliament that: ‘The death toll on the Gazan border yesterday was truly terrible and the violence must stop. Hamas must end its cynical exploitation of the peace process and the IDF must show restraint and do all they can to minimise civilian casualties.’ How Hamas could possibly exploit a non-existent peace process passes any understanding, and to imply that civilian casualties, even if ‘minimised’, are acceptable, is appalling.

Any embarrassment that the LFI suffered for its crass comments will soon disappear as, with Zionists outside the Labour Party, it renews its attacks on Corbyn and supposed anti-Semites. Jackie Walker, who is both black and Jewish, will remain in their sights. Allegations of anti-Semitism will be used at every suitable political opportunity and particularly in the lead up to any election to undermine Corbyn. That the Labour left, in particular Momentum, have chosen to capitulate will merely make the job easier for the Zionists.

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 264 June/July 2018


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