Ken Livingstone’s comments were not anti-semitic, leading Jewish academics say
But Islington South MP Emily Thornberry calls for ex-London Mayor to be expelled
14 April, 2017 — By Koos Couvée
Ken Livingstone made the controversial comments on the BBC last year. Photo: Jasn on Flickr
Leading academics who are Jewish Labour members in Islington have stepped into the row over Ken Livingstone’s comments linking Hitler with Zionism, saying they were not anti-semitic.
But Emily Thornberry, MP for Islington South and Finsbury, said the ex-London Mayor should be thrown out of the party over the comments made on BBC Radio last year, when he said Hitler had supported Zionism in the 1930s before he “went mad and ended up killing six million Jews”.
Despite widespread condemnation, Mr Livingstone stood by his comments and repeated the claim in other TV appearances.
Last week, he was judged by Labour’s national constitutional committee (NCC) to have brought the party into disrepute and found guilty on the three counts he faced. But he was only suspended for another year – not expelled.
The result of the disciplinary hearing received widespread condemnation. However, a letter signed by 32 Jewish members to the NCC said disciplinary charges brought against Mr Livingstone were not credible.
One of the signatories, Professor Donald Sassoon, emeritus professor of comparative European history at Queen Mary, said that while Mr Livingstone’s comments were “historical fact”, his interpretation that
Hitler supported Zionism was wrong.
“But neither makes him anti-semitic,” Professor Sassoon, from Clerkenwell, said. “To be anti-semitic you have to hate Jews, believe that they control the world and so on. Nothing in the statement suggests that. The issue is really why then does it get so heated about what at most is a rather stupid interpretation of history.
“The idea that the Chief Rabbi speaks on my behalf is completely ridiculous. Maybe some are upset, this Jew is not. One cannot say that anti-semitism is anything that might offend some Jewish people, that
would be completely absurd.”
The fact that Mr Livingstone was not expelled has deeply upset some members in the borough. In Islington North, a member ripped up their membership card in fury at a meeting last week.
But Mica Nava, from Tufnell Park, emeritus professor of cultural studies at the University of East London, said of her reasons for signing the letter: “I don’t think [Mr Livingstone] was fantastically tactful and [his comments] were not particularly relevant to the context but I would certainly defend his right to make those comments.
“It was simply not anti-semitic. The new set of accusations is that he brought the party in disrepute and that goes against notion of free speech and democracy.”
She added: “Livingstone has a fantastic record of bringing people together. He did more than anybody to recognise and acknowledge people of different ethnic backgrounds, and celebrated diversity in London. I defend that.”
Writing in the Tribune this week, David Rosenberg, a Jewish Labour member from Tufnell Park, said Mr Livingstone’s “academic” source for the link between Zionism and the Nazis was highly questionable, and accused him of “poor judgment”.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said further action might be taken against the ex-London mayor, and he has referred the matter to Labour’s national executive committee (NEC).
In a statement, the Islington North MP said: “Ken Livingstone’s comments have been grossly insensitive, and he has caused deep offence and hurt to the Jewish community.”
Town Hall leader Richard Watts added: “Livingstone’s comments were grossly offensive and I strongly support the tough line Jeremy Corbyn has taken to refer the matter to the NEC.
“Ken has a strong track record of fighting racism in the past and he was a good Mayor of London, but his conduct in this matter has been offensive and inexcusable. His comments crossed the line into anti-semitism and there can be no place for that in our party.”