By Ben Cohen/JNS.org
I’ve written many times about the anti-Semitism that continues to plague the British Labour Party—once a noble party of both opposition and government that has now, under its current far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn, become a laughably ineffective opposition with little hope of attaining government leadership.
One key reason for that involves the scandals around open expressions of anti-Semitism from party activists and leaders alike, discrediting the party among voters in general and forcing Jewish members to leave what was once their natural political home in droves.
The anti-Semitism row returned this week when the party announced it is merely renewing the suspension of Corbyn’s close friend and ally, former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, rather than expelling him outright for the vile falsehoods he promoted in an interview with the BBC, in which he claimed Hitler had supported Zionism before he “went mad” and launched the Holocaust.
Across social media platforms, Jewish and non-Jewish supporters of the Labour Party expressed outrage. “You can keep Ken,” said one tweet, “I’m done.” Other statements implored the dissenters to stay and fight. “It’s the anti-Semites who should leave, not us,” declared another tweet.
The party’s refusal to properly address Livingstone’s offense comes not because of some bureaucratic error or a genuine inability to understand the problem. It happened because Corbyn and his clique of fanatics agree with Livingstone that, as he put it in a recent fawning interview, “Basically, anybody who has criticized Israel, ends up being called anti-Semitic.”
But what counts as “criticism of Israel” is very generously defined. Talking about the influence of Jewish wealth in the U.K., stoking blood libels against elected Israeli leaders, repeatedly spitting in the face of the Jewish community by comparing Zionism with Nazism, currying favor with Islamist terrorists like Sheikh Yusuf al Qaradawi and anti-Semitic dictators like the late Hugo Chavez in Venezuela—all of these monstrosities amount, in Livingstone’s mind, to mere “criticism of Israel.”
In a 1946 essay, George Orwell wrote that while British anti-Semitism rarely takes violent forms, “it is ill-natured enough, and in favorable circumstances it could have political results.” That speaks volumes about today’s Labour Party. In the same essay, he remarked, “People will go to remarkable lengths to demonstrate that they are not anti-Semitic.” That, too, speaks volumes about Labour. One only needs to recall the insipid internal inquiry into anti-Semitism in 2016, which conceded only that there is “an occasionally toxic atmosphere” towards Jews in the party, and which employed the well-worn tactic of recruiting a Jewish academic and virulent critic of Israel, Prof. David Feldman, to provide appropriate political cover.
There is a broader point to be made here, and it is intimately connected to Labour’s steady drift to the left. The party’s disturbing behavior is reflected not just in its deny-and-excuse response to anti-Semitism at home, but in its adoption of a similar stance towards grave human rights abuses abroad.
Nobody exemplifies this pattern more than Ken Livingstone. In 2013, when President Barack Obama drew a red line over chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian regime only to erase it a few days later, the American climbdown was ably supported by a vote against military intervention in the British parliament. In spearheading a move that bolstered Syrian dictator President Bashar al-Assad, former Labour leader Ed Miliband and his “anti-war” lieutenants like Livingstone and Corbyn ended up smeared with the blood of hundreds of thousands of Syrians.
Here is Livingstone—the great defender of “Palestine”—speaking about possible British involvement in Syria in November 2015: “We cannot put British troops on the ground because they are too discredited after Iraq and Afghanistan. But we should look to countries like China. I think China would jump at the opportunity to be involved because it would bring them on to the global stage. They’ve got millions of troops.”
Livingstone made these ludicrous comments after being charged by Corbyn with the task—I am really not making this up—of reviewing Labour’s defense policy. So let there be no misunderstanding about his conclusions: After insulting the armed forces of his own country, he recommended that the troops of a genocidal communist dictatorship be sent to Syria as…what? Neutral peacekeepers? Guarantors of the survival of Assad’s regime? If it’s the latter, the dimwitted Livingstone should have realized the Chinese were not necessary, as his Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah friends were already doing the dirty work of keeping Assad in power.
And now, almost three years after Obama’s secretary of state, John Kerry, told us the “worst” of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal had been peacefully removed, we are again looking at sickening images of the victims of a gas assault in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. As I write, 85 people are reported dead and hundreds more are said to be suffering from sickness, vomiting, foaming at the mouth and other ill effects associated with these illegal weapons.
The attack, ultimately made possible by Russian and Iranian backing for Assad, led President Donald Trump to shift away from his position of accepting that Assad remain in power, warning, “These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated.” Of course, it remains to be seen what Trump will actually do, but he has at least recognized the profound moral challenge contained here without the irritating qualifiers of the previous U.S. administration. That is far more than can be said for a dictator’s stooge like Livingstone—who has denounced Trump, in an article for a rigidly Stalinist newspaper called the “Morning Star,” as a “threat to the whole world.”
Livingstone is too insignificant to be a threat to the world. But throughout his career, he has faithfully supported the dictators and terrorist murderers who have inflicted untold suffering, and has resolutely opposed any effort to bring them down. He has, in short, been an enabler of evil.
This shouldn’t mean that others opposing action in Syria should be tarred with the same hideous motivations driving Livingstone. Equally, it shouldn’t escape our notice that there is a transparent link between the promotion of anti-Semitism and the support for dictatorships disfiguring so much of the political left. Livingstone cannot recognize evil because, perhaps, he is evil himself. Nobody of any political persuasion should follow his example.
Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal and many other publications.