Britain / 05-04-2017
Labour suspends Livingstone for another year over Hitler comments
Ken Livingstone has avoided expulsion from Labour after a disciplinary panel ruled he should be suspended for another year for bringing the party into disrepute over comments about antisemitism, Hitler and Zionism.
The former mayor of London, who has been a member for almost 50 years, was censured by the party for suggesting that Hitler at one point supported Zionism, and for defending the Labour MP Naz Shah over an antisemitic Facebook post for which she has apologised. Livingstone had predicted he would be expelled but his punishment was lessened because of his long history of contributions to the Labour party.
The panel technically imposed a two-year suspension from holding office in Labour, of which one year has already been served. The suspension will end on 27 April next year.
In a defiant series of interviews outside the hearing in Westminster, Livingstone said he had nothing to apologise for and would need to consider whether to challenge the suspension. “If I’d said Hitler was a Zionist, I would say sorry. You can’t apologise for telling the truth,” he said. “I apologise for the offence caused by those Labour MPs who lied. In the weeks after I was suspended I had hundreds of people stopping me in the street saying, ‘Don’t give in.’”
Asked how he had been found to have brought the party into disrepute, he said: “That I said Naz Shah was not antisemitic and that I did the interview with Vanessa Feltz. Anyone who did an interview with Vanessa Feltz is going to be suspended.”
— JewishLabourMovement (@JewishLabour) April 4, 2017
“It is a year since Ken Livingstone’s outrageous comments on Hitler and Zionism,” he said. “After 12 months of indecision, despite finding him guilty of all three charges, the Labour party has decided to suspend him from holding office for just one year despite his shameless, disgraceful and tendentious attempts to link Zionism to Nazism.”
Britain’s chief rabbi accused Labour of failing the Jewish community by not expelling Livingstone. “This was a chance for the Labour party to show that it would not tolerate wilful and unapologetic baiting of the Jewish community by shamefully using the Holocaust as a tool with which to inflict the maximum amount of offence,” said Ephraim Mirvis.
“Worryingly, the party has yet again failed to show that it is sufficiently serious about tackling the scourge of antisemitism.
“The Labour party has failed the Jewish community, it has failed its members and it has failed all those who believe in zero tolerance of antisemitism.”
Simon Johnson, the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council, said: “We are deeply disappointed at the decision not to expel him from the Labour party. A temporary suspension is no more than a slap on the wrist. Mr Livingstone’s inaccurate and antagonistic comments, including over the past 40 years, have had a huge impact on the Jewish community. We feel that the Labour party should have had the courage to address this deeply offensive behaviour with a firmer penalty.”
Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, claimed it demonstrated that antisemitism is not viewed in the same light as other forms of prejudice.
“Ken Livingstone has continued to cause significant pain and great offence to the Jewish community with his persistent rewriting of history,” Pollock said.
“That a mainstream political party would consider these views to be welcome within their ranks simply demonstrates that antisemitism is not taken as seriously as all other forms of racism and prejudice.”
Jeremy Newmark, the chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, said: “Ken was found guilty on all three charges. However, this punishment is totally insufficient. They don’t match the leadership’s commitment to zero tolerance on antisemitism. They imply a revolving door policy in which you can revise the history of the Holocaust, sit quietly for a year then come back and do it all again.”
A number of Labour MPs were also dismayed by the verdict. Yvette Cooper, the former Labour leadership candidate, said the party hierarchy must review the decision not to expel Livingstone.
“It’s not enough to say the words zero tolerance on antisemitism – Labour has to put them into practice,” she said. “Shameful decision today. If our rules are weak enough to allow today’s decision then our rules and enforcement codes aren’t strong enough and must change urgently.”
Shadow secretary of state for international development Barry Gardiner said Livingstone had “caused enormous offence and should be expelled”.
Wes Streeting, the MP for Ilford North, said it made “a complete mockery of the claim that Labour takes a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism”, while Michael Dugher, the former shadow transport secretary, urged Jewish Labour members not to “surrender the party to Livingstone and his apologists”.
Luciana Berger, a leading Jewish Labour MP, tweeted that it was a “new low for my party this evening. Appalling decision. Why is antisemitism being treated differently from any other form of racism?”
The Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth said: “Ken Livingstone’s actions are despicable and dangerous. Today’s outcome has shamed and degraded my party. I am utterly disgusted.”
Shami Chakrabarti, who conducted an inquiry for Labour into antisemitism before becoming its shadow attorney general, issued a statement saying the party had demonstrated an “ability to look at itself fairly and carefully in the mirror in more difficult times, however painful this might be”.
She said: “I hope people might now revisit my report and remind themselves of better ways to argue about difficult issues without compromising our values of solidarity, tolerance and respect.”
Evidence submitted to the inquiry by the Jewish Labour Movement, now released, accused Livingstone of making “disparaging, inaccurate and out-of-context comments” about Jews and about the creation of the state of Israel and Zionism. It also criticised and disputed his claims about relationships between the German Jewish community and Hitler’s Nazi regime in the 1930s.
The 178-page submission quoted Johnson warning that anything less than expulsion from the party would “prevent trust being rebuilt between the Jewish community and the Labour party”.
It said Livingstone’s suggestion that he had not heard anything antisemitic in his 47 years in the Labour party helped explain why he was unable to recognise his own issues. The Jewish Leadership Council also claimed that the “creation of a loose historical connection between Israel and Nazism” was intended to blur reality and “demonise Jews”.
Last week, Livingstone – who had called several anti-Zionist Jewish Labour members in his defence – insisted that he had the support of many in the party.
“I’m always hopeful. It’s pretty fair. The injustice was actually suspending me for something I hadn’t said,” Livingstone told reporters outside the hearing. “Have I said anything that wasn’t true? All the Jewish activists who spoke on my behalf … all actually confirmed what I said was true.
“The big difference is that, though I said that Hitler supported Zionism, MPs like John Mann were immediately claiming that I said Hitler was a Zionist. That was repeated on the Jewish Chronicle website with appalling other stories saying that I said Jews were like Nazis. None of this is true.”
The panel of three who ruled on Livingstone’s fate were permitted under Labour party rules to give a majority verdict.
Livingstone is believed to have told the panel that the case against him was motivated by a plot to undermine the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, and his supporters in the party.
Livingstone, who had been suspended from the party for 11 months pending the decision, made claims to reporters last week that the Nazis sold weapons to Zionist fighters and set up training camps to help Jews adapt to life in a different country. “So you had, right up until the start of the second world war, real collaboration,” he said.
Livingstone’s comments refer to the Haavara Agreement signed by the Nazi government that facilitated the relocation of some Jews to Palestine in 1933, before the Third Reich began its campaign of mass extermination. However, Livingstone’s claim that the agreement had meant Hitler was supportive of a Jewish homeland has been widely disputed by historians.
Labour’s national executive committee compiled evidence – including a lengthy dossier from the Jewish Labour Movement – which contained criticism of Livingstone by senior rabbis, as well as polling and campaign experts about the detrimental effect of Livingstone’s comments on the party’s electoral chances.