This is a scandal that has rolled uphill. Unless urgent action is takedown, the breakdown of trust between Labour and the Jewish community could get worseby Kieron Monks / May 22, 2018 / Leave a comment
Does anyone remember a time before Ken Livingstone started talking about Hitler?
The former Mayor of London has been a central figure in Labour’s antisemitism saga since his defence of Naz Shah went badly off-piste in 2016. It has been Ken raising collective blood pressure in the studios; Ken farcically hiding in toilets; Ken’s name on the doorsteps, again and again, for Labour activists hearing Jews say they can’t vote Labour.
Livingstone’s endless disciplinary procedure was an open, festering wound that poisoned relations between the party and the Jewish community—many of whom recalled his prior suggestion that Jews are too rich to vote Labour, and his comparing a Jewish reporter to a Nazi prison guard, and wondered what it would take for him to be expelled.
Livingstone’s resignation, and we will presumably learn how voluntary it was, brings a moment of peace. He became a unifying figure in disgrace, bringing warring factions of the Labour party and the Jewish community together. His departure is welcomed by Len Mccluskey and Wes Streeting, Jonathan Arkush and Jewdas. There can be a collective sigh of relief that a painful boil is finally lanced.
This act of seppuku allows the party to take a step forward after a troubled local election campaign in which the issue of antisemitism proved damaging. Jennie Formby’s plate has been cleared of one indigestible item, which may foster a little, precious good faith as she sets about the fraught task of bringing antisemitism to heel. The general secretary will now be expected to bring a swift conclusion to other high profile cases such as Jackie Walker’s, and properly implement the Chakrabarti Report’s recommendations including improvements to the party’s disciplinary process and antisemitism education.
Party leadership must also resolve an impasse with the mainstream Jewish communal bodies, after a summit that followed the Parliament Square protest flopped. Labour can certainly do more to address the groups’ core demands—such as showing leadership from the top on antisemitism, and restoring confidence in the disciplinary process.
Other sticking points will be harder to resolve. Corbyn is unwilling to meet demands to ban members from sharing platforms with people who have been suspended but not found guilty, or to disavow fringe groups such as Jewish Voice for Labour, whose place in the party is hotly contested. There is also resistance to adoption of the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which contains criteria governing discussion of Israel and has been criticised by free speech lawyers. Adoption of the IHRA definition is one of the communal bodies’ main priorities.
The majority of Labour antisemitism cases have touched on Israel and Zionism—whether it has been Jewish members subjected to loyalty tests on Palestine, antisemitic conspiracy theories transposed to Israel, or equations of the Jewish state with Nazi Germany. The world’s most contentious subject will remain a minefield for Labour as it struggles to reconcile one wing of the party that sees Israel as an Apartheid state with another that considers it a democratic ally and a symbol of Jewish emancipation.
But the discourse can at least be made more civil through prohibition on use of ‘Zionist’ as a term of abuse, and keeping Nazi analogies out of it.
The other major stumbling block to progress, that Livingstone’s resignation cannot resolve, is the yawning chasm of distrust that exists between Jeremy Corbyn and the Jewish community. Livingstone’s demise might even damage Corbyn further from certain perspectives, as the two share a history and culture that is now cast in an unflattering light. Labour’s antisemitism scandal has ebbed and flowed but it is unlikely to disappear while Corbyn is in charge. Every one of the leader’s engagements with the Jewish community, from his Jewdas seder to his interview with Jewish News, has backfired and there is vanishingly little goodwill to build on.
This is also a scandal that has rolled uphill, claiming members, councillors and now a decorated former mayor. More party grandees continue to look vulnerable on this issue. The crisis may not have reached its peak.