Walter Wolfgang speaks about fake accusations against Ken Livingstone

Walter Wolfgang, Former member of Labour NEC, speaks about fake accusations against Ken Livingstone

 

Walter Wolfgang, a 93 year-old survivor of the Holocaust, speaks of his deep regret after the Labour Party National Compliance Committee finds Ken Livingstone guilty of putting the party into disrepute by his comments about specific acts of collaboration between the Nazi regime and Zionist organisations during the 1930s.

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In Defense of Ken Livingstone

By FSOI Vice-Chair Jonathan Rosenhead.

Republished from Haaretz.

Ken Livingstone, enfant terrible of the British political left, was arraigned before a Labour Party tribunal last week for things he said in a radio interview in April last year. (He has been suspended from membership since that time.) The outcome of the hearing has produced a mighty uproar.

The affair has its origins in a surge of accusations of anti-Semitism against prominent Labour Party members in the early months of 2016. One casualty had been Labour MP Naz Shah, who at the time of the 2014 conflict in Gaza had tweeted extensively and not wisely. (She was then not yet an MP.) Livingstone rode in to her defense, and it was an interview with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio that led to the case against him.

One of Shah’s re-tweets had been a quote from Martin Luther King: “Remember that everything that Hitler did in Germany was legal.” Feltz asked Livingstone a question about Hitler, seemingly to pick up this point, but he misunderstood the thrust and responded with some views on Hitler’s interactions with European Zionist leaders in the 1930s, which he had written about decades earlier. This response turned out to be a gratuitous own goal, with escalating demands that he be expelled –which peaked last week when the Labour Party tribunal failed to sack him, but ‘only’ extended his suspension.

It is a shame that Colin Shindler gave such a one-dimensional account of the Jewish community component of this furor. Shindler paints a picture of a British Jewish population all but united behind Israel and against Livingstone, except for a few ”marginal” and “highly unrepresentative” types. Like me.

I need to declare an interest. Although my previous direct contact with Livingstone was limited to a conversation while walking down two flights of stairs after a public meeting some years ago, I was one of five Jewish Labour Party members who gave evidence for the defense at Ken’s hearing a week ago. We testified in particular on the allegation that his remarks had been anti-Semitic. The oldest of us had got out of Germany as a child in 1937, with his parents lucky enough to make it two years later. My own back story is less dramatic. I grew up in a thoroughly Zionist family in Liverpool. I spent the summer of 1956 in Israel on the Jewish Agency’s Summer Institute project. I celebrated without any doubts Israel’s military victories from 1948 through to 1967. Many others have since then, like me, been forced by Israel’s continuing treatment of the Palestinians to rethink and regret our former position.

It is true as Shindler says that the great majority of us (around 90 percent, according to a reputable 2015 survey) express some degree of attachment to Israel. Indeed I do myself. However what he glosses over is that more than 40 percent of respondents, when specifically asked, declined to describe themselves as Zionists. Those who self-describe as Zionist have actually decreased from 72 percent to 59 percent in just five years. My own subjective experience is that of those who still do identify as Zionists a substantial proportion express criticisms, some verging on disillusion, with the actual policies of successive Israeli governments.

It gets worse. What the survey calls “dovishness” increases the younger you are, and the more education you have. Among under-30s, the percentage who say they would support sanctions against Israel if they thought it would get Israel to negotiate for real with the Palestinians rises to 41%.

It is not only Shindler who paints a picture of a united Jewish community “up in arms” because the “anti-Semite” Livingstone has not been expelled. On the day of his non-expulsion Haaretz reported the Jewish Leadership Council as blasting the Labour Party. An article by Daniella Peled quoted incandescent condemnation by the Community Security Trust, the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and the Holocaust Education Trust. The UK’s Jewish communal organizations have indeed been jumping up and down and making a lot of noise, in unison. But this apparent unanimity is a construct.

These organizations effectively blanket out any coverage of this dissident, alternative Jewish perspective. It is as if the Jewish organizations which take a skeptical or downright critical view of Israel – Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Free Speech on Israel, Independent Jewish Voices, Jewish Socialist Group and others – do not exist.

So what did Livingstone say that makes his expulsion so compulsive? He said, in his now infamous radio interview, that when Hitler became chancellor “his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism…” This Transfer (Ha’avarah) Agreement is, perhaps unfortunately, solidly based in fact –  and many more people probably know that now than did before Livingstone’s gratuitous history lesson. The agreement was based on a unity of purpose (but not of motivation) between the Nazi regime and a range of European Zionist organizations, which lasted through to 1937. The Nazis wanted Jews out of Germany, and Zionists wanted Jews to settle Palestine. As a quid pro quo for the arrangement Zionists called off the economic boycott of Germany and gave other assistance to the faltering German economy.

How could this statement of facts be seen as anti-Semitic? One neat solution found by Livingstone’s enemies was to misquote it, either as “Hitler and the Zionists collaborated”; or even as “Hitler was a Zionist.” The host on a BBC radio program swore blind to me that Livingstone had said just that.

Quoting historical facts can hardly be anti-Semitic, which is presumably why the Labour Party didn’t even charge him with it. The allegation was, rather, of “bringing the Party into disrepute” – a nicely vague and plausible accusation, for which he received a two-year suspension. No penalty was imposed on all those MPs and other Labour worthies from the right of the Party who seemingly thought they might be able to get rid of one of the Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s most effective supporters. They brought the party into disrepute but, of course, were not charged.

There are multiple casualties in all this. Foremost there is the truth, bent and misused for partisan purposes. Second, the Labour Party, brought even lower in popular esteem by the continuing disloyal attempts to unseat a leader with a radical mandate – and one who supports the Palestinian cause. Third, the fight against anti-Semitism. Until recently there was no doubt about what the concept meant, and that it was anathema to all but an unsavory fringe. Individuals and organizations who think that it can be raised into both a shield against criticisms of Israel, and a weapon for taking back control of the Labour Party, are trying to politicize the notion of anti-Semitism. Only the real anti-Semites will benefit from the resulting confusion.

Letter to the Guardian: we reject the call for the expulsion of Ken Livingstone

Letter was published in the Guardian on 13 April

Dear Sir or Madam,

As Jewish and non-Jewish members and supporters of the Labour Party, we reject the call from supporters of Zionism and the Labour Right for the expulsion of Ken Livingstone. [Jewish Labour members say Livingstone must go, April 6th]

Those who call for a new disciplinary hearing simply because they didn’t like the conclusions of the previous one, demonstrate their contempt for democracy and due process.

A year ago Livingstone, responding to a question from Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio London, 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.’

There is nothing whatsoever anti-Semitic about this.  Francis Nicosia, the Raul Hilberg Professor of Holocaust Studies at Vermont University wrote in his book Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany (p. 79) that:

‘Throughout the 1930s, as part of the regime’s determination to force Jews to leave Germany, there was almost unanimous support in German government and Nazi party circles for promoting Zionism among German Jews’   Is telling the truth also anti-Semitic?

Support for Zionism can go hand in hand with anti-Semitism. What the campaign against Livingstone is really about is his long-standing support for the Palestinians and his opposition to Zionism and the policies of the Israeli state.

Those who help to throw Livingstone overboard today are preparing the way for Jeremy Corbyn’s removal tomorrow.

Yours faithfully,

Tony Greenstein  Brighton Kemptown CLP

Jackie Walker  South Thanet CLP

Miriam Margolyes OBE  Lambeth & Vauxhall CLP

Professor Richard Seaford Exeter CLP

Professor (emeritus) Moshé Machover  Hampstead & Kilburn CLP

Professor Bill Bowring  School of Law Birkbeck College

Professor (Emeritus) Jonathan Rosenhead  Hackney South and Shoreditch CLP

Professor Haim Bresheeth School of Oriental and African Studies

Dr Tanzil Chowdhury  School of Law University of Manchester

(Emeritus Professor) Wade Mansell Thanet North CLP

Professor Chris Knight  Streatham CLP

Malcolm Adlington  Derby’s Dales CLP Continue reading “Letter to the Guardian: we reject the call for the expulsion of Ken Livingstone”

145 Labour Party members say ‘I am Jackie Walker’

Open Letter to Jeremy Corbyn MP, Leader of the Labour Party

We can’t add more names as the letter has been submitted to Corbyn, but do indicate your support in a comment

We may not be Kirk Douglas but we do say 'I am Jackie Walker'
We may not be Kirk Douglas but we do say ‘I am Jackie Walker’

Dear Jeremy,

We are writing to you as members of the Labour Party. We are a predominantly Jewish group and are writing to ask you to review your behaviour on the question of Israel/Palestine. We understand that amongst reasons given by the Labour Party for claiming that Jackie Walker, the ex-Deputy Chair of Momentum, is antisemitic, the following are included:

  1. Regularly posting on Israel
  2. Describing Israel as a racist state
  3. A pattern of behaviour that causes offence to some members
  4. Claiming that there is an antisemitism witch-hunt
  5. Claiming that there is Israeli involvement in British politics
  6. Saying the Right of the party is using this witch-hunt for political purposes
  7. Saying adoption of IHRA definition of antisemitism is an attempt to outlaw criticism of Israel and to silence pro-Palestinian voices

We would therefore like to let you know that we are too are ‘guilty’ of such charges, not because we are antisemitic but because we believe these to be reasonable statements, accurately describing Israel’s policies and actions. Continue reading “145 Labour Party members say ‘I am Jackie Walker’”

When Gags aren’t that Funny – a Christian view

“Those who were behind the [censorship] demands didn’t … care what I was going to say. They just wanted to stop me saying it.”  

After an Edinburgh church cancelled a Palestine solidarity meeting, Sharen Green urges Christians to stand up for their right to speak out for Palestine. 

They wanted to shut me up. I was due to give a talk at a famous public school on my time working as a human rights monitor in Palestine. It was titled “Occupation: up Close and Personal”.

Every school governor got emails – some from as far away as Australia – demanding that my talk was cancelled. The local police took notice after the organiser found a threatening message on her answerphone. Sniffer dogs searched the school grounds on the day and special branch made an appearance.

The head teacher posted a message on the school’s website, standing up to the bullying and the evening passed off without incident: a full hall, a warm and engaged audience and me on top form (though I say so myself).

Those who were behind the demands didn’t even turn up. Because they didn’t really care what I was going to say. They just wanted to stop me saying it and calling me antisemitic was a way to do that – or so they hoped. There was even a report on the front page of the Jerusalem Post. I was fascinated that I was targeted before I’d even opened my mouth. Continue reading “When Gags aren’t that Funny – a Christian view”

Jewish Labour Party members slam decision to suspend Ken Livingstone

UPDATE April 7 – The pro Israel lobby, aligned with right-wingers across the political spectrum and media, have reacted with such fury to the suspension rather than expulsion of Ken Livingstone, that the Labour leadership has capitulated to the pressure and referred the case once again to the party’s National Executive Committee, abandoning any semblance of natural justice or democratic process. Nonetheless the involvement of Jewish party members in defending Ken Livingstone generated sufficient interest for a few broadcasters to run interviews with some of those who witnessed on his behalf.
 
Hear Jonathan Rosenhead (54 minutes in) and Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi in separate Radio 5 Live interviews.
Watch Jenny Manson on BBC News Channel
Walter Wolfgang featured in this Sky News report
 
Celebrated film maker Ken Loach told Shelagh Fogarty on LBC that they should listen to Jews who are not uncritical supporters of Israel.
 
PRESS RELEASE
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – 04/04/2017
 
Jewish Labour Party members slam decision to suspend Ken Livingstone
 
  •  Statement from Jewish Labour Party members who gave evidence in support of Ken Livingstone at his hearing for alleged conduct prejudicial and/or grossly detrimental to the Labour Party. 
  • No justification for claiming all Jews are offended by Nazi/Zionism remarks
  • Views critical of Zionism are not antisemitic
  • It is contrary to freedom of expression to ban such opinions
We are alarmed that the Labour Party’s National Constitutional Committee has bowed to demands for the suspension of Ken Livingstone, excluding him from the life of the party until April 2018.

Continue reading “Jewish Labour Party members slam decision to suspend Ken Livingstone”

FSOI protests Scottish church cancellation

Mike Cushman

Jackie Walker was due to speak at a Scottish PSC meeting at St Columba’s by the Castle Church in Edinburgh on 20 March. One Edinburgh Jew claimed to the Church Rector that the meeting might have antisemitic connotations. The Rector amplified this claim into “criticism of Israel’s policies can have unintended consequences, leading to an increase in anti-Semitic attacks” and the Anglican Bishop of Edinburgh, John Armes, told him to cancel the Booking. FSOI has written to the Bishop to add our voice to that of Ken Loach and Miriam Margolyes and local activists in deploring this censorship and silencing of criticism of Israel.

The FSOI letter

Dear Bishop Armes,

We are aware of the controversy surrounding your decision to prevent a Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) event from taking place at St Columba’s Church on March 20.

As a Jewish-led organisation which abhors all forms of racism and supports the right of the Palestinian people to live their lives free from discrimination, we would welcome the opportunity to open a dialogue with you about this fraught subject. Continue reading “FSOI protests Scottish church cancellation”

Labour’s witch-hunt against Ken Livingstone

Jonathan Cook
Reposted from his blog by permission

John Mann bringing the Labour Party into disrepute by inviting media to record his ambush of Ken Livingston
John Mann bringing the Labour Party into disrepute by inviting media to record his ambush of Ken Livingston

The ongoing Ken Livingstone (“Get Corbyn!”) saga grows yet more preposterous. After outrage that the former London mayor had said Hitler was a Zionist (when he clearly hadn’t, as I pointed out at the time here and here), Labour suspended Livingstone amid accusations that he had made antisemitic, offensive and false historical claims.

Now as Livingstone fights to avoid expulsion before a closed hearing of the party’s national constitutional committee, it emerges that Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, has written to Livingstone saying that the hearing is not interested in the historical accuracy of his statements or whether what he said was antisemitic. Rather, it is about whether his conduct has been “grossly detrimental” to the party.
Continue reading “Labour’s witch-hunt against Ken Livingstone”

Legal opinion blasts holes in pro-Israel definition of antisemitism

Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi.

The launch on Monday of Hugh Tomlinson QC’s devastating legal opinion on the so-called IHRA definition of antisemitism marks a watershed moment in resisting Israeli-backed attempts to gag pro-Palestinian advocacy.

The definition, deliberately equating criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews, was adopted in December 2016 by the UK government and has since been vigorously promoted by pro-Israel lobbyists to local authorities, universities, Labour movement organisations and other public bodies. Its rollout has coincided with an increase in bannings and restrictions imposed on pro-Palestinian activities, especially on campus.

As explained by eminent legal figures speaking at the launch, the Opinion drives a coach and horses through the definition, exposing it as:

  • badly drafted, confusing and not legally binding, i.e. public bodies are under no legal obligation to adopt or apply it
  • putting public bodies that use it at risk of “unlawfully restricting legitimate expressions of political opinion”
  • making public bodies liable to being sued if they curtail criticism of Israel that does not express hatred towards Jews.

Therefore pro-Palestinian campaigners who, for example, describe Israel as a settler-colonialist state enacting a policy of apartheid, or call for policies of boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel, cannot properly be characterised as antisemitic.

Continue reading “Legal opinion blasts holes in pro-Israel definition of antisemitism”

Stephen Sedley slams IHRA (mis)definition

Distinguished retired Appeal Court Judge Sir Stephen Sedley said on 27 March at a meeting in the House of Lords

The purpose of this meeting is to draw attention to a growing concern about the misuse for political purposes of the concept of anti-semitism. The misuse in question is the conflation of criticism of Israel with hostility to Jews. Its political purpose is to prohibit or inhibit discourse or action inimical to the state of Israel.

Sir Stephen Sedley
Sir Stephen Sedley

There are two distinct backstories to the catch-all meaning of antisemitism with which this meeting is immediately concerned.

One is the longstanding, and largely successful, endeavour to segregate anti-semitism from racism. It has for a good many years been part of Zionist discourse to contend that racism is one thing –  based on concepts of genetic inferiority – and anti-semitism another, based on historical and theological as well as genetic factors. This is not the place to pursue the argument, save perhaps to note that anti-semites do not as a rule worry about whether their targets are observant, orthodox or secular Jews: their spleen is directed at members of a race.

The other backstory is the Zionist claim to represent all the world’s Jews – a claim welcomed by Islamic extremists. Nothing suits Islamic fundamentalism better than the idea that all Jews are equally implicated in the excesses of Zionism. The claim depoliticises Zionism and legitimises jihadist anti-semitism.[1]

Continue reading “Stephen Sedley slams IHRA (mis)definition”