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.

 Having failed to make a case that he was guilty of antisemitic conduct, his accusers alleged that he was nonetheless guilty of conduct grossly detrimental to the party because, according to them, he had upset the UK’s Jewish population. The grounds put forward for this were Ken Livingstone’s references to a temporary agreement prior to World War II, between some Zionist leaders and Hitler’s Nazi Party, to facilitate the emigration of a number of Jews from Germany. The Zionist motivation was to increase the numbers of Jews going to Palestine.
 
In our evidence to the NCC we explained that those claiming offence on behalf of all Jews have no justification for doing so. Such a claim deliberately ignores the views of large numbers of Jewish people, both in the Labour Party and in society at large. These are people who, like us, find their identity in a different tradition to the Zionist one; or who, while continuing to believe in the Zionist ideal, are deeply uncomfortable about ongoing inroads into free speech and believe that the history of the Zionist movement must be open to scrutiny.
 
According to a legal opinion (published on March 27) on the ‘definition’ of antisemitism adopted by the government and the Labour Party, criticising Israel for its ill treatment of Palestinians cannot be taken as evidence of antisemitism. For a political party to adopt the principle that causing offence to some part of the population is a reason for expulsion, would be to deny freedom of expression for what are legitimate political opinions. 
 
The decision to suspend Ken is mistaken. It is an attempt to protect Israel from criticism, while simultaneously weakening the position of the pro-Palestinian Left in the party. It is the verdict, not Ken Livingstone, that has bought the Labour Party into disrepute.
 
 
Signed:
 
Jenny Manson
Diana Neslen
Jonathan Rosenhead
Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
 
 
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. A letter from more than 30 Jewish Labour Party members was sent to the NCC in advance of Ken Livingstone’s hearing. The text and list of signatories can be read at 
 
2. Five Jewish members of the Labour Party who appeared before the Labour Party NCC hearing submitted the following statements.
 
Walter Wolfgang
I am a Jewish member of the Labour Party and was a member of its National Executive Committee from 2006 to 2008. I regard anti-Semitism as an extremely serious issue.
I am 93 years old. I was born in Germany in 1923. My family were persecuted by the Nazis. In 1937, at the age of 13, I left Germany and came to live in Britain. It was the strength of my commitment to Judaism and Jewish ethical values of human equality which caused me to join the Labour Party in 1948.
The Nazis embraced this vile ideology of anti-Semitism and exterminated six million Jews. Allegations of anti-Semitism should be made only when people express hostility to Jewish people because they are Jewish. Such allegations should not be made when this is not the case. It is not anti-Semitic to hold or express views about the government of Israel or about Zionism.
Ken Livingstone has an outstanding record of fighting against racism and anti-Semitism. Labour’s National Constitutional Committee hearing into Ken’s actions is a travesty. His public defence of Naz Shah MP in April 2016 was not offensive and did not involved him in  making any concession to anti-Semitism.
Ken Livingstone’s remarks in April 2016 about the Transfer Agreement were broadly correct. Hitler was in favour of Jews leaving Germany for Palestine. The agreements reached between the Nazis and some Zionists are simply indisputable facts.
Advocacy of Jews leaving Palestine was made by some Jews who were Zionist, some non-Jews who were anti-Semitic, by some non-Jews who were friendly and some who were indifferent to Jews. Anti-Semitism is hostility to Jews because of religion, race or ethnicity. It is nothing else. Many Jews, Zionist and non-Zionist – including myself – disagree with the present policy of the Israeli government.
It is evident that Livingstone is being attacked because he supports the Palestinians, and not because he is either offensive or anti-Semitic. He is not guilty of any conduct detrimental to the Labour Party. His suspension was unjustified. Any further disciplinary action would bring the party into disrepute.
 
Jonathan Rosenhead
I am a Jewish member of the Labour party, who grew up in a thoroughly Zionist family in Liverpool. Along with my many Jewish friends I did not and do not find Ken Livingstone’s public defence of Naz Shah MP in April 2016 as in any way offensive, or indeed making as any concession to antisemitism. Nor do I consider Ken Livingstone’s comments about the Transfer Agreement between the Nazi regime and European Zionists, though not perhaps expressed as elegantly as they might have been,  to be in any way antisemitic or offensive.
Charges of antisemitism need to be assessed against a consensual standard. Antisemitism has been well understood for many generations as to do with hatred of Jews as Jews. The IHRA definition, recently adopted by the UK government, is a seriously flawed attempt to extend the general loathing of the crime of antisemitism to interdict entirely non-racist criticism of Israel. It is deeply unhelpful as a means of combating hostility to Jewish people.
It would be a tragic mistake if the Labour Party were to find Ken Livingstone guilty of conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the Party.
I am an Emeritus Professor of Operational Research at the London School of Economics. My Labour Party involvement extends over many decades, including membership in Sheffield, South Kensington, Hammersmith, and currently in Hackney South and Shoreditch. I have been a GC member in three of these, and was a Labour Party Parliamentary candidate in the 1960’s.
 
 Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi
I am a 64 year old member of Chingford and Woodford Green Labour Party, brought up in a staunch Labour Jewish household in Manchester.
 I have no hesitation in stating that the remarks for which Ken Livingstone has been castigated have caused me no offence whatsoever. Nor do I regard comments he made in April 2016 in defence of Naz Shah, or in reference to the relationship between Zionist leaders and the Nazi party in the 1930s, as in any way antisemitic.
 As someone of 100 percent Jewish heritage, with many like-minded family members, I cannot accept the current enthusiasm for alleging that criticism of Israel and Zionism is directed at Jews. None of the remarks or actions attributed to Ken Livingstone demonstrate any antisemitic intent or motivation.
 I would go further. To allege antisemitism against Ken Livingstone discredits the term. To find him guilty of conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the party on the basis of the charges laid against him would, in my view, bring the party into disrepute among its members and supporters and fair-minded members of the public, especially those from the BAME communities whose cause he has championed over many years.
 
Diana Neslen
I am a Jewish member of the Labour party. I am 77 years old and have been a member on and off since the 1980s, possibly the 1970s. I am currently a delegate to Ilford CLP General Committee.
I have been an active anti racist campaigner for many years, having been among other things the Chair of the Redbridge Race Equality and Community Council.
Personally I am very much aware of the nature of extreme anti-Semitism. My own family has had experience of violent anti-Semitism. My son was attacked by a member of an anti-Semitic party. The offender was jailed for three years. While the offender was in prison we were subjected to anti-Semitic phone calls that included threats from his supporters.
Over the years I have spent a lot of time with people who survived the 1930s/40s crimes of the Nazis and am familiar with the history of 1930s Germany and the Transfer Agreement involving the Nazi government and the Yishuv in Palestine.
I consider it important that charges of anti-Semitism are judged against a clear objective definition of anti-Semitism.  I also believe that anti Semitism must be fought alongside all other forms of racism that are on the rise. The threat is from the resurgent Right, not from activists campaigning for Palestinian rights
It is also important to recognise that support for Israel and being Jewish are not synonymous. There are many non-Jews living in Israel. Many Jews identify completely with Israel, even though they do not live there and feel personally offended when Israel is criticised.  However there are many Jews in the world that do not identify with Israel and its governments’ policies. There are many non Jews who identify as Zionists and support Israel. In fact there are many anti-Semites who support Israel. It is anti Semitic to treat all Jews as one cohesive group who all support Israel.
In 2013 the Daily Mail used classical dog whistle themes to attack Ed Miliband, the then Jewish Labour leader. The themes were that his father ‘hated Britain’ was a foreigner and a Marxist. Jews as Jews are often portrayed as foreigners and Marxists, in classical anti-Semitic attacks, the better to distance them from the body politic. The Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council had little or nothing to say about this.
Labour has a responsibility to treat anti-Semitism very seriously and not abuse the meaning of this vile anti-Jewish ideology by misapplying the term to those who support the Palestinians. So Labour’s attitude to anti-Semitism should not be determined by organisations within the Jewish community whose loyalty to Israel makes them unable to recognise the difference between angry denunciations of Israel and attacks on Jewish people. Some of these organisations are also hostile to the Labour Party. For example, the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews called for Jewish people to vote Conservative in the 2015 General Election.
I do not believe that Ken Livingstone’s public defence of Naz Shah MP in April 2016 was offensive or that it involved any concession to anti-Semitism. In fact in spite of her public apology, I do not regard what Naz Shah wrote on her Facebook page as anti Semitic. I also consider that Ken Livingstone’s remarks in April 2016 about the 1933 Transfer Agreement were not in any way anti-Semitic. They are based on evidence compiled by Edwin Black in the book The Transfer Agreement.
It would be a mistake if the Labour Party found Ken Livingstone guilty of conduct prejudicial or detrimental to the Party.
 
Jenny Manson
I understand that Ken Livingstone is accused of being offensive when he publicly defended Naz Shah MP in April 2016. I also understand that he is being accused of being offensive for referring to the Transfer Agreement between the Nazi government and German Zionist Federation in the 1930s. These actions by Ken were not offensive, nor anti-Semitic in any way, in my view.
 I am Jewish and have been a member of the Labour party since 1969. I was Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Hendon North in 1987 and I was a Labour Councillor from 1986 to 1990 on Barnet Council. I am 68 years old and remain an active Labour member. I am currently a member of Finchley and Golders Green CLP General Committee.
My family has personal knowledge of the violent anti-Semitism in eastern Europe in the twentieth century. My mother came from the Ukraine, which she had to leave in 1919 to escape the pogroms against Jewish people. She lived in Palestine for ten years and then moved to Britain where she settled after marrying Raphael Salaman, a member of a long established Anglo- Jewish family.  His mother was prominent in the early Zionist movement in the UK .
In my working life as a Tax Inspector I saw a (very) few instances of anti-Semitism, such as the characterisation of ‘Jewish Lawyers’ as lawyers who skated close to the edge.  I have never witnessed any instances of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party.
Anti-Semitism has to be treated as a serious issue, which is entirely separate from the different views people take on Israel and Zionism.
 
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8 thoughts on “Jewish Labour Party members slam decision to suspend Ken Livingstone”

  1. To often ignorance leads to knee jerk responses- we see it daily and the horrendous behaviours and divisions it creates and excuses. We need to encourage people to think critically and not just react to headlines.

  2. If “Anti-Semitism has to be treated as a serious issue, which is entirely separate from the different views people take on Israel and Zionism” then why did Livingstone confuse the “Jewish” flag in the Nuremberg laws on racial purity with the Zionist flag? He quotes holocaust denier Ingrid Wreckert (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingrid_Weckert) on the SS setting up training camps for German Jewish emigrants. He distorts history to the point of falsification.

    How many times do the above signatories identify as or participate in Jewish identity other than in the context of disagreeing with Zionism? (Genuine question)

    1. How many times do the above signatories identify as or participate in Jewish identity other than in the context of disagreeing with Zionism?
      Genuine answer:
      What could be more crucial in participating in Jewish identity than opposing the vile anti-Semitic Israeli propaganda that tries to conflate the ideas of Judaism and the vile racism that is modern Israeli Zionism ? It’s really not that difficult to understand, it is no different than Mafia members making a big deal about their Sicilian heritage; this does not mean that anyone criticizing the Mafia is anti-Sicilian, it merely means that they see the Mafia for what they are: criminal scum. So, you are either inexcusably ignorant or, more likely just another vile anti-Semite who tries to conflate Zionsim and Judaism and thereby smear all Jews with the crimes of Israel. The fact that you would stoop so low as to question how Jewish a Jew who had to flee Nazi Germany in the 30’s is shows just how misguided or malicious you are. You should be ashamed of yourself.
      Ken Livingstone may be correct or incorrect in what he says, however I have yet to see even a single shred of evidence that he has any animosity towards Jews or that anything he has said is motivated by anti-Semitism.

  3. Absolutely right. Hannah Arendt wrote in her Eichmann Jerusalem Trial:

    For “it is indisputable that during the first stages of their Jewish policy the National Socialists thought it proper to adopt a pro-Zionist attitude” (Hans Lamm), and it was during these first stages that Eichmann learned his lessons about Jews. He was by no means alone in taking this “pro-Zionism” seriously; the German Jews themselves thought it would be sufficient to undo “assimilation” through a new process of “dissimilation,” and flocked into the ranks of the Zionist movement. (There are no reliable statistics on this development, but it is estimated that the circulation of the Zionist weekly Die Jüdische Rundschau increased in the first months of the Hitler regime from approximately five to seven thousand to nearly forty thousand, and it is known that the Zionist fund-raising organizations received in 1935-36, from a greatly diminished and impoverished population, three times as much as in 1931-32.) This did not necessarily mean that the Jews wished to emigrate to Palestine; it was more a matter of pride: “Wear it with Pride, the Yellow Star!,” the most popular slogan of these years, coined by Robert Weltsch, editor-in-chief of the Jüdische Rundschau, expressed the general emotional atmosphere. The polemical point of the slogan, formulated as a response to Boycott Day, April 1, 1933 – more than six years before the Nazis actually forced the Jews to wear a badge, a six- pointed yellow star on a white ground – was directed against the “assimilationists” and all those people who refused to be reconciled to the new “revolutionary development,” those who “were always behind the times” (die ewig Gestrigen). The slogan was recalled at the trial, with a good deal of emotion, by witnesses from Germany. They forgot to mention that Robert Weltsch himself, a highly distinguished journalist, had said in recent years that he would never have issued his slogan if he had been able to foresee developments.

    But quite apart from all slogans and ideological quarrels, it was in those years a fact of everyday life that only Zionists had any chance of negotiating with the German authorities, for the simple reason that their chief Jewish adversary, the Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith, to which ninety-five per cent of organized Jews in Germany then belonged, specified in its bylaws that its chief task was the “fight against anti-Semitism”; it had suddenly become by definition an organization “hostile to the State,” and would indeed have been persecuted – which it was not – if it had ever dared to do what it was supposed to do. During its first few years, Hitler’s rise to power appeared to the Zionists chiefly as “the decisive defeat of assimilationism.” Hence, the Zionists could, for a time, at least, engage in a certain amount of non-criminal cooperation with the Nazi authorities; the Zionists too believed that “dissimilation,” combined with the emigration to Palestine of Jewish youngsters and, they hoped, Jewish capitalists, could be a “mutually fair solution.” At the time, many German officials held this opinion, and this kind of talk seems to have been quite common up to the end. A letter from a survivor of Theresienstadt, a German Jew, relates that all leading positions in the Nazi-appointed Reichsvereinigung were held by Zionists (whereas the authentically Jewish Reichsvertretung had been composed of both Zionists and non-Zionists), because Zionists, according to the Nazis, were “the `decent’ Jews since they too thought in `national’ terms.”

    To be sure, no prominent Nazi ever spoke publicly in this vein; from beginning to end, Nazi propaganda was fiercely, unequivocally, uncompromisingly anti-Semitic, and eventually nothing counted but what people who were still without experience in the mysteries of totalitarian government dismissed as “mere propaganda.” There existed in those first years a mutually highly satisfactory agreement between the Nazi authorities and the Jewish Agency for Palestine – a Ha’avarah, or Transfer Agreement, which provided that an emigrant to Palestine could transfer his money there in German goods and exchange them for pounds upon arrival. It was soon the only legal way for a Jew to take his money with him (the alternative then being the establishment of a blocked account, which could be liquidated abroad only at a loss of between fifty and ninety-five per cent). The result was that in the thirties, when American Jewry took great pains to organize a boycott of German merchandise, Palestine, of all places, was swamped with all kinds of goods “made in Germany.”

    Of greater importance for Eichmann were the emissaries from Palestine, who would approach the Gestapo and the S.S. on their own initiative, without taking orders from either the German Zionists or the Jewish Agency for Palestine. They came in order to enlist help for the illegal immigration of Jews into British-ruled Palestine, and both the Gestapo and the S.S. were helpful. They negotiated with Eichmann in Vienna, and they reported that he was “polite,” “not the shouting type,” and that he even provided them with farms and facilities for setting up vocational training camps for prospective immigrants. (“On one occasion, he expelled a group of nuns from a convent to provide a training farm for young Jews,” and on another “a special train [was made available] and Nazi officials accompanied” a group of emigrants, ostensibly headed for Zionist training farms in Yugoslavia, to see them safely across the border.)

    According to the story told by Jon and David Kimche, with “the full and generous cooperation of all the chief actors” (The Secret Roads: The “Illegal” Migration of a People, 1938-1948, London, 1954), these Jews from Palestine spoke a language not totally different from that of Eichmann. They had been sent to Europe by the communal settlements in Palestine, and they were not interested in rescue operations: “That was not their job.”

    They wanted to select “suitable material,” and their chief enemy, prior to the extermination program, was not those who made life impossible for Jews in the old countries, Germany or Austria, but those who barred access to the new homeland; that enemy was definitely Britain, not Germany.

    Indeed, they were in a position to deal with the Nazi authorities on a footing amounting to equality, which native Jews were not, since they enjoyed the protection of the mandatory power; they were probably among the first Jews to talk openly about mutual interests and were certainly the first to be given permission “to pick young Jewish pioneers” from among the Jews in the concentration camps. Of course, they were unaware of the sinister implications of this deal, which still lay in the future; but they too somehow believed that if it was a question of selecting Jews for survival, the Jews should do the selecting themselves.

    It was this fundamental error in judgment that eventually led to a situation in which the non-selected majority of Jews inevitably found themselves confronted with two enemies – the Nazi authorities and the Jewish authorities. As far as the Viennese episode is concerned, Eichmann’s preposterous claim to have saved hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives, which was laughed out of court, finds strange support in the considered judgment of the Jewish historians, the Kimches: “Thus what must have been one of the most paradoxical episodes of the entire period of the Nazi regime began: the man who was to go down in history as one of the arch-murderers of the Jewish people entered the lists as an active worker in the rescue of Jews from Europe.”

    Eichmann’s trouble was that he remembered none of the facts that might have supported, however faintly, his incredible story, while the learned counsel for the defense probably did not even know that there was anything to remember. (Dr. Servatius could have called as witnesses for the defense the former agents of Aliyah Beth, as the organization for illegal immigration into Palestine was called; they certainly still remembered Eichmann, and they were now living in Israel.) Eichmann’s memory functioned only in respect to things that had had a direct bearing upon his career. Thus, he remembered a visit he had received in Berlin from a Palestinian functionary who told him about life in the collective settlements, and whom he had twice taken out to dinner, because this visit ended with a formal invitation to Palestine, where the Jews would show him the country. He was delighted; no other Nazi official had been able to go “to a distant foreign land,” and he received permission to make the trip. The judgment concluded that he had been sent “on an espionage mission,” which no doubt was true, but this did not contradict the story Eichmann had told the police. (Practically nothing came of the enterprise. Eichmann, together with a journalist from his office, a certain Herbert Hagen, had just enough time to climb Mount Carmel in Haifa before the British authorities deported both of them to Egypt and denied them entry permits for Palestine; according to Eichmann, “the man from the Haganah” – the Jewish military organization which became the nucleus of the Israeli Army – came to see them in Cairo, and what he told them there became the subject of a “thoroughly negative report” Eichmann and Hagen were ordered by their superiors to write for propaganda purposes; this was duly published.)

    Eichmann remembered only moods and the catch phrases he made up to go with them; the trip to Egypt had been in 1937, prior to his activity in Vienna, and from Vienna he remembered no more than the general atmosphere and how “elated” he had felt. In view of his astounding virtuosity in never discarding a mood and its catch phrase once and for all when they became incompatible with a new era, which required different moods and different “elating” phrases – a virtuosity that he demonstrated over and over during the police examination – one is tempted to believe in his sincerity when he spoke of the time in Vienna as an idyll.

    Because of the complete lack of consistency in his thoughts and sentiments, this sincerity is not even undermined by the fact that his year in Vienna, from the spring of 1938 to March, 1939, came at a time when the Nazi regime had abandoned its pro-Zionist attitude.

  4. Who on earth is denying facts? It’s the nasty interpretation which Ken L. is so obviously insinuating (“Zionism [almost] = Nazism”) that gives serious offence. I put it to you, that even if Ken denies the above insinuation, it IS what receptive ears will hear.

    1. You have to work very hard to make that interpretation of what Livingstone said. The problem is that Israel’s defenders have done that hard work and broadcast this entirely false reading so loudly and so often that it has come to be believed. We have a casebook example of the creation and dissemination of a malign, vicious ‘alternative fact’.

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