David Hirsh

Ken Livingstone is being made into a scapegoat

The ex-London Mayor's case reflects the British left's institutional antisemitism, writes David Hirsh.

May 23, 2018 13:16

Ken Livingstone wanted to be remembered as London’s natural mayor, whom Margaret Thatcher couldn’t abolish and Tony Blair couldn’t deselect. In the end, he will be remembered as the man who couldn’t stop talking about Hitler.

For his whole career, he has been involved in a relentless campaign to normalise the idea that Zionism is similar to Nazism. Both are racist ideologies, goes this pernicious story, because they agree that Jews and gentiles cannot live together.

At the Greater London Council in the 1980s, Livingstone pioneered rainbow politics, which aimed to bring oppressed minorities together to make them more powerful than their oppressors. But Jews were not welcome. Jews, at least those who were unwilling to disavow Israel, were characterised as similar to their own oppressors and as collaborators with their own murderers.

Instead they were designated ‘Zionists’ - racists, imperialists and Nazis - and they were excluded. This was presented as a benign impulse to side with the Palestinians. Anyone who didn’t like it was accused of siding against the Palestinians.

This illustrates a fundamental problem. Often, parts of the left have not known how to think about the Jews. As victims of the Holocaust, they symbolise oppression but as a cosmopolitan elite, as bankers, as controllers of minds and exploiters of Labour, and now as the vanguard of global imperialism, Jews are made to symbolise all that is wrong in the world.

Livingstone accused Jews of opposing antisemitism only as a dishonest trick to try to silence criticism of Israel. He portrayed those who raise the issue of antisemitism on the left as not simply wrong or oversensitive but part of a Jewish conspiracy to lie for Israel. I coined the phrase ‘The Livingstone Formulation’ to describe this refusal to engage with allegations of antisemitism by making counter-claims about the people making them.

But Livingstone is being made into a scapegoat. Those running today’s Labour Party hope that the stink of antisemitism can be laid upon Red Ken as he​ goes into the wilderness and that he can take ​it with him. 

But it isn’t antisemitism they want to drive out, it is what they see as the persistent and dishonest allegation of it, made by Zionists, Blairites and Tories.

Labour still hasn’t got the message. The Corbynites insist that antisemitism is a matter of bad people who need to be found and expelled.

But the problem is still politics, not process. There is an institutional antisemitism on the British left which cannot be reduced to individuals who happen to hate Jews. And it cannot be purged with the exit of its most explicit, articulate and popular spokesperson.

David Hirsh is a Sociology lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London and the author of 'Contemporary Left Antisemitism'.

May 23, 2018 13:16

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