Anger is mounting among communal leaders and Jewish MPs over the circumstances behind Ken Livingstone’s resignation from the Labour Party.
Jonathan Goldstein, Jewish Leadership Council chair, said it appeared the former Mayor of London had “taken one for the team” and that his resignation would allow him to continue to stand on official Labour Party platforms to campaign “without the issue of antisemitism being properly determined”.
Jonathan Arkush, departing Board of Deputies president, said he feared departure on Monday — without any formal rebuke over his remarks about Hitler and Zionism — had “all the signs of being orchestrated” with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s office.
Mr Corbyn’s statement after the resignation was criticised by Labour MP Luciana Berger. The Labour leader said it was “sad after such a long and vital contribution to London and progressive politics”, but that resigning was “the right thing to do”. Ms Berger demanded that Mr Corbyn find “stronger words”.
There has been speculation that Mr Livingstone’s decision to quit the party meant he could be admitted to the party again at some stage in the future.
But sources close to the Labour leader denied this: “Ken resigned during a disciplinary process, so there is no automatic right to return.” If Mr Livingstone was eventually re-admitted, “the outstanding disciplinary case would be reactivated”.
The same source told the JC that Mr Livingstone’s decision to quit had not been a surprise to Mr Corbyn — thought to be a tacit admission that the leader’s office had worked with Mr Livingstone over his resignation.
Mr Arkush said on Wednesday: “Ken’s departure from Labour has all the signs of being orchestrated with the leader’s office, with the obvious aim of shielding Livingstone from the ignominy of being thrown out of a party that should have no place for him.
“The fact that Jeremy Corbyn called it a ‘sad day’ demonstrates that he has still failed to grasp Labour’s problem with antisemitism.
“What he should have said is that Labour will not tolerate people with such offensive views and that he will not be allowed back.”
In Monday’s statement announcing his decision to quit the party he first joined 50 years ago, Mr Livingstone insisted he was leaving because “ongoing issues around my suspension from the Labour Party have become a distraction”.
In a continued defence of his remarks on Hitler and Zionism, Mr Livingstone suggested he had “made a historical argument” and added he “did not accept” the allegation he was “in any way guilty of antisemitism”.
He insisted he “abhorred” antisemitism and was “truly sorry” his historical arguments had “caused offence and upset in the Jewish community”.
In media interviews on Monday evening, Mr Livingstone admitted he had been “tipped off” that a meeting of Labour’s governing national executive committee (NEC) had planned to announce on Tuesday the beginning of a new disciplinary hearing into his repeated claims that Hitler was “supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews”.
The JC understands Mr Livingstone would now be free to make appearances at future pro-Labour events, with a leadership source acknowledging the party “does not control every stage its members or MPs appear on”.
Mr Goldstein said the process around the resignation was “a shambles”.
He added: “We now have the prospect of Mr Livingstone going around the country campaigning for Jeremy Corbyn, which means he can stand on Labour Party stages, he can be part of the process — just not officially as a member.
“He is able to carry on doing exactly as he wants to do without the issue being properly determined.”
The JC understands Mr Livingstone was until recently “quite prepared” to face the consequences of a disciplinary hearing over claims he had brought Labour into disrepute with his remarks.
Sources said he had relished the prospect of a High Court hearing to challenge any possible guilty verdict over the charges against him — and that Mr Livingstone was convinced he could bring notorious anti-Zionist Trotskyist Lenni Brenner, the inspiration behind many of his controversial opinions on Zionism, from America to defend him in any court case.
It is thought Labour’s NEC had sounded out representatives of Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt about whether she would be prepared to appear as a witness in any such case.
After his resignation Mr Livingstone told the JC that British Jews had told him not to “give in” following his suspension two years ago.
He said: “I will let you know when I finally find a Jew who has attacked me for what I said. I had somewhere within 30 to 40 [Jewish] people in the two weeks after I was suspended coming up to me in the street saying that I was right.
“You should do a poll of your readers to see if they want [me to have] a quick death, or a long, drawn out one.”
Additional reporting: Rosa Doherty