IN a ruling that has sparked outrage within both the UK Jewish community and the British Labour Party, former Labour mayor of London Ken Livingstone was suspended rather than expelled from his party, having been found guilt of bringing it into a state of disrepute.
Tuesday’s decision is the latest twist in an affair that began in Apri 2015, when the left-wing politician was defending an MP who had herself been suspended amid claims she had spread anti-Semitic views on social media. At the time, Livingstone asserted “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 – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”
Despite the outcry over his claims, Livingstone continually repeated them over the past year, going even further when he arrived for the start of his hearing before the Labour Party’s National Constitutional Committee (NCC) last week.
“The SS set up training camps so that German Jews who going to go there could be trained to cope with a very different sort of country when they got there,” Livingstone told reporters
“[Hitler] also passed a law that said only the Zionist flag and the Swastika were the only flags that could be flown in Germany.
“And then of course they started selling Mauser pistols to the underground Jewish army.
“So you had, right up until the start of the Second World War, real collaboration … Everyone who studies history just knows this.”
Following the hearing, which was held behind closed doors, the Labour Party announced on Tuesday that “the NCC … determined that the sanction for the breach of Labour Party rules will be suspension from holding office and representation within the Labour Party for two years.”
One year of that suspension, however, is deemed to have passed already as Livingstone was in ‘administrative suspension’ since last April.
Following the hearing, Livingstone stated: “I do think it’s important that the Labour party should not expel or suspend people for telling the truth.”
He later added, “You can’t apologise for telling the truth. I will be launching a campaign to overturn my suspension of party membership.”
Responding to the verdict President of the British Board of Deputies, Jonathan Arkush, said “Relations between the Labour Party and the Jewish community have reached a new all-time low…All we can conclude from this hopelessly wrong decision is that the [party] has an enduring problem with anti-Semitism to which is it is unwilling to face up.”
The verdict was also slammed by a number of senior Labour poiliticians, with party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a longtime left-wing ally of Livingstone, who has himself been slammed for his anti-Israel stance and failure to tackle anti-Semitism within the party, among those weighing in against him.
Stating Livingstone’s comments were “grossly insensitive” and that “he has caused deep offence and hurt to the Jewish community”, Corbyn said, “It is deeply disappointing that, despite his long record of standing up to racism, Ken has failed to acknowledge or apologise for the hurt he has caused. Many people are understandably upset that he has continued to make offensive remarks which could open him to further disciplinary action.
“Since initiating the disciplinary process, I have not interfered with it and respect the independence of the party’s disciplinary bodies. But Ken’s subsequent comments and actions will now be considered by the National Executive Committee after representations from party members.”
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said: “This was a chance for the Labour Party to show that it would not tolerate wilful and unapologetic baiting of the Jewish community, by shamefully using the Holocaust as a tool with which to inflict the maximum amount of offence.”
Slating the ruling as “incomprehensible”, Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson lamented, “When I read the words of Chief Rabbi Mirvis, who says that ‘the Labour Party has failed the Jewish community, it has failed its members and it has failed all those who believe in zero-tolerance of anti-Semitism’, I can’t disagree with him.
“I wish I could, but I can’t. I am ashamed that we have allowed Mr Livingstone to cause such distress. This shames us all, and I’m deeply saddened by it.”
Current London Mayor, Labour’s Sadiq Khan concurred, saying “There should be no place for anti-Semitism in the Labour Party or anywhere else. I am deeply disappointed that the panel’s decision does not reflect the severity of the verdict.”
He added: “As the Labour Party it is our duty to lead by example and demonstrate that we take a zero-tolerance approach towards anti-Semitism wherever we find it. Sadly this gives the impression we are not fulfilling that duty.
Meanwhile, Corbyn’s predecessor as Labour leader Ed Milliband tweeted: “Equivocation about anti-Semitism or rewriting Nazi history can have no place in Labour. I am appalled that even now Ken shows no real remorse. His status should be revisited in the light of his continuing offensive behaviour.”