Defeat for Israel lobby as Ken Livingstone beats Labour expulsion

Ken Livingstone outside his Labour Party disciplinary hearing in London.

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Former mayor of London Ken Livingstone on Tuesday had his suspension from the Labour Party extended for “bringing the party into disrepute” last year.

But Israel lobby elements within the party had pushed hard for Livingstone, long a supporter of Palestinian rights, to be expelled outright.

Livingstone vowed in a statement to fight the suspension.

“Today’s Labour Party panel extended my suspension for another year because of my political views, not because I have done anything to harm the Labour Party,” he said.

Livingstone is a left-wing veteran of Labour, and for decades led anti-racism efforts in local government in London.

The new suspension is “an attempt to protect Israel from criticism, while simultaneously weakening the position of the pro-Palestinian left in the party,” a statement by Jewish members of the Labour Party said.

“It is the verdict, not Ken Livingstone, that has brought the Labour Party into disrepute,” they asserted.

In April last year, Livingstone was asked in a BBC radio interview if a Labour lawmaker’s comments about Hitler’s actions being “legal” had been anti-Semitic.

He replied by referring to the 1933 Ha’avara agreement between the Nazi government and the Zionist Federation of Germany as Hitler “supporting Zionism” by transferring Jews to Palestine.

Moving the goalposts

After initially being suspended for “anti-Semitism,” the charges against Livingstone were changed to “bringing the party into disrepute.” Now he is accused of having “revised the history of the Holocaust.”

His suspension was the peak of a witch hunt manufactured by right-wing Labour lawmakers and their allies in the Israel lobby.

The moral panic sought to portray the party under new pro-Palestinian leader Jeremy Corbyn as a hive of anti-Semitism.

But the media obsession with the “anti-Semitism crisis” in Labour was highly exaggerated and, in some cases, outright fabricated.

Livingstone’s historically accurate comment about Zionism was met with a storm of attacks by right-wing Labour lawmakers and anti-Palestinian activists.

At the time, these forces were seeking to undermine the Labour leader in the run-up to May 2016 local elections.

The manufactured crisis led to dozens of suspensions of Labour Party activists, usually for little more than an out-of-context social media posting from years earlier.

Fighting expulsion

One veteran Labour activist in south London was suspended for 10 weeks for merely agreeing that Livingstone’s comment on the radio was “largely accurate.”

Livingstone described the three-day Labour disciplinary hearing this week as like something out of North Korea. The three-person panel of the National Constitutional Committee questioned Livingstone, as well as witnesses against him.

They insisted on keeping the hearing closed to the public, despite Livingstone’s request it be open. He had vowed to fight any expulsion in a legal action.

In an LBC London radio interview on Wednesday, Livingstone said that the only reason he had not been expelled was because the party’s lawyer must have told them they didn’t have a chance if it went to court.

Livingstone was represented in the hearing by Michael Mansfield, the high-profile human rights lawyer known for overturning miscarriages of justice.

Israel lobby fury

Labour Friends of Israel reacted with fury on Tuesday night, saying it was disgraceful that “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party” had allowed Livingstone to remain a member and had decided his “behavior is acceptable.”

Corbyn himself reacted by criticizing Livingstone’s accurate historical comments as causing “deep offense and hurt to the Jewish community,” and saying Livingstone could face further disciplinary action.

This was not enough for Labour Friends of Israel though, which retorted on Wednesday that Corbyn’s statement had “failed to mention anti-Semitism,” and demanded he call on Labour’s ruling body to “review the inappropriate sentence delivered last night.”

Labour Friends of Israel was shown by an undercover Al Jazeera documentary in January to be working in close financial and logistical coordination with the Israeli embassy.

Its leader, Labour lawmaker Joan Ryan, was also shown fabricating an accusation of anti-Semitism against a party member who challenged her group’s policies with respect to Israeli settlements.

The Jewish Labour Movement, which was also shown in the documentary to be working closely with the Israeli embassy, has led much of the campaign to boot Livingstone out of the party.

Its chair, Jeremy Newmark, has vowed to take the matter to the party’s conference in September.

Newmark has been a leading voice calling for Livingstone to be expelled. He was one of the witnesses at the hearing against Livingstone, reportedly submitting a 170-page dossier.

A veteran Israel lobby activist, Newmark has a history of lying, with a tribunal judge in 2013 calling his evidence in a failed case about supposed “institutional anti-Semitism” in the University and College Union “untrue” and “preposterous.”

Newmark’s campaign against unions that dare express solidarity with Palestine continued. He told an Israeli newspaper in 2012 that he was “liaising closely with the government of Israel” in a similar lawsuit against public sector union Unison.

Newmark’s close connection to the Israeli embassy begs the question of whether they are working together on the campaign to oust Livingstone from Labour.

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The fact of the matter is, Mr. Livingstone's comments regarding the 1933 Ha'avara Agreement were taken from Mr. Lenni Brenner's book, "Zionism in the Age of Dictators". Mr. Brenner, by the way, was born a Jew but subsequently became an atheist as well as an anti-Zionist.

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I just happen to be reading Mr.Lenni Brenner's book right now.Very enlightening indeed . They can call it revisionist history all they want ,I have read about the collaboration of the Nazis with the Zionists it from other sources also.

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Criticism of Israel has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with being in any way anti-Semitic.

Livingstone has never said one word of which I am aware which qualifies as anti-Semitic.

He was simply reciting an historical truth, one embarrassing to defenders of Israel's excesses.

And he did this at a time when the press and the Tony Blair acolytes were feverishly creating a months-long McCarthyite storm of lies about anti-Semitism in the party.

That effort - very much including The Independent and The Guardian - is what is truly shameful and wrong about what happened.

Politics is a dirty business, and the actual story of the re-creation of Israel has warehouses full of dirty deals and unpleasantries.

Again, here is the hard evidence for Livingstone's original comment about Zionists and Nazis:

https://www.numisbids.com/sale...

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Had Ken Livingstone suffered expulsion, he would have had the option of pursuing the matter in court. He has indicated a preference for doing so. The decision to continue his suspension for another year (probably to be renewed annually in the manner of an Israeli detention order) will not be subject to outside litigation, and that makes it a more effective tool of intimidation. He would likely have prevailed in a suit against the party over expulsion. But now he can never play a role in Labour circles and has no opportunity to clear his name. Others are to take note, that criticism of Israel in any but the most superficial and passing manner will not be tolerated.

As for the charge of bringing the party into disrepute, that's a form of wording that can prove as flexible as the purpose driving the charge. No one can define what it means. But it's clear that in opting for such a formula while quietly dropping a direct accusation of antisemitism there's an unspoken acknowledgement that Zionist arguments cannot be upheld if certain historical facts and ideological affinities are addressed. They don't want a discussion.

As someone who has long defended Jeremy Corbyn, I've finally begun to concede that he's simply not up to the job. He's a man in a dirty street fight who refuses to throw a punch. He could have scotched the antisemitism campaign long ago if he'd stood firm on this and really fought back. You can't spend your entire term of office responding with futile concessions in the hopes that the people trying to destroy you will somehow be won over. The more ground you surrender, the more power you concede to the Right.

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Your post has given me perspective, Tom, thanks. As a passionate campaigner for, and defender of, Jeremy, I've agonised over this for over 24 hours now. I feel he's bent at the knee and walked right into the Blairite trap with yesterday's statement. I'm struggling to see how this can be recovered now. Freedom of speech and value of truth are, arguably, our most important civil liberties placed at risk by Jeremy, who should have, instead, showed solidarity with Ken and directly dispelled the wrongfully enforced stigma. Instead now, Ken is in uncertain chaos and the subliminal message we're left with is "use freedom of speech to speak against Israel injustice or quote truthful historic facts and you'll be ruined".

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He should not have been even suspended considering his 50 year devotion to the Labour party with his passion and incredible hard work for the party. His views have ever changed which goes to prove he is an exceptionally honest man with a real commitment to truth and justice. it is a wonder why the Labour right israel supporters cannot stomach the truth and act as cry babies. It seems the Israeli lobby in Britain is getting pretty strong day by day.

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I can no longer support Corbyn nor the labour party. They have sold out to the apartheid, genocidal right.

Asa Winstanley

Asa Winstanley's picture

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He lives in London. Biography here.