Sacks and Livingstone.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Former chief rabbi of the UK and prominent public intellectual Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said on Monday that former London mayor Ken Livingstone should be sacked from the Labour Party.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Sacks said some politicians in the British Labour Party had courted the Muslim vote and adopted anti-Israel attitudes that have morphed into anti-Semitism.
In April, Livingstone, a senior Labour figure, said Hitler supported Zionism, and that anti-Semites equally hate both Jews in the Diaspora and Israelis.
Livingstone and some 50 other Labour Party members, including at least one member of parliament and several local councilors, have been suspended pending an internal party investigation.
“There’s no question there has to be zero tolerance, otherwise who knows what we’re getting back into,” said Sacks.
“There has to be zero tolerance, otherwise Europe will cease to be Europe.”
Asked if Livingstone and others should be fired, Sacks replied: “Of course.”
The rabbi continued: “We have to establish certain principles of public discourse, and if we don’t, then Europe and Britain among them will move slowly into the politics of hate. And the politics of hate are bad for everyone, not just the people who are hated, but for the people doing the hating.”
Sacks described Britain as the least anti-Semitic country in Europe, but said the large Muslim populations on the continent and the high level of anti-Semitic sentiment in the community means the phenomenon is a long-term issue for European Jewry.
“Politicians have to win elections, and that is what lies behind the current situation in the Labour Party. But it is not going to go away. It is in every European country and it will play a part in European politics, so we’re dealing with something very long term and quite dangerous, unless we can cure European Islam of these attitudes, which are coming out of the Middle East.”
Sacks is in Israel to receive an honorary doctorate from Tel Aviv University on Thursday, and to promote his book on religious extremism, Not in My Name, which has just been translated into Hebrew.
In a wide-ranging interview, Sacks said he was concerned about the high-level of anti-Israel activity throughout the world, particularly on university campuses, but also said hopes for peace between Israel and the Palestinians had to be kept alive.
Asked about continued construction in West Bank settlements, Sacks implied that he opposed such policies if they prevent the formulation of an agreement with the Palestinians.
“We saw Oslo collapse, but we can’t let hope collapse. We have to keep that option alive for the sake of the Palestinians, for the sake of Israelis, for the sake of whatever peace there is to be had,” he said.
“However improbable you might think a settlement is, you must not act so as to make it impossible,” said the rabbi.
Noting comments made by former US President Bill Clinton last week that Palestinians had rejected the peace proposals made by former prime minister Ehud Barak, Sacks said adopting an attitude that a peace agreement can never happen would be problematic.
“I think we have to pull back from that. Otherwise, Israel will come under enormous pressure, and it becomes a vicious circle.”
Sacks also commented on the government’s decision to create an egalitarian prayer section at the southern end of the Western Wall, and expressed cautious support for the deal to preserve Jewish unity, although he said it was important “not to compromise” the holiness of the site.
“I approve of all agreements over the Kotel as long as they are genuine attempts to preserve the integrity of the Western Wall on the one hand for those who are there every day, morning, noon and night, and at the same time, to provide a compromise formula that at least takes a step towards people who do things differently,” he said.
“When divisions enter the soul of the Jewish people and when we become, God forbid, enemies to each other, nothing good has ever come of that.”