Former London mayor Ken Livingstone speaks to the media after giving an interview to the LBC radio station in London in which he refused to apologize for comments suggesting Adolf Hitler supported Zionism.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Jewish community leadership in the UK has reacted coolly to the resignation of former London mayor Ken Livingstone from the Labour Party, insisting that his departure does not absolve the party of its urgent need to root out antisemitism from its midst.
Livingstone, who has a long history of hostile sentiment to the State of Israel, resigned on Monday because of the accelerating disciplinary process against him for comments he made in 2016 arguing that Hitler supported Zionism and that the Zionist movement collaborated with the Nazis.
The comments were roundly condemned by the Jewish community and others as a distortion of the historical reality, and Livingstone was suspended from the party pending disciplinary procedures.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post
on Tuesday, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Jonathan Arkush said that there was no place for Livingstone in Labour any longer, but that his sentiments were also held by numerous senior officials in the party.
Arkush also expressed surprise that Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn said that Livingstone’s resignation was “sad after such a long and vital contribution to London and progressive politics” but that it had been “the right thing to do.” Arkush insisted that Corbyn should have said that Livingstone had no place in the party, was glad to see him go, and should have also rejected his offer to continue campaigning for Corbyn and Labour.
Arkush added that Corbyn had not done enough himself to have Livingstone removed from the Labour party, noting that the former mayor had been suspended two years ago and that he only resigned because Labour’s National Executive Committee had been scheduled to create a timetable for the disciplinary procedures against Livingstone.
IN ADDITION, Labour’s Shadow (opposition) Attorney General, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, had greatly increased the pressure on Corbyn last week when she called for him to be expelled.
“[Livingstone] jumped in order to avoid being put through a disciplinary process, because I have little doubt that he would have been expelled. If he thought he would avoid expulsion he wouldn’t have walked away,” said Arkush.
The Campaign Against Antisemitism, an NGO, was also critical of Corbyn for expressing his sadness at Livingstone’s resignation, saying he had not acted decisively to expel him from the party and “has rubbed salt in an already deep wound” through his reaction.
“The Labour Party has now missed its opportunity to show that it is serious about racism by expelling Mr. Livingstone, and this episode now frees it from the burden of having to even try,” said the group.
“In addition, by removing himself from the fray, the legions of Labour and Jeremy Corbyn supporters who openly back Mr. Livingstone’s distortion of history will now be emboldened to continue to do so, knowing that the Party itself has failed to land a blow,” it added.
The Jewish Leadership Council, another Jewish communal UK organization, issued a joint statement with the Board of Deputies, saying that Livingstone’s resignation “does not detract” from the need for the Labour party to take concrete action to counter antisemitism and “does not solve any of the party’s issues with antisemitism.”
The Labour Party has for several years been embroiled in antisemitism allegations surrounding prominent party officials, and Corbyn has been accused of failing to deal with the problem.
Corbyn himself has been fiercely critical of Israel and has a history of associating with individuals, organizations and groups that have expressed antisemitic sentiment.
LAST MONTH, Gillian Merron, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, wrote in an article for LabourList, a center-left pro-Labour website, that some progress has been made since a meeting between the Jewish leadership and Corbyn on April 24.
In particular, she noted that the Labour leadership has signaled its intent to deal with a significant proportion of the disciplinary cases against members for alleged antisemitic comments and incidents by late July.
She also noted that the party appears to be more inclined to prevent its members appearing alongside other members who have been suspended for antisemitism, and that Corbyn had rejected recent comments by an influential trade union boss that claims of antisemitism against the Labour party were a smear campaign.
Arkush said that these were “small but important steps,” but there is still “a long, long way to go, because there is still a prevailing narrative and discourse on the far-left which is not only bigoted about Israel but strays into antisemitism, and that is the task which Labour has to address.”