Why Ken doesn't make Brits see red

Why have the London mayor's anti-Semitic remarks not evoked a stronger response?

March 26, 2006 06:29
3 minute read.
livingstone ken talking 88

livingstone ken 88 298. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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The Ken Livingstone affair and its aftermath are symptomatic of the West's "moral inversion," Daily Mail columnist and social commentator Melanie Phillips told The Jerusalem Post, as Britain is unable to acknowledge the existence of prejudice toward Jews. The press and public have displayed indifference toward London Mayor Ken Livingstone's slander of two Jewish developers, brothers David and Simon Reuben, last week. Opposition members in the London Assembly were quick to denounce as "anti-Semitic" the mayor's suggestion that foreign-born Jewish capitalists go home, and not bleed London through their sharp business dealings. Jewish leaders responded less robustly, however, avoiding the word "anti-Semitism" in their critiques, focusing their concern instead on the mayor's inappropriate, racially charged language. While condemning the attack, Jon Benjamin, chief executive officer of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the Post he hoped other civic groups, such as the state-sponsored Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), would take the lead in rebuking Livingstone. The CRE, however, said it would not do so, as this incident did not "fall within their remit." Livingstone has refused to apologize, and has denounced his critics as Nazis, likening one Conservative member of the London Assembly to a "Dr. Goebbels" who was "dancing on the memory of the Holocaust." Britain's press dutifully reported some of the exchanges. The BBC aired one news clip. The Times and Guardian covered the row, as did the Press Association, whose report was picked up by local papers across the country. Britain's two other daily broadsheets, The Telegraph and The Independent, ignored the controversy, as did the nation's colorful tabloids. Only the Times editorialized against the mayor, calling him a "fool" and his conduct "loutish." Livingstone is a popular mayor, Phillips noted. Some see him as a "loveable rogue" and a "character" with an entertaining "radical streak," and the "press won't take on such a popular figure." A partial explanation for the silence so far has been the lack of an aggrieved victim. The Reuben brothers told the Post they did not view the attack as anti-Semitic. The Reubens' response has since paid dividends, as the Times has lauded them as "magnanimous" in the face of the mayor's attacks. Save for Conservative members of the London Assembly, Britain's political classes have averted their gaze, and are preoccupied with Prime Minister Blair's slowly unfolding political disintegration. In Britain, "Jewish leaders are neurotically averse to putting their heads above the parapet" for fear of making the situation worse, Phillips said. Livingstone was able to parlay his suspension by a civil service review board for likening a Jewish reporter to a concentration camp guard into a political gain, she noted. He wrapped himself in the mantle of a democratic leader unjustly removed by an undemocratic process, and Phillips believes Jewish leaders fear a second backlash over the Reuben brothers. Anti-Semitism, or "anti-Jewish" sentiment, as Phillips prefers to call it, is the "prejudice that dare not speak its name in multicultural Britain," she said. The "whole atmosphere is poisonous," and the Livingstone affair "reawakens the prejudices that all Jews fear," she said. Protestations of Islamophobia and homophobia, Phillips observed, have desensitized people, "making them impatient with any minority group complaining about prejudice, even where the complaint is well-founded." People have had it up to here with the delicate sensibilities of minorities, period. So the Jews, "who really are victims of true, unprovoked, irrational prejudice based on a visceral and ancient hatred, are being similarly dismissed in the same backlash," she observed. In modern Britain, "Jews cannot be victims anymore," she said, "because Jews are perceived as powerful." "There is a moral inversion in Britain. The whole society is gripped by the victim culture" which believes that only people "without power can be the victims of racism or prejudice," Phillips said. It is this blindness toward anti-Jewish prejudice, coupled with a deep-seated hostility toward Jews, who, she said, are "the guilty conscience of Christian Europe," that Phillips finds so troubling about the Ken Livingstone saga.

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