In the lead-up to this week’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London, did us a great service with his ridiculous statement about Hitler supporting the Zionist cause and wanting to deport the Jews to Palestine back in the early days of the Nazi regime, before, according to Livingstone, he changed his tune and decided to murder the Jews instead. He reminded us that the Holocaust didn’t take place in Syria or Iran, but in the country which at the time was considered the most civilized in the Western world, where Jews had, so they believed, fully integrated and where many of them simply refused to believe that the situation could get worse and worse for those who mistakenly chose to remain.
Make no mistake – I am not comparing Germany of the 1930s to Britain of 2016, despite the growth in anti-Semitic sentiment, especially among sectors of the population which, in the past, were the pillars of opposition to any form of racism and who steadfastly stood up for the oppressed religious and ethnic minorities in the face of fascism. In Germany of the 1930s, it was the state and the police who instigated and promoted anti-Semitism, leaving the Jews with nowhere to turn (if they were foolhardy enough not to get out when the opportunity presented itself), while in Europe and Britain of 2016, it is the state and the police that actively fight anti-Semitism and other forms of racism.
And while Livingstone, along with such colleagues as George Galloway, are well known for their inbred hatred of Israel and any form of Zionism, he seems to have forgotten that Israel only came into being almost 15 years after the events he describes in the early days of the Nazi regime. Israel was eventually established, among other reasons, by the world seeking to atone for its silence during the Holocaust when, had there been a homeland available (and had the British Mandate authorities opened the doors of Palestine to the refugees), many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of the Jews murdered by the Nazi regime could ostensibly have been saved.
It is ironic of course that those such as Livingstone, Galloway and their cronies for whom being anti-racist no longer includes Jews, and for whom being critical of Israel is one and the same thing as being anti-Semitic, have distanced themselves entirely from any influence over what eventually happens with respect to the Palestinians – the problem with which they are ostensibly concerned. They have succeeded in one thing only: ensuring that moderate and liberal members of the Jewish community in the UK (and their counterparts elsewhere throughout Europe and North America) who would like to see Israel act differently with respect to the Palestinians have become convinced that any legitimate criticism of Israel by these people can no longer simply be detached from raw anti-Semitism, and that the last people on earth who will ever have any influence on resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict are those who display their blatant anti-Semitic and racist beliefs.
Much has been written in the past few months and days about the need for the British Labor Party to get hold of itself and undertake a serious internal Passover cleaning of its ranks. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn insists that he is not anti-semitic and is opposed to all forms of racism.
He turns up each year at the annual Chabad Hanukka event in Islington, an area which is experiencing a rejuvenation of Jewish life among the gentrified young professionals, and heaps praise on the community and its cultural institutions.
But he does nothing to show the Jewish community that his support for terrorist groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah is anything but harmful to Israel. Whether he likes it or not, the Jewish community strongly identifies with Israel and views his positions, and those of his colleagues and supporters, as intrinsically harmful to the well-being of the Jewish community.
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Leading lifelong supporters (and major funders) of the Labor Party within the Jewish community have left the party and, sad to say, the once proud bastion of the fight against racism and oppression is becoming synonymous with the concept of “new anti-Semitism,” the bottom line being that you can be anti-racist and anti-Semitic at one and the same time.
In previous columns on this topic, I have always been averse to (and strongly criticized) immediately associating all forms of boycott and criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. And while the UK, and the rest of Europe, remain a safe place for Jews to live and practice their religion today, it is the Livingstones, the Galloways and the Labors of this world that have succeeded in shifting my position, and that of fellow liberals, away from what may have been a naïve one. Those who could and should have been my allies, by opposing specific Israeli policies but, at one and the same time, expressing their support for the existence of Israel, have long since crossed the line, rejecting the idea that, for most Jews, Jewish identity is tied up with their affiliation, one way or another, with Israel. They will be quick to hold up those Jewish groups that do not support Israel, conveniently forgetting that these do not express the views of the vast majority of Jews worldwide, including those increasingly exasperated with what are seen as intransigent policies on the part of successive governments.
Reading such liberal minded and well balanced scholars and journalists as David Hirsch from Goldsmith College, Colin Shindler of SOAS, Jonathan Freedland of the Guardian
newspaper, the late and lamented historian David Cesarani from Royal Holloway College, all of them critical of Israel’s policies (and criticized for it) but strong supporters of the existence of the state, one is struck by the growing unanimity of opinion. All of them rooted within liberal, anti-occupation, Labor Party ideologies, all of them deeply worried and concerned about the way anti-Semitism is taking hold of those groups who should have been at the forefront of opposing racism and discrimination in all its forms.
If anyone is the inheritor of Hitler in this respect, it is not, as Livingstone stated this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (a man with whose policies I deeply disagree) but Livingstone himself.
A person who, under the guise of a civilized and democratic society, seeks to delegitimize and to place Jews beyond the pale.
He, in turn, will argue that it is the pro-Zionist and Israel lobby at work – in a country where the entire Jewish community numbers no more than 270,000 people, a mere half a percent of the entire population. It is a fallback to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion
where, for want of a better explanation, all of the world’s evils are placed at the door of the powerful Jewish (and now Zionist) manipulations and maneuverings. Between that book and Mein Kampf
, Livingstone, Galloway and their like-minded colleagues must have a good stock of bedtime reading.
The British government, the leader of the Labor Party Jeremy Corbyn, must go out of their way to show that such views are reprehensible. The suspension of Livingstone (and other senior members of the party) from the Labor Party and the setting up of a commission to investigate anti-Semitism within the party are but small steps on the way to eradicating the this growing evil in a country which is known as the “mother of all democracies.”
The last thing the party should be doing is, as reported, seek to censure Labor MP John Mann who previously led the all-parliamentary commission on anti-Semitism, and who was filmed over the weekend publicly remonstrating with Livingstone for his disgraceful behavior.
Corbyn would do well to respond affirmatively to Israel’s Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog’s invitation to visit Israel and see for himself the strong connection between Israel’s independence, the history of the Holocaust and the rise of anti-Semitism in what was perceived as the world’s most cultured society.
And what better week to finally wake up to this danger than the week in which we all commemorate and memorialize the six million who were murdered by a “civilized” society which turned out to be the most bestial in the annals of human history.
Livingstone, with his sick references to Hitler and Zionism, has provided the clarion call to remind us why, 70 years on, we must never forget the lessons of the Holocaust.The writer is dean of the faculty of humanities and social sciences at Ben-Gurion University. The views expressed are his alone.
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