The Labour Party is institutionally anti-Semitic.
No fair-minded person can read its failure to expel Ken Livingstone any other way. The national constitutional committee, after careful consideration of his latest calumny, has chosen merely to extend the former London mayor’s suspension for a further year.
He was originally suspended in April 2016 after he came to the defence of Labour MP Naz Shah. Shah had reposted a Facebook meme calling for the ‘transportation’ of Israelis to the United States so that the ‘Middle East will again be peaceful without foreign interference’. Sharing the post, Shah commented: ‘Problem solved and save u bank charges for £3 BILLION you transfer yearly!’
In seeking to excuse Shah’s anti-Semitism, Livingstone told a radio interviewer: ‘When Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.’
Across a three-day hearing, Livingstone repeated his claims and accused the struggle to re-establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine of ‘collaboration’ with the Nazis. In a decision announced on Wednesday evening, Labour found Livingstone in breach of Rule 2.1.8 of the party’s constitution, which proscribes ‘prejudicial’ or ‘grossly detrimental’ conduct by members. However, instead of expelling Livingstone, Labour only lengthened his ban by 12 months. (He remains a party member; the ban is solely on him standing for office.)
This was far from Livingstone‘s first offence. In 1984, as leader of the Greater London Council, he accused the Board of Deputies of British Jews of being ‘dominated by reactionaries and neo-fascists’. Twenty years later, as mayor of London, he welcomed Islamist cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi to City Hall. Qaradawi is a defender of Palestinian suicide bombing as a ‘martyrdom operation’ and ‘evidence of God’s justice’, and has even issued a fatwa permitting the killing of pregnant Israeli women. Livingstone called him ‘a progressive figure’.
In 2005, Livingstone told Jewish journalist Oliver Finegold he was ‘just like a concentration camp guard’. The following year he said of Simon and David Reuben, London property developers of Iraqi Jewish descent: ‘If they’re not happy here, they can go back to Iran and try their luck with the ayatollahs.’
There are many more such examples, yet Livingstone remains within the Labour family. His Hitler comments are of a piece with a string of anti-Semitic incidents dogging the Labour Party since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. Shami Chakrabarti lent her name to a risible scrap of paper pretending to be a report into Labour anti-Semitism; it opened with the words ‘The Labour Party is not overrun by anti-Semitism’ and went downhill from there. At its unveiling, Jeremy Corbyn compared Israel to the Islamic State and Jewish MP Ruth Smeeth left in tears after being accused of conspiring with the media to undermine Corbyn. Thirty-five days later, Chakrabarti was made a Labour peer.
Labour has in the past taken a stand against bodies where racism, sexism, and homophobia were allowed to fester. The party understood that there was no extenuation to be found in the relatively small number of Met police officers guilty of prejudice. Its MPs and ministers had no truck with those who argued that few companies set out to pay women less than men. Discrimination was discrimination and institutions in which it routinely took place were culpable for it. Anti-Semitism routinely takes place in the Labour Party and the Labour Party is culpable for it.
There are a great many men and women who remain in the hollowed-out shell of British social democracy. They are unremitting foes of prejudice and bigotry and will be ashamed once again of the party and the cause to which they have dedicated their lives. They are joined by the Jewish Labour Movement which has battled to rid its beloved party of Judeophobia.
I admire these men and women. Some of them are my friends. But shame is no longer enough. Heads shaken in corridors and profane lamentations by text message are a meagre rebuke. Exasperated quotes to lobby hacks and sincere disgust on Newsnight have not changed anything in the past and won’t change anything now. There is a point at which ‘stay and fight’ ceases to be a rallying cry and becomes an excuse, a salve to the conscience of moderates affronted by what has become of their party but too emotionally attached to break away. Leaving Labour would be like walking out on a troubled spouse after a lifetime but there are some marriages which cannot, should not, be saved.
The Labour Party was once great and it did great things. This dark husk, this putrid impersonator, is not the Labour Party. The ideas and the fire that drove Attlee and Bevan, Gaitskell and Wilson, Healey and Callaghan endure and in time can form the basis of a new party that takes forward the Labour ideal.
And it is that very ideal that demands good people no longer lend their sweat or their coin to this abomination. For the umpteenth time since this Corbyn farce began, Labour had a choice between Mordecai and Haman. They chose Haman; they always choose Haman. Now everyone in Labour has a choice. If you are not an anti-Semite, you have to leave the Labour Party.
A version of this article was published on the Spectator’s Coffee House blog.