Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Once More - Beyond Our Ken


The statement which led to Ken Livingstone's suspension from Labour Party membership (and now to his resignation) was his claim that Hitler had "supported Zionism" when first coming to power in Germany "before he went mad and killed six million Jews". This is a clumsy reference to a deal which the Third Reich struck with leaders of the Zionist Movement on 7th August, 1933. Hitler engaged in the deal in order to remove many Jews from Germany. It was a prelude to events such as resorting to prison camps, Kristallnacht (and the like) and then to his fully fledged mass extermination programme. The words used by Ken to described the early start of such developments clearly need to be have been adjusted.

For Hitler was "mad" in terms of the depth and nature of his anti-semitism (and on many other matters) well before the above deal was ever agreed to. For instance, Mein Kampf was published in two volumes back in 1925 and 1926 and contained clear anti-Semitic claims and attacks upon Judaism. It claimed that Aryans were the master race.

The 1933 development which Ken expressed briefly and badly is, however, contained in great detail in Edwin Black's book "The Transfer Agreement'. The introduction to the 1984 edition of his book stating that - "On August 7, 1933, leaders of the Zionist movement concluded a controversial pact with the Third Reich which, in various forms, transferred some 60,000 Jews and $100 million...to Jewish Palestine".

Edwin Black is himself Jewish. His grandmother was murdered in Treblinka, having pushed her young daughter (who was later to become Edwin's mother) out of the train that was taking them to the camp. The young man who was to become Edwin's father escaping from a group of Jews who were being led to their execution by Nazis in Poland. Edwin's book is solidly researched and he is certainly in no way anti-semitic. If Ken had stuck with its approach, he would not have upset the apple cart. Yet the fact that he badly expressed the nature of this significant historical arrangement does not by itself make him anti-semitic. Nor can I find other evidence to substantiate this claim. But he could have conceded my point.

Informaton on Edwin Black's book and extracts from it can be found via this link.

22 May : According to a Guardian report, Ken Livingstone has now "apologised for his controversial remarks" on Hitler and Jews. If he had done this some time ago (even pointing to what actually happened), it would have been helpful and might have saved a lot of hassle within the Labour Party by cutting the ground from under his opponents.

25 May : Link here for a two year old Foreign Office definition of anti-semitism, although others may employ other definitions as useages often only share family resemblances. But on which items in the Foreign Office's criteria was Ken Livingstone and some other 80 Labour Party members accused ? 

28 May : Link here for 39 cases of claimed anti-semitism in the Labour Party, although one is the late Gerald Kaufman who himself had Jewish parents. Another is Ken Livingstone. But it provides numbers of claims that can be further checked out.

29 May : Link here for Ken's full statement on his resignation from the Labour Party, which I have just discovered. 

27 July : "How Should Anti-Semitism Be Defined?". See this in today's Guardian.  

28 July : A valuable coverage and attached debate on "Racism in Israel". See here. 

1 August : As the philosopher Wittgenstein pointed out, many of the words we use tend to share a family resemblance rather than just having exact, precise and rigid meanings. The broad meaning of a word then being discoverable by examing the range of ways in which it is used. This does not, however, mean that usuages of specific words don't also have rough and ready boundaries. Then dictionaries are into the business of attempting to define words for us and, therefore, offer a precision which attempts to get to the heart of their use. So my Concise Oxford Dictionary defines an anti-Semite as being "a person hostile to or prejudiced against Jews". Whilst Wittgenstein encourages us to go beyond such exact definitions, this does not mean substituting dictionary sytle and brief definitions for over-elaborate ones which then seek to capture the use of a word. And whilst there is nothing wrong with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance stressing its concerns about anti-semitism in its own elaborate statement containing no less than eleven categories, this does not make their statement THE definition of anti-semitism which bodies such as the Labour Party or you and I are obliged to adopt. As long as our approach has a wide ranging anti-racist stance which firmly rejects anti-semitism we are on the correct side. It seems to me to follow from my above approach that the comments which Peter Willsman is being hauled over the coals for (whilst they were both over-emotive and highly undiplomatic) are not anti-semitic. Nor do I feel that Jeremy Corbyn has been anti-semitic, although I always felt that he was incorrect to have associated himself too closely with Hamas. Along with his past links with a then military Sinn Fein, his former opposition to our membership of the European Union and his refusal to see that after the invasion of Iraq (which I also strongly opposed) possibilities had changed and we needed to work with progressive forces inside Iraq such as its re-emerging trade union movement; these were all matters why I never voted for him for the leadership of the Labour Party - abstaining on the second ballot. Yet the realities of his becoming leader have thankfully led to him shifting his stance on such issues. So I feel that the reality is to now move forward with him as leader - whilst (as always) seeking to influence our direction of travel.

This is from Pete Willsman's report of the NEC Meeting of 17th July 2018. 

General Secretary's Report -
* Labour Party Code of Conduct in Relation to Anti-semitism Issues
The NEC Working Group - Antisemitism, had presented a full report to the Organisation Committee on 3rd July. The accompanying documents at the Org Ctte had set out a wide range of important recommendations. These included a NEC Code of Conduct - Antisemitism, which had been improved nem con by the Org Ctte.
Jennie gave a very comprehensive introduction concerning all the work that the staff had undertaken on this issue over many weeks. Jennie stressed that it was obligatory upon us that we agree a way forward that is fair and just and totally defensible. Jennie emphasised that it was essential that we sit down with all of the Jewish groups and identify their concerns. These can then be addressed in a fair and just manner. The specific details of the concerns are not that clear since most of the criticisms are presented in very broad brush terms. The NEC then discussed at length and in a very thoughtful and concerned manner the points raised in the documents and by Jennie. It was agreed that we need to keep the whole matter under constant review and clear the backlog of cases without delay. A special meeting of the Disputes Panel, that will last a whole day, was agreed so that all remaining cases could be progressed. It was pointed out that due to the very small size of the NCC, there are always inevitable delays in getting 3 person panels up and running for each case (NB The Democracy Review will address this problem by recommending a significant increase in the size of the NCC). During the discussion, I drew to attention to the letter by 68 Rabbis in that morning's Guardian. The Rabbis stated that "antisemitism within sections of the Labour Party has become so severe and widespread that we must speak". I pointed out that no evidence whatsoever has ever been produced by anyone to give any credibility to this rather wild assertion. I added that we have been told that there is a backlog of some 70 cases that need to be considered. Our Party has over 500,000 members and to portray 70 out of 500,000 as "severe/widespread" would be generally considered to be somewhat of an exaggeration. I would like to add here that in The Guardian of July 18th, the facts were yet again in error. The Guardian reports that "Pete Willsman at the NEC asked for a show of hands of who believed that there was antisemitism in the Labour Party". In fact, what I ACTUALLY said was, "Hands up those who have seen antisemitism in our Party, since, in over 50 years I never have myself". Other speakers highlighted the fact that there is certainly a problem with Islamophobia in the Tory Party (as constantly highlighted by the constant complaints by Lady Warsi - see below). But of course, not only the are the Tory Party doing little if anything about it but the Tory lapdogs in the press and media deliberately ignore it.
Our Party, with Jennie taking the lead, will keep the whole issue including the Code of Conduct under constant review. There is a total commitment on the part of the NEC to constructive dialogue, to talk through all the issues of concern and reach a concensus that is generally acceptable. Everyone present vehemently hoped that the Jewish groups would respond positively to our desire to a thorough dialogue. If the groups declined to engage in any dialogue that would be very negative and unhelpful. To simply use the press and media as a megaphone to continue to make rather wild assertions that have no evidential basis is not the way forward. 

5 August : We now have this video from Jeremy.


Jim Denham said...

No evidence that Livingstone is an anti-Semite? I'd say there's quite a bit: https://shirazsocialist.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/livingstones-thing-about-jews/

Harry Barnes said...

Well Jim, the item you point me to overwhelmingly deals with the single case of an incident involving Oliver Finegold. As with Ken's comment on Hitler, it was ill thought out and should later have been corrected by him. But if Ken is anti-semitic would this not be something which would have come across clearly in his 709 page autobiography where the index is littered with references to topics such as anti-semitism, Jewish community, Isreal, Zionism and the Board of the Deputies of British Jews ?
I say this without being a great supporter of Ken. Whilst in the Socialist Campaign Group I voted against him seeking nominations to stand for the leadership of the Labour Party and then refused to nominate him. Back in 2000 I wrote to the Times condeming support he had given to the IRA. Then when he was expelled from the Labour Party for standing against Labour's nominee for London Mayor, I opposed his early re-entry which enabled him to stand as Labour's candidate in the following election for Mayor.
But I do not see him as racist in any way, although I accept that many may disagree with lines he has taken on the nature and operations of Isreal. But we can all criticise specific trends within differing nations without thereby taking up racist stances.

Jim Denham said...

He has a long record of Jew-baiting, as the article I've linked to shows. Not all antisemites, of course, are racists: in fact, pre-Nazi Christian antisemitism manifested itself though a professed "love" of Jews (ie hoping to convert them) just as contemporary "left" anti-Semitism merely wants Jews to renounce Zionism and denounce Israel. Livingstone, however, goes further and seems to actively enjoy provoking, insulting and upsetting Jews. I suspect he learned this from his close association in the 1980s with Gerry Healy and the WRP.

Harry Barnes said...

I am always willing to live and learn, but the only two claims I am aware of for which Ken Livingstone is said to be involved in Jew-baiting are (a) his defective interpretation of the deal between the Nazis and Zionists in 1933 and (b) the case of Oliver Finegold which you drew to my attention. Then can you give me an example of antisemitism which is not racists ? If people criticise actions such as the establishment of the State of Isreal, its later expansion, recent actions taken against militant protests from Gaza; then does it not depend as to how these views are being expressed? They can be done in ways which are (1) clearly racist and anti-semitic - claiming that these things are wrong because they were done by Jewish people, or (2) that they are wrong for other non antisemitic reasons - even though you might reject these arguments. But all criticisms of Isreal can not be condemned as being anti-semitic, even though some will fall into that category and you might suspect that certain critics are really hiding their anti-semitism from view. Surely, by itself seeking to convert Jews to Christianity (or to other religions, agnositism or atheism) is not in itself anti-semitic - although it could be used as a device to undermine those with strong Jewish loyalities. But numbers of Jews already belong to other religions or to none. Surely, that does not make them any less Jewish. Although many people of mixed lineage might be difficult to categorise.

Jim Denham said...

Another example of Livingstone's Jew-baiting: his meeting with London Jewish Labour supporters in March 2012. Here's their (edited) account of what happened, in a letter to Ed Milband:

Dear Ed,

On the 1st of March 2012 a substantial number of Labour-supporting members of the Jewish community met Ken Livingstone at a private meeting in order to explore ways in which Ken could re-connect with Jewish voters [...]

A key focus of the discussion centred on Ken’s discourse when discussing Zionism. It is not an uncontroversial thing to say that for the vast majority of British Jews, Israel plays an important part in their core identity, in the same way that family, language and cultural ties continue to bind BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities with India, Pakistan etc.

This is certainly a conversation that has taken place with Ken on numerous occasions. Ken determines Jews as a religious group but does not accept Jews as an ethnicity and a people, and did not respond on this other than to say as an atheist he found this hard to comprehend.

In the same way that Black, Irish, Women and LGBT groups are afforded the right to determine their own identity, many of us feel that Ken doesn’t afford Jews that right...

At various points in the discussion Ken used the words Zionist, Jewish and Israeli, interchangeably, as if they meant the same, and did so in a pejorative manner. These words are not interchangeable and to do so is highly offensive, particularly when repeated over and again as was done. For example, when discussing Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s extreme views on homosexuality, Ken said “one would expect the same views on homosexuality from extreme Christians, Muslims and Israelis” and using the word “Zionist” as an adjectival negative to criticise much more widely than what can be attributed to the ideology of Zionism. He also stated “I am not against Israel, I am against Zionists”, which we also find impossible.


When challenged over whether it had been appropriate to publicly embrace an individual (Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi) who holds racist, misogynistic and homophobic views, in addition to his justification for suicide bombings in Israel, Ken again reinforced his view that al-Qaradawi is a moderate voice to be engaged, and that he was encouraged to do so. Ken stated that as al-Qaradawi was not advocating suicide bombings in the UK, and as he had apparently been the victim of a smear campaign by the British press, Ken would gladly embrace him as he would anyone being attacked by the Murdoch empire. Given the scenario of hugging Nick Griffin, Ken quickly backed off this comment.

Ken, towards the end of the meeting, stated that he did not expect the Jewish community to vote Labour as votes for the left are inversely proportional to wealth levels, and suggested that as the Jewish community is rich, we simply wouldn’t vote for him. When we pointed to research undertaken by the Institute of Jewish Policy Research that demonstrates the Jewish community in the UK has a propensity to vote much more radically than its wealth, and this is attributed to Jewish values and sociology and history and also alluded to Democrats in the USA, Ken begrudgingly accepted this.


Whilst we do feel somewhat despondent that we are covering the same arguments and reaching the same conclusions as we have done before, we do feel that it is now more important than ever, given the closeness of this election, given the election’s significance to the Party nationally, and to the growing unease amongst Jewish Labour voters, its time to resolve the matter once and for all...

Harry Barnes said...

Hello Jim. As Wittgeinstein pointed out, words do not always have exact and precise meanings for they may be used in rather differing ways in different circumstances. They then have no more than what he called a "family resemblance". This seems to me to be the case with the use of words such as Zionist, Jewish and Isreali. For instance, there are complicating factors, such as that there are people living in Isreal who are not of Jewish decent but indentify themselves as Arabs or even Palestinians.

This means that when Ken has discussions with bodies such as the Labour London Jewish supporters, there was a big need for everyone to clarify what they were claiming. Otherwise there is a danger of Ken and others using words in a point scoring way. So for instance, like Ken I am an atheist. But I may well differ from him in my attitude to religions. If a person's religious commitment enables them to show compassion and concern for people generally, then I find that to be something that is very worthwhile. For instance, I appreciate what is said in the "Talmud" when it states "Thou shalt not say,'I will love the wise, but the unwise I will hate", but thou shalt love all mankind".

Ken and the rest of us need to try to appreciate the complexities of the use of words. So the term "Jews" can be used in different circumstances to refer a religious, ethnic or social grouping - and is, unfortuneately used by some as a term of abuse. We need to sort out how the term is being used during any conversation, both to understand each other and to reveal any genunine areas of disagreement.

Then with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi who wrote and said so much, we need to be clear as to what is clearly unacceptable and what is more reasonable. We are then in a better position to judge the rights and wrongs of Ken's analysis when he comes to Yusuf's defence. For what was Ken actually defending ? And then as with his Ken's use of the term "Transfer Agreement", was it another ill thought-out interpretation which called for clarification and correction ?

It is possible for us to try and correct people without always dismissing them from Labour Party Membership. Otherwise we might end up rather isolated and looking like their mirror image.

Ernie Jacques said...

Ken Livingstone, friend of an oppressed Palestinian people forced to resign from the Labour Party on trumped up charges of anti-Semitism. While the vile war criminal Blair, mega greedy self-serving Mandelson and a raft of New Labour malcontents bad mouth Corbyn and Labour Party members with impunity.

While it's OK to disagree with Livingstone and Corbyn it is not OK to silence free speech or accuse them of anti-Semitism simply because they oppose the state of Israel and object to the inhumane war crimes against the Palestinians. A fascist type state that steals Palestinian land, bulldozes their homes and uses army snipers to kill, men, women and children. Even unarmed disabled protesters in wheelchairs.

Perhaps, John Denham and those who think like him might care to condemn the state of Israel as forcefully as he does Livingston. The notion that Cobyn and Livingston are in anyway anti-Sematic is ludicrous The worst kind of name-calling and juvenile politics by those with an agenda.

Harry Barnes said...

Hi Ernie. I feel that politics is much more complex than your comment indicates. It is possible to be a friend of the oppressed Palestinian people and to appreciate why prominent Palestinian bodies such as Hamas emerged, without agreeing with some of that bodies tactics. Yet we can still criticise over-reactions to them by the Israeli authorities.

Then whilst Blair and Mandelson can be subject to a wide range of criticisms, they did help to deliver the Belfast Agreement.

When people condemn Livingstone and Corbyn in the way you suggest, then clearly this is unacceptable. But what if some critics genuinely feel that the stances of the two (and or others) have at times been done in an anti-semitic fashion ? Surely we can at least ask them to provide evidence. Then if this is forthcoming we can seek to check it out. This is what I have being attempting with Jim Denham and (elsewhere) others.

I would also like to know what the cases are claimed to be against some other 80 members of the Labour Party who are facing explusion on grounds of claimed anti-semitism. It is dificult to make judgements without the claimed evidence. Then will the "facts" in general be so inaccurate, that the general thrust of the accusations will prove to be unacceptable?

If there is just "name calling and juvenile politics" we can only properly determine this based on the facts. Evidence both for and against the 80 or so, should be made available to members of the Labour Party to allow them to assess the situation. The quicker this is done the better, so that we can move on.

Ernie Jacques said...

Palestinian, Ibrahim Abu Thurayeh, 29, double amputee, shot in the head by Israeli sniper.
Eight-month-old Leila al-Ghandour killed by Isreali tear gas.

In the past week, 60 Palestinians shot dead by Israeli snipers, women and children included. 2,800 wounded, many with horrific injuries. And the silence from the Livingston & Corbyn critics is deafening.

From my perspective Corbyn’s Labour accusers are political hypocrites with an agenda and peculiar sense of priorities. People who oppose free speech, who throw accusations about like confetti, who get into bed with the tory press and would have us believe that their value judgments and load noise, equals fact.

In reality its fake news and political bullying.

Harry Barnes said...

Then Ernie, details of the internal charges against Labour Party members for being said to express anti-semitic views are important. For when they are then revealed as being either trivial or false this destroys such accusations. Fake news can best be destroyed by facts.

Harry Barnes said...

My blog has been running for over 13 years and the above is its most viewed item. Yet only two people have entered into discussions with me via my comment box on this matter. I appreciate that many of those who have visited this item will not have a blog facility - as it is rather old hat. But it can be obtained without the people concerned then having to set up their own full blog. I just wonder who has looked at it and what they felt about my analysis.