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.