It might seem ungallant to bash a man when he is down, but Livingstone brings it on himself. On Friday, he was on the radio attempting an apology to Jeremy Corbyn- but actually it was an aggressive swipe at “embittered old Blairite MPs who he claimed had started the crisis. Anti-semitism? What anti-Semitism, he might have added.
Not content with his claims last week, then, he has now given an interview to an Arabic news channel repeating what he still wrongly believes are “facts” and adding that “The creation of the state of Israel was fundamentally wrong, because there had been a Palestinian community there for 2,000 years.” Livingstone may not go as far as Hamas in saying it wants to eradicate the State of Israel, but it is a very short step from saying “its creation was fundamentally wrong” to saying “it should be wiped out”. This is dodgy rhetoric, Ken! In addition, he wants an international boycott of Israeli goods including dates (which he says he likes); this is a reference to the BDS or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions originally called in 2005, and certainly not supported by his predecessor Tony Blair . Well, he is late in answering this call anyway – I think even the glorious Vanessa Redgrave gave up on this sort of nonsense years ago. She, like most sane people, supports the two-state solution.
Michael Gove, incidentally, rejects BDS too, calling for “solidarity with the Jewish people – and in solidarity with their right to national self-determination.”He said BDS “re-introduces into our world and into our society a prejudice against the Jews collectively that should have vanished from the earth generations ago.” What is particularly interesting, and fleshes out this statement, is that there has been a rise in anti-semitic attacks in the UK in recent years. So, while we might condemn (as indeed the current British government has already done) the ruthless acquisition of West Bank land, this is not the same as calling the State of Israel “fundamentally wrong”.
Livingstone’s analysis of the way the West should have dealt with the post-holocaust world is as follows and is equally worrying, “We should have absorbed the post-World War II Jewish refugees in Britain and America. They could all have been resettled, whereas 70 years later, the situation is still very tense, and there is potential for many more wars, potential for nuclear war.”
I think we, as a Nation, did our fair share, in fact, to absorb Jewish refugees, and this is something we should take great pride in, but the flourishing of Zionism is also something that the “historian” Ken Livingstone must know was actually supported by his own socialist party in Britain. (In 1948, Christopher Mayhew records that “behind me wide awake, well-informed, passionate, articulate and aggressive, would be a group of twenty or thirty pro-Israeli Labour members. Most of them would be Jewish … and also Israel’s most brilliant non-Jewish supporter, Dick Crossman.” Later, it was Harold Wilson who supported Israel against the UN’s November 1967 Resolution 242.) There is no doubt that Israel is in a fragile territory and that Palestinians urgently need our support, but none of this means the establishment of the State of Israel was “fundamentally wrong”.
Certainly, there is potential for war and, indeed, nuclear war at that- but that fact does not mean the founding of the State of Israel was either “catastrophic” or “fundamentally wrong”. Similarly, the claims that a Palestinian community had lived in Israel for 2000 years is a fairly vacuous comment in the face of the occupation of the Americas, the establishment of the US, to say nothing about the former State of Judea, that was quite evidently a Jewish kingdom, and more than that, sanctioned by God!
This is not to excuse or condone the treatment of Palestinians by the current Israeli government.
Livingstone observes, “there were large Jewish communities that never suffered threats or attacks. They lived in peace alongside their Arab neighbours. But all of this was destroyed with the establishment of the State of Israel, and all the Israeli [sic] communities in the Arab world were deported to Israel.”
This is really where he gives himself away because he fails to distinguish between Israeli and Jew. There were no “Israelis in the Arab world” before 1948, so it could never have been Israelis who were deported. It is simply untrue that all Jews are zionists and all zionists Jews! There are, for example Jewish groups dedicated to an anti-zionist philosophy- like Neturei Karta and some of the Haredim. This simple slip of the tongue identifies Livingstone beyond a shadow of doubt as racist. Racism is as much about the inappropriate use of language as it is about active attacks on peoples of a different race. A politician of Livingstone’s stature and experience should be careful about the language he uses. Livingstone should remember that someone who hates Jews in Israel is still an anti-semite even if his anti-semitism is geographically restricted. Racism is racism.
He goes on, “I have always believed that the failure to resolve the [Palestinian] problem fuels the terrorist attacks. What makes a 15- or 16-year-old boy go and fight with ISIS, or carry out the barbaric attacks that we saw in Paris or Brussels? They don’t do it because they enjoy killing, but because they believe that they are the victims of injustice. The West must deal with the injustice, or will continue to fuel terrorism.”
Indeed, he is right: our failure to sort out the Palestinian problem has caused anger throughout the muslim world and beyond and I am sure it fuels terrorism. But we should not turn the aggressors, the bombers, into the victim here: nothing can condone terrorism and injustice is never solved by a bomb. I worry, furthermore, that Mr Livingstone claims to have some great insight into the minds of terrorists – but he does them and us no good by suggesting their actions are logical.