Defend Livingstone against the witch-hunt
The April 9 London Communist Forum featured two opening speakers. Each comrade took a particular angle on the ‘Anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ lie
Ken Livingstone: substantially true
Tony Greenstein: Nazi-Zionist collaboration is a historical fact
I predicted about 18 months ago that Jeremy Corbyn would be departing from the scene quite shortly. I am still of that opinion and I think the events of the last week are part and parcel of that process. We have seen the abject capitulation of Corbyn. When Tom Watson and the Zionists argued expulsion was the only option to deal with Ken Livingstone, instead of standing up for Livingstone, Corbyn accepted that what Ken has said was ‘offensive’ and that he had showed no contrition.
If you surrender now, the chances that you will stand firm when you get into power are even less. We have seen in Al Jazeera’s ‘The lobby’ that there is a concerted campaign by the Labour right, Labour Friends of Israel and the Israeli embassy to topple the left. And anti-Semitism is the ideal weapon for doing that - we are seeing the false anti-racism of the right. When British imperialism went into India, it did not do so to exploit, but to save the Indians from themselves - this has always been the message of imperialism, which was always a very benevolent operation in the eyes of the imperialists. Similarly today. When they defend the state of Israel, they do so on the grounds of anti-racism rather than racism.
What Corbyn should have done is say that, yes, he condemns anti-Semitism, but he also condemns the false use of accusations of anti-Semitism against people who are not anti-Semitic, but are simply supporting the Palestinians. If he had taken that principled stand then, he would not be facing the problems he is now. However much he gives, they will want more.
Ken Livingstone has actually been principled and we have no option but to defend him. We should defend him on the grounds that, if Livingstone goes, Corbyn will be next - there is no doubt about that. Livingstone is quite a juicy target, but the aim is to get rid of the whole Corbyn leadership. Throwing Livingstone overboard so that the good ship Labour will stay afloat as if he was just unnecessary ballast is neither just nor credible.
Last week a letter from the Jewish Labour Movement surfaced, with over 1,300 signatories calling for Livingstone’s expulsion from the Labour Party. The Guardian headlined the letter: “Jewish Labour calls …” As if the Jewish Labour Movement, which actually has a large number of non-Jewish Progress members, is the same as the Jewish Labour membership. The Guardian has been leading this campaign and had an abject editorial on April 7 on the Livingstone affair. It told us that it was only a matter of decorum - ie, politeness - which leads people on the left to talk about ‘Zionists’ as opposed to ‘Jews’. You may have seen my letter to The Guardian the next day (April 10), in which I point out that it is only Zionists and anti-Semites who believe the two are synonymous.
There has been a whole slate of articles in The Guardian attacking Livingstone over this issue - just as there were attacking Corbyn a year ago over the question of anti-Semitism. We have seen Owen Jones jack-knife to the right - I predicted this two years ago at the height of Operation Protective Edge, when 2,200 Palestinians were killed (including around 500 children). Owen Jones’s main concern then was about anti-Semitism in Britain. This showed a remarkably skewed sense of priorities, not least because there was no major problem with anti-Semitism in Britain. If there is such a problem you should go to the cause of it. If you say, as the Board of Deputies of British Jews does, that Jews are responsible for and support what Israel does, and that to criticise Israel is anti-Semitic, it is not surprising that some people will draw the wrong message from that and see Jews as their targets.
The letter I wrote to The Guardian has been circulating widely on the internet and I have no doubt at all that what is happening to Ken Livingstone is causing outrage among people in the rank and file of the Labour Party. One elderly couple wrote to me saying that they had been members for 60 years, but would resign over this issue. People realise what is at stake. I did an interview with BBC Radio London this morning and was asked about the ‘offensiveness’ to Jews of Livingstone’s comments. I said quite clearly that the essence of free speech is the right to give offence. When it comes to something like Charlie Hebdo and the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, free speech rules, but when it comes to what the Zionists did with the Nazis through Ha’avara, the trade agreement between Nazi Germany and the Zionist movement, amongst other things, we are told that is too offensive, beyond the pale, you can’t mention it. There is a good reason for that.
What is Zionism? It is a settler-colonial project to establish a Jewish supremacist state in Palestine. Zionism arose as a specific movement amongst Jewish people.
The first Zionists were not Jewish: they were Christian evangelicals and imperialists. Lord Shaftesbury (1801-85) is a very interesting example. He was dead set against Jewish emancipation in Britain - he did not want Jews to have the vote - but he was in favour of them having a Jewish state in Palestine, because that would safeguard British imperial interests. There are a number of examples like him, including Lord Balfour himself. When he was prime minister in 1905, he was responsible for the introduction of the Aliens Act, the first piece of legislation directed against Jewish immigration. He did not want Jews who were escaping from the tsarist pogroms coming to Britain. This was also the view of other Conservative anti-Semites in the British Brothers League. Instead they wanted Jews to colonise an area of the world where British interest were primary. This has been the lesson of Zionism throughout history.
The best description I have is from one of Israel’s foremost novelists, AB Yehoshua, in a speech he gave to the National Union of Jewish Students. Bear in mind that his talk was entitled “Zionism was right”, so he is no anti-Zionist. He stated: “Anti-Zionism was not the product of non-Jews.” Yehoshua is someone who tells the truth to young Zionists, who believe there are actually opposing anti-Semitism:
Anti-Zionism is not the product of the non-Jews. On the contrary, the Gentiles have always encouraged Zionism, hoping that it would help to rid them of the Jews in their midst. Even today, in a perverse way, a real anti-Semite must be a Zionist.
That is absolutely correct. If you are a dedicated anti-Semite you will also be a Zionist, and that was true in the Nazi era as well. Eichmann protested vehemently when the grave of Theodor Herzl, the founder of political Zionism, was desecrated in Vienna. Eichmann combined support for Zionism with organising the mechanics of the ‘final solution’.
Reinhard Heydrich, who was described by Gerald Reitlinger as the engineer of the ‘final solution’ and who was Himmler’s deputy, as well as being chief of the combined Nazi and state police, said on January 28 1935 in an order to the Gestapo:
The activity of the Zionist-oriented youth organisations ... prior to their emigration to Palestine lies in the interests of the National Socialist state’s leadership. These organisations, therefore, are not to be treated with that strictness that it is necessary to apply to members of the so-called German-Jewish organisations (assimilationists).
In May 1935 Schwarze Korps, the paper of the SS, wrote in similar vein that
... the Zionists adhere to a strict racial position and by emigrating to Palestine they are helping to build their own Jewish state ... The assimilation-minded Jews deny their race and insist on their loyalty to Germany or claim to be Christian, because they have been baptised in order to subvert National Socialist principles.
That really knocks a lot of fallacies on their head. When Livingstone said that Hitler ‘supported Zionism’, technically that was not true, because Hitler never personally expressed such a view, but the Nazi state supported Zionism vis-à-vis the vast majority of Jews in Germany, who were not Zionists. In 1935 the only section of the Jewish community that welcomed the Nuremburg laws - the laws that stripped German Jews of their citizenship - was the Zionists.
When people say that this material is offensive, OK - it may be offensive to Zionists to be reminded of what happened and what their movement did, but nonetheless it is true. The particular example which is given is Ha’avara, which was agreed in 1933. What it involved was the frozen marks of the German Jews, placed in a blocked bank account, being used to purchase German industrial goods, which were then exported to Palestine, sold there, and a fraction of the proceeds were given to the Jews who emigrated. In order to take advantage of this scheme you had to have the equivalent of £1,000 in order to gain entry to Palestine as capitalists. It therefore only applied to a minority and only 20,000 of the 50,000 German Jews who emigrated to Palestine did so via this scheme. These were the Jews who were most likely to have found a safe haven elsewhere. What the Zionists did was condemn their poorer Jewish brethren.
Why did the Nazis agree to it? Yes, it put German industry to work, but they did not get any hard currency from it. The reasoning is clear and there is no disputing this. Even in his letter to Ken Livingstone, Iain McNicol quotes Yehuda Bauer, one of the foremost Zionist historians of the holocaust, who was quite clear that Germany agreed to this because of the boycott movement at the time. Following the Nazis’ assumption of power and the immediate attacks on Jews, international Jewish organisations, the labour movement and many others mounted a boycott of Nazi Germany, which immediately hit its exports. For instance, Britain almost overnight replaced Germany as the major exporter to Finland and Denmark.
On March 25 Göring called in the leadership of the German Jewish community to a meeting. He did not invite the Zionists, because they were so insignificant within the community at the time, but the Zionists nonetheless lobbied and obtained the right to attend the meeting, Göring said to the German Jewish leadership that they had to put pressure on international Jewish organisations to stop the boycott. The Jewish leaders responded by saying that they had no influence over those international organisations, but they did not support the boycott - which, of course, they had no choice but to say. However, the Zionists made it clear that they would enthusiastically fight the boycott, because they believed you could not defeat anti-Semitism: you could only use it. From that moment on, the relationship between the Nazi state and the Zionists changed.
The Zionist idea goes back to Theodor Herzl, who wrote:
In Paris ... I achieved a freer attitude to anti-Semitism, which I now began to understand historically and to pardon. Above all, I recognise the emptiness and futility of trying to combat anti-Semitism.
He wrote in his founding pamphlet, The Jewish state:“I have already mentioned that honest anti-Semites, whilst preserving their independence, will combine with our officials in controlling the transfer of our state.” Zionism always welcomed the support of anti-Semitism, because without anti-Semitism there is no pressure on Jewish people to emigrate. They saw in Ha’avara an opportunity. The German state was extremely weak at that time and there was talk of the military overthrowing Hitler. If you read Edwin Black’s book, The transfer agreement, he raises the possibility that Hitler may well not have survived the winter of 1933.
What the Zionists did with Ha’avara was in essence to tie their fortunes to those of the Nazi state. As they saw it, the survival of the German economy was linked to the survival of the Zionist project. Between 1933 and 1939 Ha’avara accounted for 60% of total capital investment in Jewish Palestine. Whole industries were created as a result of the agreement between the Nazis and the Zionists. It was an extremely useful agreement to the Zionists and so they fought the boycott wherever they could.
For the Zionists the building of their state in Palestine was the priority. Shabtai Teveth, the official biographer of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s fist prime minister and the chairman of the Jewish Agency, tells us that Ben-Gurion’s “total dedication to historic interest” found extreme expression in December 1938 when he told Mapai’s central committee:
If I knew that it would be possible to save all the children in Germany by bringing them over to England, and only half of them by transporting them to Eretz Yisrael, then I would opt for the second alternative. For we must weigh not only the life of these children, but also the history of the people of Israel.
That in essence was the Zionists’ position. It opposed the rescue of Jewish people to destinations other than Palestine. They argued, quite understandably, that if you rescued refugees by taking them to places other than Palestine, what was the point of the Jewish state?
When Livingstone said that the Nazis supported Zionism, that was true. Of course, that does not mean that individual Zionists supported Nazism or, for that matter, that all Nazis supported Zionism. It is obviously also true that when Hitler exterminated Jews he did not differentiate between Zionists and non-Zionists - although the Zionist leaders of the Jewish councils and Judenrate had a better chance of survival. Any movement of collaboration - whether it is Quisling, Marshal Pétain or whoever - will always start from a position of an inequality of power. The people with whom the Zionists collaborated had the power and they had to accept the terms the Germans offered them.
But there is no doubt that the Zionist movement did collaborate, betraying the Jewish masses of Europe l
Mike Macnair: there is a link between intersectionality and the false anti-Semitism campaign
The headline of my article in last week’s Weekly Worker - ‘Compulsory lies’ - seems to sum up the nature of the Labour Party’s decision on the Ken Livingstone case. What Livingstone was charged with is violating rule 2.1.8, which begins: “No member of the party shall engage in conduct which in the opinion of the NEC is prejudicial, or in any act which in the opinion of the NEC is grossly detrimental to the party.”
On the face of it, this rule just says that the national executive can throw anybody out for any reason - it is merely the “opinion of the NEC” which determines what is “prejudicial” or “detrimental”. But in reality the rule is a little bit narrower. Firstly, whether you violated the rule is referred to the national constitutional committee, which is the body that has suspended Ken Livingstone. Secondly, there is a whole section which indicates that the rule is mainly supposed to be about membership of proscribed organisations like the Communist Party or Militant. Thirdly, there is this: “The national constitutional committee shall not have regard to the mere holding or expression of beliefs or opinions.”
What is Livingstone charged with? How has he violated this section? First, he defended Naz Shah and downplayed the allegedly anti-Semitic character of her social media posts, which is “likely to prejudice the party by causing dismay among the Jewish community and indeed many supporters and members more generally”. Second, he asserted in media interviews that Hitler at the outset of his regime supported Zionism, which means to say that the Nazi regime advocated the removal of German Jews to Palestine at that stage rather than extermination. Third, Livingstone has refused to apologise for saying this. This is “likely to deeply offend the Jewish community”. General secretary Iain McNicol is perfectly explicit in his letter to Livingstone - referring in a footnote to a Zionist polemic about the relationship between Zionist organisations and the German state in the 1930s - that it makes no difference to the charges if every word that Ken Livingstone said was true. The letter argues that even so he would still have violated Labour Party rules.
What Livingstone said was not precisely accurate. This is because we do not know what was in Hitler’s head at that time and because some of the dates quoted are wrong. However, if this came before a court on a libel claim, the question of whether the statement was justified is decided not by whether it is exactly true, but whether it is substantially true - and there is no doubt that it is. But this is irrelevant, as McNicol says it does not matter if it is true. He claims that even if it is wholly true, Livingstone is obliged not to say things that are offensive to the ‘Jewish community’.
I have a work colleague who is an active left Zionist, and he said to me: “You can’t possibly defend Ken Livingstone. What would your attitude be to somebody who, in order to slander the Palestinian movement, drew attention to the relationship between the grand mufti in Jerusalem and the German state in the 1930 and 1940s?” This was presumably expected to be a difficult point for me to answer, but it was not at all. My answer was that I would unhesitatingly defend that person’s right to speak and I would defend their right to be in the Labour Party.
The NCC came to the decision that Ken Livingstone, having violated this rule, must remain suspended. Immediately there was a wave of synthetic outrage demanding his expulsion. If he were to be expelled, he has said he would litigate. If they were to expel him on the grounds that he made statements (and they say it does not matter if these statements were wholly true or false) and for not apologising for these statements (which could be completely true, and when the rules say the NCC shall not have regard to the mere holding of beliefs or expressions), they would nevertheless probably win in court.
However, the basis on which they would win would be quite difficult: They would win because this witch-hunt is quite plainly a matter of the foreign policy of the present government - the judiciary usually finds a way of deciding cases involving foreign policy, which quite plainly ought to be decided the other way, so as to avoid embarrassing HM government. The court could, for example, find a way of avoiding such embarrassment by saying that it is up to the party to decide whether its rules have been broken; that the court will ‘defer’ to the party disciplinary tribunal on that issue; and so on.
However, as soon as Livingstone’s side is able to put forward its case in open court, it will become incredibly difficult for the wave of synthetic outrage to run on in the way it is now. So suspending Livingstone is the best bet from the point of view of the right wing - both because it avoids allowing for open contestation of the anti-democratic basis on which this decision has been taken; and because it allows the wave of outrage about not expelling Livingstone to continue.
The astonishing feature of this stuff is that the justification being offered by the right is essentially ‘safe spaces’ politics. As Tony Greenstein has said, it is essentially making anti-racism a means of defending US foreign policy in the Middle East. It is astonishing that this is being run in the mainstream media on such a scale, at the same time as a campaign is being conducted by this self-same media against ‘political correctness’ on university campuses and in favour of free speech. They want to no-platform Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone, whilst simultaneously campaigning against the no-platforming of rightwing speakers on campus. It becomes more or less completely transparent that the phrase ‘freedom of speech’ means ‘freedom of speech for my proprietor and our political allies, but not for you lot who disagree with us’.
And this hypocrisy comes with the imposition of a positive duty to lie. This is what is being demanded of Livingstone: he must retract his broadly true statements. It is a positive duty to lie on the basis that not doing so is offensive to the self-appointed representatives of the Jewish community.
At the same time amongst much of the left there has been an extraordinary capitulation to this. Firstly, the wave of indignation produced the result that by 2pm on the day the result came out Jeremy Corbyn was saying that, as Livingstone has still failed to back down, there were grounds for a new investigation. There were similar weasel words from Diane Abbott.
But that capitulation goes further to the left. The Morning Star published a leader saying that, while Livingstone should be defended, he had said some bad things. Before we can defend him we have to make concessions about the way he acted ‘irresponsibly’ in saying what he did. In Socialist Worker Charlie Kimber has made very similar statements. Of course, we have no reason not to expect such capitulation from the Alliance for Foreign Office Liberty (usually referred to as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty). It has not produced a new article because its paper, (Western) Solidarity, did not come out this week. But its website leads with a Sean Matgamna article on Livingstone from May 2016, which alleges thatLivingstone’s “rewriting of history has had the effect of supporting - and encouraging - anti-Semitism”. There is the same issue with Owen Jones.
This is going on because of a common misconception among the British Labour left and far left. That is the idea that you can dodge out from under the fact that the capitalist class controls the news agenda and sneak into power by persuading people that you do not have anything serious to say - conveying the impression that we don’t really want to overthrow British imperialism, we don’t really want to overthrow the monarchy, etc. The left wants to give the impression that really we just care about economic issues: we oppose austerity, we support a ‘reasonable’ Keynesian economic policy. What then happens is that the right and its corrupt media uses issues of imperialism, race, gender and internationalism against the left. The mainstream left imagines that you can evade these attacks either by keeping quiet or by capitulating.
The Corbyn-McDonnell-Abbott leadership has opted for the latter and that is why Livingstone has been thrown to the wolves. Of course, it does not work - the wolves are not going to be fobbed of with skinny old Ken being thrown off the back of the troika: they can see there are fatter targets up ahead to be chased. Suppose there were a Labour government - there would be an offensive around migration in the media just for starters.
This affair is a particularly serious example of the failure to deal with the power of the media, but on one level it is actually normal practice on the left. It is true of the Socialist Workers Party and Socialist Party in England and Wales as well. But, rather than hiding their views to win an election (like the Labour left), these groups want to con people into organising a general strike that will in turn lead to creating soviets and launching a revolution, without ever confronting the question of the constitutional and international order of which the British state is part. According to this view people will become revolutionary in spite of themselves.
To leap for a moment to this year’s centenary story. In February 1917 the revolution was started when women went on strike on International Women’s Day - an initiative of the Second, Socialist International. International Women’s Day has now become something that is part of the general discourse of non-denominational feminism, and of the great and the good. But in 1917 the Second International was widely regarded as an extremist, revolutionary group, and International Women’s Day as an initiative of such a group. Hence, in February 1917 going on strike on International Women’s Day with demands for peace reflected the high level of political consciousness existing before the revolution. This did not arise out of being on strike, or being conned into striking on economic issues and then becoming more radicalised.
Economism - this idea that we can dodge the more controversial aspects of politics and manipulate the capitalist media to build a mass movement or let us into power - has the consequence of capitulation when things get sharp. The AWL underwent this capitulation in the 1980s, when it reshaped the whole of its political conceptions so as to abandon opposition to the role of British imperialism. Similarly the left generally attempts to distance itself from Livingstone in order to appear to concede that there is something ‘reasonable’ in this witch-hunt campaign.
My next point is much more speculative. Why this witch-hunt around this issue now? The media have all sorts of possible political targets for such campaigns, but this is the one that has been selected to be repeated again and again. It is certainly true that there is plenty out there on the web which could be used against Corbyn in the way that this stuff has been used to attack Ken Livingstone. But they have not gone after Corbyn immediately for the same reason that they have suspended Livingstone rather than expelling him. This is an agenda that allows them to keep the Labour leadership constantly on the defensive, without ever having to actually defend their factual claims.
It may well be, as Moshé Machover has argued - and as was indicated at the start of the Trump administration (although he may now be pulling back on it) - that the US is going to authorise another substantial expansion of Israel. The annexation of the West Bank and Jerusalem looks like it is on the fairly immediate agenda. Certainly an attack on Iran by Israel, backed by the United States, or a direct attack on Iran by the United States is on the agenda. Further operations in Syria are also on the cards and those operations could perfectly well involve additional territory being taken in Syria and south Lebanon by Israel. That is the context in which making it illegitimate in Britain to defend criticisms of the Israeli state (which were in fact common ground across the main parties until the Blair administration) would be on the agenda. That is a serious concern.
In addition, those involved in the witch-hunt on the Labour right mostly voted for war in 2003. They are Blairites. Indeed the Trump administration, now Mike Flynn has been sacked and Steve Bannon has been sidelined, looks more like the administration of George W Bush. The imperialist bourgeoisie lost a lot of political ground in 2003-07. It suffered this particularly in Britain, because there was a mass movement around the Iraq war, and the war then created huge disorder in Iraq, saw massive numbers of dead and did not achieve any of its stated aims.
The ‘anti-Semitism’ witch-hunt is a means of seeking to recover that political ground for imperialist warmongering in the Middle East. The means used for this has been the promotion of ‘safe spaces’, identity politics and intersectionality in general. The idea that the oppressed have the right to define their own oppression - that what the oppressed say amounts to their oppression is the decisive question - was developed primarily in the context of debates around gender, sexuality and race. It provided the opportunity for intersectionalism to be used in defence of Zionism, by defining anti-Semitism as anti-Zionism, on the basis that Jews are an oppressed group and therefore should have the determinative voice in defining what counts as oppression. The idea that offensive speech and language constitutes oppression is part of what creates the context in which the left and the anti-war movement is disarmed. That disarmament is visible in precisely Iain McNicol’s justification for disciplinary measures against Ken Livingstone.
The underlying agenda is about US foreign policy in the Middle East and about the place of Britain within that policy. It is about reversing the influence of the mass anti-war movement, whose ideas remained influential, although the active movement itself withered away, and were reflected in the fact that Corbyn won the leadership of the Labour Party.
The working-out of this agenda underlines the weakness of the left - because of its economistic ideas, its dodging of controversy and its capitulations l