A toxic climate of fear
Shami Chakrabarti’s call for Ken Livingstone’s expulsion shows where appeasement leads, says Carla Roberts of Labour Party Marxists
You could almost hear the sigh of relief coming from the right wing in the Labour Party on April 27, when, after three days of torturous deliberations, Marc Wadsworth was finally expelled from the Labour Party on the catch-all charge of ‘bringing the party into disrepute’.1 Comrade Wadsworth’s case was perhaps the most difficult for the witch-hunters, with the ‘evidence’ against him so thin that it would be laughed out of any serious court. Not, however, the kangaroo court of the Labour Party - officially called the national constitutional committee (NCC) - where proceedings are devoid of any form of natural justice or due process. It is clearly dominated by the right and misused for political purposes.
This was an important ‘victory’ in the witch-hunters’ campaign. It has cleared the way to go full steam after the other outstanding cases. It is no longer a question of if Ken Livingstone and Jackie Walker get expelled (both have been suspended for close to two years) - but when.
Rightwingers in and outside the Labour Party have been sharpening their knives for those two for some time, of course. In April 2017, for example, when Livingstone’s suspension was extended by another 12 months, almost half of Labour’s Parliamentary Party (plus 40 peers) signed an open letter penned by the pro-Zionist Jewish Labour Movement, which called the decision not to expel him a “betrayal” of “the party’s values”.2 The JLM, of course, is not primarily loyal to the British Labour Party (and whatever ‘values’ it thinks the party espouses) - but to the state of Israel. This has been proven by Al Jazeera’s outstanding documentary The Lobby. Not that much proof was needed: the JLM’s politics make it pretty clear where its political loyalties lie.
This week then, the new leader of the business-friendly and Tory-supporting Jewish Board of Deputies (BoD), Marie van der Zyl, used her first interview to demand the expulsion of both Livingstone and Walker and added: “We are not saying don’t vote Labour, but - as we’ll be seeing from the results, especially in Barnet - the voters have spoken.” She was a bit more frank about her political views before her election when she said that Jeremy Corbyn is “infested by his bigotry”.3
If she needed any further encouragement, she got it from Shami Chakrabarti, who joined the witch-hunt last weekend. Chakrabarti threatened on the BBC’s Sunday Politics that she would quit the Labour front bench if Livingstone did not get expelled:
I don’t believe that Ken Livingstone can any longer be in the Labour Party. We can’t run away from the fact that he has repeated really, really incendiary remarks. To compare somebody who was trying to escape Nazis with Nazis themselves, and to do so again and again and again and again, even when you know that this has caused the deepest hurt and upset and embarrassment to the party, is completely unacceptable in my view … He has brought the party repeatedly into disrepute. He has brought shame upon it and his own legacy.
Chakrabarti’s view is rather important, of course. Not only is she the shadow attorney general: she is a Corbyn ally and, crucially, it was her report that was supposed to put a lid on the fabricated ‘anti-Semitism’ scandal two years ago. Instead, it was branded a “whitewash” by the BoD, with van der Zyl adding: “She has sold out the Jewish community.”
It is easy to see why the BoD objected: many of Chakrabarti’s recommendations, when it comes to disciplinary procedure, are entirely supportable from our point of view and, more than that, would - at least in theory - put a quick end to the more absurd aspects of the witch-hunt against socialists and anti-Zionists in the party. For example, members are still being suspended without any notification of what exactly they are supposed to have done wrong. In the case of Tony Greenstein, for instance, all the evidence eventually produced at his NCC expulsion hearing was based on comments he made after he was suspended.
However, these measures have still not been implemented - more than two years after they were produced. John McDonnell has claimed that this was the fault of former general secretary Iain McNicol.4 Well, John, the witch-hunter general has been gone for a few months now. If anything, the campaign against leftwingers and anti-Zionists has intensified in that time; the atmosphere in the party is becoming ever more toxic and fearful. Many people are wary of writing or saying anything political, out of fear that it could be twisted, taken out of context and made to look like an anti-Semitic comment. It is very easy to do.
One of the latest victims of the smear campaign is Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, who was frontrunner to become Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate in the safe seat of Lewisham. Guido Fawkes sensationalised a Facebook post of hers on the occasion of Holocaust Memorial Day 2017, when she wrote: “Today is the day when we remember all those affected by holocaust, Nazi persecution and subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and Darfur - I’m adding Palestine to the list.”5 What’s the problem? Clearly, Israel is pursuing a policy of ethnic cleansing of all Palestinians, a policy that could be described as a slow genocide.
But this post was enough to send the media pack and pro-Zionist hyenas screaming for her blood. We cannot blame Opoku-Gyimah for quickly withdrawing her candidacy, citing an “unexpected family situation”. It takes a very strong person to withstand the kind of onslaught she could have expected, had she stood firm.
Rather than standing up to this increasingly unhealthy culture, which starts to resemble more and more the practices of a police state, Jeremy Corbyn and his allies are still trying to appease those running the campaign. More than that, they have become implicit.
For example, it is certainly starting to look as if Corbyn and the NEC have made the conscious decision to delay the implementation of the recommendations made by Chakrabarti - at least until the difficult and prominent cases of Livingstone and Walker are out of the way.
Of course, for most of those suspended and expelled, Chakrabarti’s recommendations and suggested rule changes are - even if they are all implemented - not worth the paper they are written on. It all depends on who interprets these rules and to what purpose.
They are only of potential use for those members who can afford to go down the road of a legal challenge - financially and psychologically. Marc Wadsworth, Jackie Walker and Ken Livingstone are all in that camp.
Chakrabarti certainly proves with her intervention in the Livingstone case how ‘flexible’ her own sense of justice is. In her 2016 report, she made a strong case for “due process” and “natural justice” that should be followed in all disciplinary cases. In her interview, she blatantly ignores all that: not only has she already found Ken Livingstone guilty - and that in public: she also has handed the NCC the reason for which he should be expelled and has put enormous pressure on its members, should they not follow her advice, by threatening her own resignation.
Worst perhaps is the fact that she clearly has put words into Livingstone’s mouth. She claims that Livingstone “compared somebody who was trying to escape Nazis with the Nazis themselves”. Did he really?
What he said
It is worthwhile re-examining what Ken Livingstone actually said - and if what he said is wrong. In an interview with BBC radio he said: “Let’s remember, when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism until he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”6
Yes, he got the date wrong: Hitler came to power in 1933. It was also wrong to claim that it was Hitler’s state of mind that was responsible for the (changing) attitude of the Nazis to Jews. But in essence his comments were historically accurate.
Moshé Machover has written a whole article on this question, in which he shows how the Nazi government and the Zionists did indeed adhere to a similar approach in the 1930s: both tried to encourage the emigration of all Jews from Europe to what was then Palestine. As comrade Machover writes,
Official Nazi policy was for the exclusion of the Jews from political and civic life, for separation and for emigration. Quite naturally the Zionist leadership thought this set of policies was similar to those of other anti-Semitic regimes - which it was - and the Zionist approach was not peculiar to the Nazi regime. The founder of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl, had pointed out that anti-Semitic regimes would be allies, because they wanted to get rid of the Jews, while the Zionists wanted to rid them of the Jews. That was the common interest.7
Of course, Nazi policy changed dramatically - but only after Germany’s Operation Barbarossa attack on the Soviet Union in 1941. At the Wannsee conference in January 1942, Reinhard Heydrich informed Nazi tops of how the Führer now intended to implement the Endlösung der Judenfrage (final solution): through the mass extermination of the European Jewry - a policy that was soon put into practice on an industrial scale.
In any case, Livingstone did not equate the Nazis with the Jews, as Chakrabarti (a lawyer!) claims. He said - correctly - that for a while the Nazi regime had the same goal as the Zionists.
Of course, neither Marie van der Zyl, nor the Board of Deputies, nor for that matter Chakrabarti actually care if what Ken Livingstone said was historically or factually wrong, right or just confused. For them, what he said was much worse than that: it was, they claim, morally wrong. It might be factually true, but the truth can no longer be told because it upsets some people.
For the same reason, Momentum’s owner, Jon Lansman, has argued for a ban on the word ‘Zionism’, because “to the Jew in the street it might only mean the Jewish state of Israel, safe and secure, nothing more than that, not a separate ideology.”8 Emily Thornberry supports Ken Livingstone’s expulsion, because his words are “a complete insult”.9 Not a lie. An insult - to Zionists.
People like Livingstone really mess up the party leadership’s ongoing attempts to appease the pro-Zionist right and those who (often cynically) support their witch-hunting campaign. Disgracefully, John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn have refused to defend Livingstone (or any other victims of the witch-hunt), instead calling on him to apologise. But, credit to him, he has refused to do so - he has got nothing to apologise for.
Clearly, this campaign will not end with Livingstone and Walker. It actually has very little to do with what they have or have not said. They are merely collateral damage in the campaign to take down and/or tame Jeremy Corby, and making sure that Britain remains a loyal ally of the US and Israel.
Britain, for example, is expected to take part in the latest campaign for war in the Middle East. If not by dropping bombs, then at least by providing political cover for this necessary war to ‘prevent another holocaust’. A Labour leader and potential prime minister who has been an outspoken supporter of the Palestinians is, in this context, untenable. Labour cannot be allowed to become an anti-war party.
Clearly we cannot rely on Corbyn and Lansman to stand up to the pro-Israeli lobby. Socialists and supporters of the cause of the Palestinians in the Labour Party must now step up their campaign and increase the pressure on the Labour leadership to turn the organisation into a democratic, anti-war party.
3. The Guardian May 14.
8. Today Radio 4, April 3: www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09xcsdb.