Those who care about the Palestinians have to be careful how they attack Israel
Let me say at the start that I deplore the government of Benjamin Netanyahu which I believe uses overwhelming military power to make life misery for people in neighbouring territories. When the occupied people react violently to the oppression the response ordered by Netanyahu is, I’d argue, routinely disproportionate.
My rather strangulated prose is to illustrate a point. If you believe in justice for the Palestinians be careful about how you attack Israel. There are six million obvious reasons for being sensitive. Although the idea of a Jewish homeland predates the Holocaust the two are now inextricably linked.
Students of dodgy history will relish the similarity between Ken Livingstone’s claims about Hitler and Zionism and those of Netanyahu who told World Zionist Congress that “Hitler only wanted to expel the Jews, but Jerusalem’s Grand Mufti convinced him to exterminate them”. The liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz says that claim “was rejected by most accepted Holocaust scholars.” It has been widely derided on social media, a reminder that Netanyahu doesn’t speak for all Israelis.
When Ken Livingstone was Mayor of London I worked for his brilliant deputy Nicky Gavron. Her German mother was prevented from competing in the 1936 Olympics – because she was a Jew – and fled to Britain. Nicky celebrated the contrast between Berlin Olympics and the 2012 Games in diverse London.
What a pity ex-Mayor Livingstone didn’t talk to his former deputy about the reality of Nazi Germany and about the wisdom of entering into the row about anti-Semitism in the Labour by talking about Hitler and Zionism. But Livingstone doesn’t do wisdom. He is a man-child: 70 going on 17.
His apparent purpose was to defend the Bradford West MP Naz Shah. He ended up knifing her in the back. And he inflicted collateral damage on his friend, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Now, the fear amongst Labour supporters is that this two-time loser in London Mayoral contests will damage the chances of Sadiq Khan on May 5th. The Survation polling reported by in the last post was taken before the row blew up.
I am still optimistic for Khan – who I first proposed should be Labour’s candidate back in 2009. Whereas Livingstone underperformed Labour’s Assembly team by more than 10% in 2012, Khan’s 16 points lead in the Survation poll is on a par with the Labour lead in the Assembly vote. I think a Khan Mayoralty will be a powerful unifying force in the capital and beyond, leading the fight against anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia.
And I think Naz Shah will also have an important role to play in this area when she has served her suspension. What makes her case different from that of Ken Livingstone is the contrition she has shown in her Commons apology and in an article for Jewish News. She details her heartfelt regret and engagement with Jewish organisations in the search for interfaith understanding.
She is a smart, resilient woman, well-liked amongst her PLP colleagues. Her contrition will, I have no doubt, mean her party membership is restored after a suspension that marks the seriousness of her offence.
Ken Livingstone doesn’t do self doubt. He will seek to tough it out and I expect his lack of contrition to lead to expulsion. I will put that down as a Labour Gain.