Steve Bell’s defence of Ken Livingstone – If… only Jeremy Corbyn had the same courage and clarity

Steve Bell’s defence of Ken Livingstone – If… only Jeremy Corbyn had the same courage and clarity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Post-Blog

Corbyn’s retreat
in the face of Zionism’s False Anti-Semitism Allegations symbolised his
appeasement of the Right

It was
inevitable that when Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership of the Labour Party that
he would face intense opposition.  Unlike
the Labour Left, the Right has demonstrated, as Tony Blair has made clear, that
it would prefer a Tory victory than a Labour government led by Corbyn.

The phone
line must have been busy between the American and Israeli Embassies when Corbyn
was elected Labour leader.  British
Intelligence must have worked overtime dreaming up dirty tricks.  The idea that someone who opposed the nuclear
‘deterrent’ and wanted out of NATO could be allowed to lead, unchallenged, the
second major party in the United Kingdom, America’s major ally in Europe, was
unthinkable.
That and
that alone is what lies behind the manufactured anti-Semitism crisis that hit
the Labour Party.  It is to Corbyn’s
shame that not once did he stand up to the bogus anti-Semitism campaign.  There is no excuse.  When he stood for election as leader he
himself was accused of working with holocaust denier Paul Eisen. See the Daily
Mail’s Jeremy
Corbyn’s ‘long-standing links’ with notorious Holocaust denier and his
‘anti-Semitic’ organisation revealed
Anti-Semitism
was seen as the ideal weapon to attack Corbyn because of his previous support
of the Palestinians.  In failing to rebut
charges of consorting with terrorists (Hamas/Hezbollah) by simply saying that
the main terrorists in the region were Israel, not those who fought them, he
laid the ground for further attacks.  If
he had confronted his critics from the start then they would have been rendered
silent.
The
failure to purge Labour’s civil service of the Blairites, in particular Iain
McNicol, the General Secretary who tried to stop Corbyn even standing for re-election,
has been fatally damaging.  When he was
re-elected for the second time, it would have been possible then to say that a
leader cannot have the head of Labour’s staff plotting against him.  Instead he has remained silent while McNicol has
continued with the witch hunt.  Matt
Zarb-Cousin, Corbyn’s former press secretary describes how It
was very difficult to get Southside [Labour Party Headquarters] to work with us
constructively.’ 
After all, they were too
busy leaking stuff to the Tory press! [See Inside Corbyn’s Office, Jacobin]

There was never any substance to the false
anti-Semitism allegations as Asa Winstanley demonstrated in a well-researched
article. How Israel lobby manufactured UK Labour Party’s anti-Semitism crisis 

In Al
Jazeera’s The
Lobby
we saw how
the execrable Chair of Labour Friends of Israel, Joan Ryan, manufactured a
false charge of anti-Semitism against a Labour delegate.  We also saw how an Israeli agent, Shai Masot
had been busy plotting the downfall of the Israeli government’s enemies in British
politics. 
It is
therefore refreshing that Steve Bell, the Guardian’s veteran socialist
cartoonist, has stood up to the racist anti-Semitic baiters of the Zionist
movement and produced a wonderful  If…
series of cartoons about Ken Livingstone.  It is a great pity that Corbyn, instead of
defending Ken’s right to speak the truth, once again appeased his critics and
failed to defend a friend.
Below is
the Guardian interview with him and an introduction.  It is well worth reading.  I suggest it should be compulsory reading for
Jeremy Corbyn.
Strong
feelings, already primed, erupted when Steve Bell used his cartoon strip If… for four days (3-6 April) to
attack Labour’s handling of the veteran party member and former London mayor
Ken Livingstone.
Bell
depicted a kangaroo court trying Livingstone for “mentioning Hitler once too
often”. It passed sentence pre-plea “for an offence that isn’t actually an
offence”, and furiously denounced the term “kangaroo court” as “a blatantly
antisemitic stereotrope”.
Steve Bell – the Guardian’s famous cartoonist at work at Labour Party conference 2016
Readers
reacted to Livingstone’s remarks, Labour’s handling of him, and Bell’s take on
it all. Excerpts will illustrate: “the old left’s tin ear for antisemitism”;
crude use of Jewish pain”; “no other minority has to suffer the calling-out of
racism against it being so easily dismissed by people who are not of that
minority”
; “filth … [Bell] thinks anyone who complains about his Der Stürmer
stereotypes … is talking nonsense
”.
Some were
supportive of Labour or Livingstone or Bell, saw the issue through the prism of
Labour’s leadership strife, and were critical of a Guardian editorial which excoriated both Labour and
Livingstone.
I
compressed the main allegations involving Livingstone/Bell into a series of
potential interpretations of his four strips, viewed as a whole, and put them
all to Bell. I said this was a topic of great sensitivity, involving a vast
weight of historical suffering, and it was best to be clear about intended
meanings. The note ended: “As with all famed cartoonists, you have a big share
of the freedom of the press and you rightly exercise it vigorously, so this
kind of accountability follows.”

I asked
Bell to think about it and respond in writing. Here is the result:
Were you
defending Ken Livingstone against what you regard as an unfair Labour party
process?

I was.
The charge of “bringing the Labour party into disrepute” is a kind of
indeterminate, catch-all offence that is capable of almost infinite interpretation.
It has not been possible to sustain an accusation of antisemitism, since Ken
Livingstone was not guilty of it. He could conceivably be open to the charge of
insensitivity, but this does not warrant expulsion from the party. He had
already been suspended from membership for over a year, which automatically
cost him his place on Labour’s National Executive Committee. He was also
subject to a vitriolic campaign of vilification across all media, beginning
with John Mann’s slanderous description, on air, of him as a “racist” and a
“Nazi apologist”. Mann was initially suspended from the party at the same time
as Livingstone since his actions could just as legitimately be seen as bringing
the Labour party into disrepute as Livingstone’s words, but Mann’s suspension
was soon lifted. This demonstrates a lack of balance.

Were you
defending Ken Livingstone against a charge that he brought the Labour party
into disrepute by saying that Hitler was supporting Zionism before the
Holocaust?

I was. He
was arguing in defence of the Labour MP Naz Shah against charges of
antisemitism that had been brought against her in relation to a joke that she
had retweeted some time before she became an MP. Though his defence proved to
be spectacularly ineffective and Naz Shah has since apologised for her
inappropriate use of the words “the Jews” in a later tweet, I would say that if
Ken Livingstone brought anyone into disrepute it was himself rather than the
Labour party by unwisely introducing Hitler and the Nazis into a discussion of
Zionism and contemporary antisemitism. At the moment the Labour party brings
itself into disrepute very effectively every day in almost every way possible
without Ken Livingstone’s help.

Were you
defending Ken Livingstone against a charge that he was being antisemitic when
he said that Hitler was supporting Zionism before the Holocaust?

I was.
Ken Livingstone was talking about the narrowly defined actions and activities
of parts of the Zionist movement in the 1930s that made the foundation of a
Jewish state in the territory of Palestine its absolute priority. To question
that aim does not constitute antisemitism.

Were you
criticising the view that it is antisemitic to suggest that the suffering of
Jews under the Nazis is somehow less deserving of empathy because a proportion
of the Jews who left Germany under Nazi policies during the 1930s went to
Palestine where Zionists later established the State of Israel?

This
question is difficult to answer, since it confuses two separate issues, so I
will try and untangle it: no one could possibly argue that the suffering of the
Jews under the Nazis is somehow less deserving of empathy. If one did try and
argue that point one would certainly be guilty of antisemitism. I don’t believe
Ken Livingstone has ever attempted to make any such argument, or try and
justify it with such a reason as “because a proportion of the Jews who left
Germany under Nazi policies during the 1930s went to Palestine where Zionists
later established the State of Israel”. I would never have supported him
if he had.

Were you
criticising the view that it is a misreading of history to suggest that Jews
were somehow beneficiaries of, rather than victims of, Nazi government policies
during the 1930s to remove Jews from Germany?
It
certainly would be a misreading of history to suggest that Jews were somehow
beneficiaries of Nazi government policies during the 1930s. The fact of
negotiations between some Zionists and the Nazi government at the time is a
separate issue. Attempting to suppress or deflect discussion of that issue with
specious charges of antisemitism does not serve the cause of historical
accuracy.

Were you
taking issue with the term “antisemitic trope”?

I was. As
you know I have
a bit of history with your predecessor who upheld
a charge against me of using “antisemitic tropes”. I don’t wish to go over the
whole thing except to reassert that a trope needs to be antisemitic to be an
“antisemitic trope”, and that my depiction of Netanyahu with a glove puppet of
William Hague on one hand and Tony Blair on the other did not qualify. In the
cartoon strip the use of the term “kangaroo court” is plainly not an
“antisemitic trope” (or “stereotrope” as I brutally caricature the term). I
believe that the charge of antisemitism is, and should be, a very serious one.
Accusing someone of using “antisemitic tropes” is a kind of half-baked way of
calling them an antisemite. It devalues and debases the term.

Were you
being consciously antisemitic, that is, expressing hostility and prejudice
towards Jews?

No, I am
neither a conscious nor an unconscious antisemite. I am hostile to the idea of
an entire population being held captive for 50 years in a stateless limbo. I
have great sympathy for any people, no matter what their colour or creed, who
are forced to live in such circumstances. The problem with all arguments around
the question of Zionism is that, in current circumstances in the Middle East,
it has less to do with race or religion and much more to do with land. It would
be foolish to elevate or dignify one side’s claim, or indeed one side’s hatred,
over another’s.
Since the
charge of antisemitism is such a grave one, inappropriate use of the term is
too often used to stifle debate around, for example, the BDS (Boycott,
Divestment and Sanctions) movement, one of the few non-violent ways open to
inhabitants of the occupied territories and their supporters to challenge the
oppressive actions of successive Israeli governments. In the long run this
cannot help the cause of peace.
        

 

 

 

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