“A real antisemite doesn’t just hate the Jews in Israel”: Ken Livingstone’s extraordinary definition of antisemitism

The former Labour London mayor made some telling comments on the BBC’s Daily Politics.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Ken Livingstone has been doing the media rounds today following the suspension of Labour MP Naz Shah over accusations of antisemitism. With predictably devastating results.

Sadiq Khan and multiple other Labour MPs are calling for his suspension after he argued that Hitler was a Zionist, and the Labour MP John Mann was caught on camera angrily confronting him as a “Nazi apologist” between his media slots.

Nevertheless, Livingstone sat cosily on the BBC’s Daily Politics sofa for an interview about antisemitism in the Labour party. He made a number of incendiary comments, doubling down on his comments about Nazi Germany (“The simple truth is that was Hitler's policy when he came to power . . . His foreign policy was initially to send all the German Jews to Israel”), and his insistence that Shah’s offending Facebook posts are not antisemitic (calling them “over the top and rude”).

But his definition of antisemitism was the most telling remark:

“Blurring these two things [criticising Israel and being antisemitic] undermines the real importance of antisemitism, because a real antisemite doesn't just hate the Jews in Israel, they hate their Jewish neighbour in Golders Green or in Stoke Newington. It's a physical loathing.”

It is the use of the word “just” – as if hating Israeli Jews is excusable, or at least unimportant – that has outraged viewers. As some Labour activists have pointed out, when they protest against the Israeli government, it is about the treatment of Palestinians – not about attacking the Jews in Israel.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.