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5 April 2017updated 09 Sep 2021 4:34pm

The Jewish Labour Movement will contest Labour’s verdict on Ken Livingstone

Jewish voters want to know why Ken Livingstone is still a party member. 

By Mike Katz

I can remember where I was last year when I first heard that Ken Livingstone had taken to the airwaves to say Hitler supported Zionism.

As a London Assembly candidate, I had just finished a morning’s canvassing in Finchley, one of the most Jewish areas in the capital, if not the country.

And from the next campaigning session to this day, I encountered the same refrain from Jewish voters – often Labour supporters (or until recently, supporters):”Why is Ken still a Labour member? When are you going to chuck him out?”

The view that Jewish people can’t take Labour seriously – whatever fine and welcome words Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn says about zero tolerance on antisemitism – whilst Livingstone stays in the party resonates to this day.

You don’t need to hear the wide range of religious and secular voices cross the Jewish community, and beyond, which condemned Livingstone last April (and continue to do so) to understand that this isn’t about internal Labour warfare as he and his supporters contend. This goes much further.

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You simply have to read the Chakrabarti Report, commissioned by Corbyn, which said that “Labour members should resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors, distortions and comparisons in debates about Israel-Palestine in particular.”

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It is this which forms the crux of Labour’s case against the former mayor – that he’s brought the party into disrepute. Not the easily repudiated narrow academic defence of what he said.

It’s not as if he doesn’t have form here. From calling an Evening Standard reporter a concentration camp guard to opining that Jewish people don’t vote Labour because of their socio-economic status, Livingstone has a history of going out of his way to carefully calibrate his remarks to cause gross offence and hurt to Jews.

And the National Constitutional Committee panel which heard his case agreed. Guilty on all three charges.

So, no wonder the bewilderment and huge disappointment expressed by deputy leader Tom Watson, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and dozens of Labour MPs, at the leniency of the sentence.

If you stand against a Labour candidate in a local election, or sometimes even if you simply support someone doing so, you will face expulsion.

Yet someone with the political reputation and nous of Livingstone is told he can’t stand for election to his local General Committee. Pathetic.

No wonder so many have called this “revolving door” justice – you offend, drag out the process, take a minor punishment and before you know it, it’s as if nothing has changed.

This cannot rest here.

That’s why the Jewish Labour Movement – one of the Party’s oldest affiliates – is calling for the National Executive Committee to review last night’s decision. We will take this all the way to Labour’s annual conference if we have to. Judging by the messages of support that have been pouring out to us from across the spectrum of Labour opinion, we know we’re right to do so. 

And to those Jewish Labour members who this morning has fresh cause to doubt whether they have place in Labour Party, we simply say: stay with us; stand with us; fight with us.

Eighty years on, this lesson of fighting fascists at Cable Street is sadly still needed.

Mike Katz is National Vice-Chair of the Jewish Labour Movement. He tweets @mikekatz.