Ken could be i]Z ÒcVa higVl
IWAS HONOURED to present the award for best supporting actress to the brilliant Noma Dumezweni at the Olivier Awards. It was a wonderful night of creativity. But alongside a large number of my fellow Jewish writers, performers, producers and designers there was really only one topic of conversation — Ken Livingstone’s obsession with 0.2 per cent of the world’s population and Hitler. The former MP for Brent East, former London Mayor and former radio host (note: he has a lot of spare time these days) has used the downtime to warm to his theme.
Israeli politics is a minefield and justifiable criticism is deserved. Every caring person longs for a peaceful solution to the depressingly endless conflict. But Ken goes above and beyond to make a “point”. In the ’80s, as editor of the Labour Herald, he suggested that Zionists prevented the rescue of Europe’s Jewry from annihilation. He allowed a cartoon of Menachim Begin, in full Nazi regalia, to be published. In analysing why there was a supposed drop in Jewish support to the UK Labour Party in the mid ’80s, he said it aligned with Begin’s leadership: “The Jews became reactionaries, turned Right, nearly to be fascists”. That’s Jews, not Israelis.
I, for one, can never forget Kenneth turning on a Jewish Evening Standard reporter and comparing him to a “concentration camp Guard”. And of course there’s the now infamous remark he made concerning Hitler: “He was supporting Zionism… this before he went mad and killed six million of them”. Talk about a reductive statement of the world’s most horrific industrialised genocide.
Of course, he has form on this matter, describing Jews as predominantly rich. (He should meet some of the families I’ve met). He clearly believes that the establishment of the heinous State of Israel was birthed out of the smouldering corpses of the six million of Europe. One way to go for complete delegitimisation and shame for anyone who supports the country’s need to exist.
Presumably, emboldened by his friend Jeremy Corbyn, and the comrades in arms from the Old School Left days, Ken has spent a year loudly stating as “fact” that the Nazis and the Zionists were in collaboration to set up a Jewish state. Anyone who can distort the Ha’avara Agreement of 1933 to signify Nazi support for Jewish self-determination in having a homeland, has a problem with Jews. Ken has played his “Zionist”card and it appeals to both Left (George Galloway) and Right (Nick Griffin).
As my friend David Baddiel pointed out, referencing the twisted interpretation of Ha’avara, “there’s no sympathy, no compassion, no sense of tragedy”. Another article pointed out: “It’s akin to saying the National Front in the ’80s supported the British Afro Caribbean community by offering to pay their fare home”. Put Ha’avara into your search engine and see the fanatical racist antisemitic sites that it links to. To manipulate its existence as empiric evidence of a conspiracy and collaboration is to propagate a racist trope.
Livingstone has repeated his “fact” endlessly even since his second year of suspension from the party. So much so that a website has been set up called Days Since Ken Livingstone Has Mentioned Hitler. You’ve got to laugh.
Ken was my MP for years. I met him on several occasions. I voted for him. He wasn’t the most likeable man on the planet but he did some great things. It is all marred for me now.
My immigrant East End heritage, that of Harold Pinter, Bernard Kops and my mentor Arnold Wesker, was steeped in Labour. Following incident after incident, not just involving Ken, I ask the question on behalf of everyone I know. Why is the Labour Party not challenging this particular strand of racism harder? I myself fully expect a barrage of abuse by writing this piece: it’s happened before by those buoyed up by the Labour’s Party choice not to take real action. I feel politically orphaned, and come this election I’m very torn. Ken may have been the final straw.
He did great things. It’s marred for me now