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Now is the time to help Ken Livingstone before its too late

Written by Ken Livingstone

This week the Labour Party is considering whether to expel me or not, having suspended my membership eleven months ago. I first joined Labour in March 1969 – I have served it as a member, councillor, GLC member, MP, Mayor of London and NEC member. 

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In that time, I have been proud of my record as an anti-racist and leading campaigner against the far-right and their hate.

Racism is a uniquely reactionary ideology, used to justify the greatest crimes in history. I believe that an ideology that starts by declaring one human being inferior to another is the slope whose end is at Auschwitz. I totally reject such views of Jews, Muslims, black people or any other group. I believe that the Holocaust was the greatest racist crime of the 20th Century 

As part of my life struggling against racism, I have always implacably opposed anti-Semitism.

The contribution of Jewish people to human civilisation and culture is unexcelled and extraordinary. You only have to think of giants such as Einstein, Freud and Marx to realise that human civilisation would be unrecognisably diminished without the achievements of the Jewish people. 

And I have taken real action to tackle anti-Semitism when in office.

As Leader of the Greater London Council in the 1980s and as London Mayor in the 2000s, I ensured that London's government resourced the fight against racism and anti-Semitism, as well as supporting Jewish community organisations and cultural events.

When I was Leader of the Greater London Council (GLC), it funded a number of Jewish community organisations, including the Jewish Social Responsibility Council, the Jewish Association for the Physically Handicapped, the Jewish Employment Action Group, the Redbridge Jewish Youth Association and Agudas Israel in Hackney.

As London Mayor, I hosted, took part in and promoted events to mark the annual Holocaust Memorial Day. I hosted the Anne Frank exhibition at City Hall and also lighting of the Menorah ceremonies for the Hanukkah festival. I organised, in partnership with Jewish cultural organisations, a Jewish festival in Trafalgar Square – the Simcha on the Square. I also supported the Jewish Museum’s exhibition on multicultural Britain and published several guides to Jewish London.

This was part of a wider strategy of, in order to promote understanding, respect and interaction between these diverse cultures and communities, we promoting public, free, celebrations and commemorations of all the main faith and secular cultural festivals and anniversaries observed by London’s communities.

The purpose of such events is twofold. On the one hand to celebrate the cultural and social contribution of London’s diverse communities and on the other to encourage interfaith and inter-community awareness to reduce prejudice born of ignorance and promote understanding.

At this week's hearing, I am not actually accused of the vile ideology of anti-Semitism, but that prejudice is what my opponents imply. 

As Mr Justice Andrew Collins, in his 2006 High Court Of Justice judgement of the case between myself and The Adjudication Panel for England, stated: “It could not sensibly be suggested that he [Ken Livingstone] is or ever has been anti-Semitic. He has not approved of some of the activities of the State of Israel and has made his views about that clear. But that has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.”

The truth is that my opponents are smearing me because I stand up for the Palestinians and support Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of my Party.

Prior to the May 2016 elections, there were a number of damaging allegations made against the Labour Party and its leader. The Party was falsely accused of not tackling a serious problem of anti-Semitism. 

As part of the interviews I did in this period, I have been falsely accused of claiming that Hitler was a Zionist - something I have never said as it is evidently a ridiculous idea.

What my detractors and I really differ on, is not anti-Semitism which I totally condemn, but the policies of successive Israeli governments. Several thousand Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed by Israel's military assaults on Gaza in 2008-9 and 2014, in attacks widely regarded as criminal. The brutality of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory continues to this day.

Making forceful criticisms of the policies of Israel is not at all the same thing as anti-Semitism.

Israel's violent and expanding occupation has caused it to lose significant international support. So it wants supporters of the Palestinians to be silenced.

The Tories have come to Israel's assistance and arranged for the British government to adopt an official 'definition' of anti-Semitism, the purpose of which is to restrict free speech on issues of Palestine and Israel. Particular ways of criticising Israel and Zionism will be deemed under this definition as anti-Semitic, even if there is no hostility whatsoever expressed towards Jews nor any hostile intention to Jews. 

I have been charged with breaking the rules of the Labour Party because I stand up and defend supporters of Palestinian human rights when they are smeared by their opponents.

Supporters of Israel's policies, in particular, are calling on the Labour Party to expel me. They want to silence my, and others', criticisms of the Israeli government's violence against the Palestinians.

Supporters of human rights, including the Labour Party, ought to oppose such restrictions on freedom of expression. Huge struggles have taken place to win such freedom, so they should not just be given up, particularly when the purpose is to acquiesce to Israel's predations.

The Labour Party needs to clearly distinguish between prejudice against Jews, which is totally unacceptable, and criticisms of Israeli aggression, on which freedom of expression should be respected. 

For any definition of anti-Semitism to be useful, it should at a minimum help Jewish people combat hostility to Jews. Professor David Feldman, the Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism, who was a Vice Chair of Labour's Chakrabarti Inquiry, has expressed scepticism that the Tories' definition will help Jewish people. Hopefully, the Labour Party will take on board his views.

The Tories, and other opponents of the Labour Party and its Leader Jeremy Corbyn, falsely depict supporters of Palestinian rights as being anti-Semitic. I oppose these malicious attempts to discredit genuine opponents of anti-Semitism. It damages the Labour Party when serious false allegations against it are not rebutted.

In five weeks time, there are important local elections in England, Scotland and Wales. The Labour Party's apparatus should be entirely focussed on winning seats on local councils. Instead the right-wing wants to generate headlines about anti-Semitism again this year.

If this week's hearing of Labour's National Constitutional Committee is fair-minded, and not rigged, it will simply dismiss the charge against me. A witch hunt of supporters of Palestine is a damaging diversion, which sabotages Labour building up its electoral support.

The Party needs to face outwards and promote its policy agenda that will make people better off. That, not expelling party members, is how to win the election of a Labour government.

Defending Ken Livingstone at the hearing this Thursday and Friday will be the barrister Michael Mansfield QC. Mr Mansfield is President of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and is well known for representing a series of the high-profile miscarriage of justice cases. Ken Livingstone’s solicitor is Imran Khan, well known for representing the family of Stephen Lawrence, and five Jewish members of the Labour Party are appearing before the Labour Party NCC hearing, to defend Ken Livingstone.

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