The business of 'antisemitism within the Labour Party' is basically nonsense. The affair is clearly constructed to undermine Jeremy Corbyn by his opponents both inside and outside the party and fed off by an uncritical press. There's just no evidence for the accusation of real antisemitism being a significant trend in the Labour Party (unlike various types of racism being significant trends in several other major parties).
The worrying thing to me is that the very terrm is losing its meaning. People are forgetting what real antisemitism is. There appears to be an attempt by some to define critical comment on Israel as 'antisemitic'. This is an affront to freedom of speech and is illiberal.
Indeed, it should be possible to argue even against the existence of the state of Israel in its current form – that is, in favour of a completely different political settlement for all the peoples in that region of the Middle East – and not be accused of antisemitism. (I am not going to do that here, but it should be possible, according to the supposed maxim of Voltaire I disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.) The states of the world are artificial creations and we must be able, in free and liberal debate to question, not merely the actions and policies, but the existence of any of them, or to argue that the world would be better not organised into independent states at all, but in some other way. After all, the way states cut across ethnic and religious divides is a problem all over the world, not just in the Middle East. It's wrong to try to shut down such debate with accusations of various kinds of racism. Racism, hatred and prejudice based on race, of which antisemitism is a special case, is nothing to do with this, indeed it lies at an opposite, irrational, pole of discourse.
Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone is not a racist in any way and I don't believe he is an antisemite. He does very make ill-judged comments. As has been pointed out in a perceptive piece by Adam Ramsay, though it is true that Hitler did at some stages of his career propose transporting Jews to Israel, to mention this is the flippant way he did, just before mentioning 'Zionism', risks, without much more detailed clarification, recalling a truly antisemitic conspiracy narrative of 'Zionists being being in league with Hitler'. I doubt Livingstone was aware of this, but he should have been aware of the fact that, as Ramsay writes,
The speed with which conversations about anything relating to Jewishness in politics return to something relating to the man who murdered the parents or grandparents of many of the Jewish people around today must be deeply hurtful for huge numbers. It's generally not appropriate to turn such conversations to Hitler and Nazis without a very compelling reason.Saying in his next sentence Hitler had 'gone mad' in order to kill six million Jews (and many others) compounded the problem because 'madness', or insanity, is an argument used to try to reduce culpability for those accuse of murder and other heinous crimes: it is a legal defence that barristers try to use to diminish punishment for those accused. Nobody argues that Hitler was 'mad' in that sense, and I don't think Livingstone meant that, he was talking casually. But his words could be misinterpreted as an attempt to 'clean up' Hitler, which is actually the last thing I believe he was trying to do.
Livingstone's later attempted clarification of his remarks tended to make matters worse. Speaking on BBC Two he said:
A real antisemite doesn’t just hate the Jews in Israel, they hate their Jewish neighbours in Golders Green or Stoke Newington, it’s a physical loathing.Clearly if you 'hate the Jews in Israel' you are an anti-semite, full stop. And racism may not be a 'physical loathing'. It may be just a vague background framework of attitudes. But to build a case on the basis of these remarks for Livingstone himself being 'antisemitic' is loading far too much meaning on to flip comments and slips like the preposition in that sentence 'just'. I predict that Labour's investigation into him will end up exonerating him of the charge of antisemitism, cautioning him to speak more carefully in future, and re-instating him to party membership.
There are bad eggs in every basket, but the Labour Party has actuially been fantastically hot at investigating all claimed cases of racism, including antisemitism, in its ranks, unlike other parties. This is in its tradition and nature. But we see, simultaneously, Conservative candidate for London mayor Zac Goldsmith running a thinly-veiled anti-Islamic campaign against the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan (A campaign which, I predict also, will do him very little good in this cosmopolitan city.)
Livingstone has often made silly and insensitive comments on various topics. They should be ignored and people should move on. This is not antisemitism. It's a storm in an anti-Corben and Conservative teacup.
I hope to return to London cycling matters shortly. In the meantime, I agree wholeheartedly with the voting recommendations (and rationale) of Londoners on Bikes.