Anti-Semitism Allegations and the Sound of Silence

“Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone has been suspended from the UK’s Labour Party for ‘bringing the party into disrepute’ after making comments deemed by observers to be anti-Semitic. Livingstone has denied that he or his comments were anti-Semitic, alleging instead that there is a concerted smear campaign against a number of public figures who oppose and/or criticise the policies and actions of the Israeli government, commonly with regard to its treatment of the inhabitants of Gaza.

Livingstone, in a series of interviews given last week, made his views clear [Emphasis mine]:

She’s [Naz Shah] a deep critic of Israel and its policies. Her remarks were over-the-top but she’s not antisemitic. I’ve been in the Labour party for 47 years; I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic. I’ve heard a lot of criticism of the state of Israel and its abuse of Palestinians but I’ve never heard anyone say anything antisemitic.

It’s completely over the top but it’s not antisemitism. Let’s remember when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.

The simple fact in all of this is that Naz made these comments at a time when there was another brutal Israeli attack on the Palestinians; and there’s one stark fact that virtually no one in the British media ever reports, in almost all these conflicts the death toll is usually between 60 and 100 Palestinians killed for every Israeli. Now, any other country doing that would be accused of war crimes but it’s like we have a double standard about the policies of the Israeli government.
After Jeremy became leader I was having a chat with Michael and he said he was very worried because one of his friends who was Jewish had come to him and said ‘the election of Jeremy Corbyn is exactly the same as the first step to the rise of Adolf Hitler to power’. Frankly, there’s been an attempt to smear Jeremy Corbyn and his associates as antisemitic from the moment he became leader. The simple fact is we have the right to criticise what is one of the most brutal regimes going in the way it treats the Palestinians.

You’ve managed to dig out virtually every antisemitic comment that Labour members have made out of half a million people. I’ve never met any of these people. There’s not a problem. You’re talking about a handful of people in a party of half a million people. Jeremy Corbyn has moved rapidly to deal with them.

I’d simply say to John Mann go back and check. Is what I say true, or is it not? The BBC, you’ve got a huge team of researchers, it will take just an hour or two to go back and confirm. I was asked a question, I answered it. I have never in 45 years since I won my first election, I have never lied. I have always answered the question.

He was a monster from start to finish but it’s simply the historical fact. His policy was originally to send all of Germany’s Jews to Israel and there were private meetings between the Zionist movement and Hitler’s government which were kept confidential, they only became apparent after the war, when they were having a dialogue to do this.

What John Mann just said isn’t true – I’ve not said that Hitler was a Zionist, what I said was his policy in ‘32 was to deport Germany’s Jews to Israel. I condemn that. I never said it, what I said was that was his policy.

It is clear from his own words that Livingstone is not anti-Semitic; that instead it is his belief that any attempt by high-profile figures to criticise Israeli policy is systematically smeared by a highly organized, rapid-response network, a network whose existence and misleading/dishonest methodology is beyond doubt, as demonstrated in a detailed, forensicanalysis by Asa Winstanley:

[] An investigation by The Electronic Intifada has found that some of the most prominent stories about anti-Semitism in the party are falsified. The Electronic Intifada can reveal that a key player in Labour’s “anti-Semitism crisis” covered up his involvement in the Israel lobby. Most Labour members so accused are in reality being attacked for expressing opinions in favor of Palestinian human rights and particularly for supporting the boycott of Israel. Labour activists, many of them Jews, have told The Electronic Intifada that false accusations of anti-Semitism are being used as a weapon against Corbyn by the party’s right-wing. Corbyn has been active in the Palestine solidarity movement for more than three decades. In an interview with The Electronic Intifada last year, he endorsed key elements of the Palestinian call for a boycott of Israel. For example, he urged an end to weapons trading with Israel.

Charley Allan, a Jewish member of the party, and a Morning Star columnist, has described the current atmosphere in the press and Labour Party as a “witch hunt.” It has reached such an absurd volume that any usage of the word “Zionist” is deemed to be anti-Semitic – although tellingly not when used by self-described Zionists. Where real instances of anti-Jewish bigotry have come to light, the leadership and party machine have taken robust action.

One of many examples provided:

An “anti-Semitism scandal” erupted in the Oxford University Labour Club – an association of student supporters of the party. In a public Facebook posting Alex Chalmers, the co-chair of the club, resigned his position over what he claimed was anti-Semitic behavior in “a large proportion” of the student Labour club “and the student left in Oxford more generally.” But as evidence he cited the club’s decision, in a majority vote, to endorse Oxford’s Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual awareness-raising exercise by student groups which support Palestinian rights. This connection was clearly designed to smear Palestine solidarity activists as anti-Semites – a standard tactic of the Israel lobby. In fact, the similarity was no coincidence. The Electronic Intifada can reveal for the first time evidence that Chalmers himself has been part of the UK’s Israel lobby. Chalmers has worked for BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. Funded by the billionaire Poju Zabludowicz, BICOM is a leading pro-Israel group in London.

[Note: See original article for sources and further details of this and several other cases]

As for the historical case cited by Livingstone, Robert Mackey at the Intercept explains:

So what was Livingstone talking about? He appears to have been using “Hitler” as shorthand for the Nazi government and referring to a real instance of cooperation between Germany and the Zionist movement that began in 1933 — an episode Livingstone discussed at length in his 2011 memoir, “You Can’t Say That.” Just months after Hitler came to power, in 1933, the Zionist-led Jewish Agency in British-administered Palestine did strike an agreement with the Nazis to facilitate the emigration of about 20,000 German Jews to Palestine over the next decade. As the Israeli historian Tom Segev described it in his book, “The Seventh Million[]”[:]

The haavara (“transfer”) agreement — the Hebrew term was used in the Nazi documents as well — was based on the complementary interests of the German government and the the Zionist movement: the Nazis wanted the Jews out of Germany; the Zionists wanted them to come to Palestine.

Segev notes that the agreement, which remained in force until the middle of World War II, was a point of contention between the Zionist leadership in Tel Aviv and Jewish leaders in the United States, who still hoped in 1933 that an international economic and diplomatic boycott of Germany could “force the Nazis to halt their persecution, so that Jews could continue to live in Germany.”

Livingstone may well have made the error of oversimplification, but for any impartial observer it is obvious he is simply referring to the Haavara agreement – the existence of which is historical fact. It is a common pitfall for anyone who speaks with unprepared comments to say something that will ruffle feathers and be misinterpreted. It is also fertile ground for cynical propagandists – their dishonest methods long established and proven – to exploit for their own agendas:

But when he was asked why Shah’s use of the meme about Hitler was not anti-Semitic, Livingstone veered off-topic, into an over-simplified and misleading account of German history that enraged many of his own colleagues. “Let’s remember, when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel — he was supporting Zionism,” Livingstone claimed. “This was before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.”

Within minutes, as Livingstone’s comments were reported in shorthand as “Hitler was a Zionist,” senior members of his party, including Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate in next week’s London mayoral election, called for him to be expelled for what sounded like an absurd attempt to smear Israel by numbering history’s most infamous anti-Semite among the ranks of its supporters.

All this despite Livingstone explicitly stating [full quote above] that “I’ve not said that Hitler was a Zionist”.

It is long-established practice in the field of propaganda to lift words out of context to smear opponents, as has been done to Livingstone here, or to falsely assign a rare instance of bad behaviour to a broad group that are guilty only by association. This case is no different. Vladimir Putin was recently smeared in this way as a tax cheat because a childhood friend was mentioned in the [now mysteriously absent] Panama Papers, despite the fact that his name appeared nowhere in the documents. Allies of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour Party are victims of a similarly clumsy campaign.

The key to deciphering whether mass condemnation in the media is bogus or not lies in the kind of truth-seeking journalism that (often unpaid) writers and bloggers produce. The highest quality independent sites and writers put the corporate media to shame, writing detailed analyses that contain numerous links for readers to follow for verification of claims.

However, the first signs of a dishonest or cynical campaign can be found in the calibre of its chief proponents. Iraq War supporter and apologist, Oliver Kamm, who writes for The Timesas a columnist and once wrote ‘George W Bush made the world a safer place’ has enthusiastically jumped on the Livingstone smear bandwagon. [Kamm’s ‘credibility’ is summed up in conclusive fashion by Edward S. Herman and David Peterson here.] FellowTimes columnist David Aaronovitch, who also supported the Iraq debacle, has enthusiastically joined the fray. James Kirkup – The Telegraph’s Executive Editor (Politics) –described Livingstone as a ‘cockroach’, seemingly content in a senior position at a national newspaper of record to use the dehumanizing language of genocide to describe a person he disagrees with.

A whole coterie of corporate media writers along with public officials have lined up to pile on the condemnation. More than anything, the episode has been an instructive illustration of Glenn Greenwald’s famous description of UK media journalists: “I’ve never encountered any group more driven by group-think and rank-closing cohesion than British journalists.”

The real disgrace here is not Livingstone at all but the absolute silence of these same critics when Israel is accused of actual war crimes by credible human rights groups like Amnesty International while the US supplies it with arms:

The USA is by far the largest exporter of military equipment to Israel. According to data made public by the US government, its arms transfers to Israel from January to May 2014 included nearly $27million for “rocket launchers”, $9.3 million worth in “parts of guided missiles” and nearly $762,000 for “bombs, grenades and munitions of war”.

Since 2012, the USA has exported $276 million worth of basic weapons and munitions to Israel, a figure that excludes exports of military transport equipment and high technologies.

The news on 30 July that the USA had allowed the resupply of munitions to Israel came the same day the US government condemned the shelling of a UN school in Gaza which killed at least 20 people, including children and UN humanitarian workers.

“It is deeply cynical for the White House to condemn the deaths and injuries of Palestinians, including children, and humanitarian workers, when it knows full well that the Israeli military responsible for such attacks are armed to the teeth with weapons and equipment bankrolled by US taxpayers,” said Brian Wood.

The UK also plays its part:

The Government has been accused of failing to regulate arms sales to Israel following evidence that weapons containing British-made components are being used in the bombardment of Gaza.

Documents shown to The Independent reveal that arms export licences worth £42m have been granted to 130 British defence manufacturers since 2010 to sell military equipment to Israel. These range from weapons control and targeting systems to ammunition, drones and armoured vehicles.

Among the manufacturers given permission to make sales were two UK companies supplying components for the Hermes drone, described by the Israeli air force as the “backbone” of its targeting and reconnaissance missions. One of the two companies also supplies components for Israel’s main battle tank.

Israel is one of the biggest customers for British exports of so-called “dual-use” equipment capable of both civilian and military deployment in a trade worth more than £7bn last year.

But documents obtained by the Campaign Against Arms Trade (CAAT) under the Freedom of Information Act reveal for the first time the full extent of sales of military-only equipment, along with the names of the companies granted export licences by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Of the £42m of so-called “military list” exports approved since 2010, some £10m has been licensed in the last 12 months.

The data reveals that dozens of highly specialised UK defence companies have secured deals with Israeli partners and the Israeli military, ranging from bulletproof garments to naval gun parts and small arms ammunition. The sales are entirely lawful and form part of Britain’s £12bn annual arms export trade.

But evidence exists that British-made components feature in weapons being deployed during Operation Protective Edge. The Israeli military has been criticised for what some see as heavy-handed tactics during its assault on Gaza. Some 1,460 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died, alongside 63 Israelis, including three civilians.

The lesson is simple: the moral crusaders that spend days loudly condemning Livingstone for an ill-advised [in the insane modern media soundbite environment] comment that he later clarified in a way that made it clear that he was absolutely not being anti-Semitic utter nary a squeak when Israel bombs schools or murders children on a beach; remain silent in the face of the documented day-to-day atrocities of the Israeli government and its soldiers with Western-supplied equipment in Gaza, including the killings of pregnant women and children.

Misconstrued comments by a lifelong anti-racist: one, murdered children: nil. That there in a nutshell is the moral standing of Livingstone’s critics. And if you’re still assigning them credibility, it might be time to seek analysis elsewhere.

Written by Simon Wood

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