March 05, 2006

Jonathan Freedland on the Ken Livingstone affair

Here's a Jonathan Freedland article that appeared in the London Evening Standard last week. It's about the Ken Livingstone/Board of Deputies business that saw a mobilisation of zionists worldwide to condemn the Mayor for London. A friend of mine likes Jonathan Freedland's writing but complains that he has a blind spot where Israel and zionism are concerned. I find his stance on zionism so disingenuous sometimes that I mostly can't be bothered to read his stuff. I actually found this article on that bastion of integrity, the Engage website.

In the article Freedland points out that Ken has been undemocracitically treated three times now by the forces of darkness. First there was the abolition of the GLC, then there was his expulsion fron the Labour party and now there's his removal (stayed for the time being) from office. Freedland is quite sympathetic to Ken's "plight" whilst pointing out that it these little scrapes make Ken strong and win him support as this latest episode will do.

Now it's hard to defend such an opportunist as Ken Livingstone but Freedland then starts to attack Ken on an issue that doesn't quite stand up. See this:
In his long statement this week, Ken was right about something else, too. He made the coherent case that the accusation of anti-semitism is bandied around too freely, hurled especially at those who are critical of Israel. He quoted one Jewish analyst who has said that the equation of criticism of Israeli policy with anti-semitism "drains the word anti-semitism of any useful meaning."

All of that is true, but it doesn't quite exonerate the mayor. For the encounter with Oliver Finegold of the Standard had nothing to with Israel: the word was not even mentioned. The Board of Deputies of British Jews has insisted from the beginning that its objection was simply to Livingstone's treatment of a Jewish reporter. Ken says he has "never believed a word of it"; as far he is concerned, the whole episode is merely an excuse for attacking a high-profile critic of Israel.

On this the mayor is badly - even dangerously - wrong. For one thing, plenty of people in the Jewish community who are neither great admirers of Israel nor friends of the Board of Deputies saw the hurtfulness of the mayor's remarks to Finegold. What I hear mentioned most is the mayor's failure to apologise or change tack, even once Finegold had told him he was Jewish and found it offensive to be compared to a German war criminal. Plenty of Jews cannot believe that if the mayor were confronted by, say, a black or Muslim or gay reporter who said they were similarly hurt, he would not have made amends immediately. This is a man who prides himself on his sensitivity to London's minorities - and yet, on that night outside City Hall, he trampled on a very raw Jewish nerve, for which he has never straightforwardly apologised. To repeat: one does not have to be pro-Israel or a creature of the Board of Deputies to be troubled by this.
Now it's true his encounter with Finegold had nothing to do with Israel. But what followed that encounter surely did. The Board of Deputies were in there immediately mobilising mayors as far away as the USA about this. The Israeli ambassador jumped aboard. The BBC even had a chap on Radio 4 comparing Ken unfavourably to Goebells thus:
The story I always remember is that under pressure from the Americans and others, Hitler had to remove posters saying "Jews Not Wanted" and Goebbels issued a decree that people should not make any anti-Semitic remarks in pubs and otherwise to foreign people.

“If the German propaganda minister Josef Goebbels could apologise by saying ‘we don’t want you to make those remarks’, who is this man that he can make those remarks. Why can’t he apologise?
But it was the Jewish Chronicle that really blew the gaff on what this Ken-hunt was all about:
Ken Livingstone has clashed with the Jewish community [read Zionist movement] many times since the 1980s, when he was the leader of the Greater London Council.

In 1981, as co-editor of the Labour Herald newspaper, he ran a cartoon entitled "The Final Solution", depicting the then Israeli Premier, Menachem Begin, as a Nazi [as did Albert Einstein and Hannah Arrendt in 1948]. He is seen in SS uniform, giving the Nazi salute and standing on a pile of dead bodies, saying "Shalom? Who needs shalom with Reagan behind you?".

During a 1984 interview with Israeli newspaper Davar Hashavuah, he claimed the Board of Deputies had come under the control of "reactionaries and neo-Fascists." [in a word: Zionists]

In October 2002, he denounced Ariel Sharon as "a very unstable leader with a record of war crimes and mass murder."[ not a miilion miles from findings by the Israeli Supreme Court]

Last year he welcomed to London Muslim cleric Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has endorsed Palestinian suicide bombings and is accused [in common with Orthodox Judaism] of backing the killing of gays and the beating of women. When a cross-communal [which communities?] coalition, including the Board of Deputies, asked to meet him to discuss their concerns he refused. He argued their claims were lies peddled by a "Zionist front organisation." [MEMRI: a Zionist front organisation]

At a GLA meeting last month, he was amused at the prospect of a stormy meeting with the Board of Deputies over his condemnation of Israel, joking: "They should have sold tickets for that one."
Now go back and see what Freedland had to say about where he agreed with Ken:
Ken was right about something else, too. He made the coherent case that the accusation of anti-semitism is bandied around too freely, hurled especially at those who are critical of Israel.
This is perfectly true and in this instance it has made it, at best, difficult to know whether the various players who jumped on Ken's case were sincerely concerned about the Jewish people or were just finding an excuse to nail a critic of Israel. Regarding offence to Jews or holocaust survivors, the supreme irony here is that Ken Livingstone did express regret over that. I'm sure that for most Jews, and I have asked most the Jews I know, were satisfied with that.

Hold on, there is still another irony here. Not only are most Jews unperturbed by what Ken said and subsequently didn't say, but even leading zionists have now criticised the Board of Deputies over its heavy handed treatment of this affair.

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