Ken Livingstone outside his Labour Party disciplinary hearing in London. See Linewzulu
Former mayor of London Ken Livingstone on Tuesday had his suspension from the Labour Party extended for “bringing the party into disrepute” last year.
But Israel lobby elements within the party had pushed hard for Livingstone, long a supporter of Palestinian rights, to be expelled outright.
Livingstone vowed in a statement to fight the suspension.
“Today’s Labour Party panel extended my suspension for another year because of my political views, not because I have done anything to harm the Labour Party,” he said.
Livingstone is a left-wing veteran of Labour, and for decades led anti-racism efforts in local government in London.
The new suspension is “an attempt to protect Israel from criticism, while simultaneously weakening the position of the pro-Palestinian left in the party,” a statement by Jewish members of the Labour Party said.
“It is the verdict, not Ken Livingstone, that has brought the Labour Party into disrepute,” they asserted.
In April last year, Livingstone was asked in a BBC radio interview if a Labour lawmaker’s comments about Hitler’s actions being “legal” had been anti-Semitic.
He replied by referring to the 1933 Ha’avara agreement between the Nazi government and the Zionist Federation of Germany as Hitler “supporting Zionism” by transferring Jews to Palestine.
Moving the goalposts
After initially being suspended for “anti-Semitism,” the charges against Livingstone were changed to “bringing the party into disrepute.” Now he is accused of having “revised the history of the Holocaust.”
His suspension was the peak of a witch hunt manufactured by right-wing Labour lawmakers and their allies in the Israel lobby.
The moral panic sought to portray the party under new pro-Palestinian leader Jeremy Corbyn as a hive of anti-Semitism.
But the media obsession with the “anti-Semitism crisis” in Labour was highly exaggerated and, in some cases, outright fabricated.
Livingstone’s historically accurate comment about Zionism was met with a storm of attacks by right-wing Labour lawmakers and anti-Palestinian activists.
At the time, these forces were seeking to undermine the Labour leader in the run-up to May 2016 local elections.
The manufactured crisis led to dozens of suspensions of Labour Party activists, usually for little more than an out-of-context social media posting from years earlier.
One veteran Labour activist in south London was suspended for 10 weeks for merely agreeing that Livingstone’s comment on the radio was “largely accurate.”
Livingstone described the three-day Labour disciplinary hearing this week as like something out of North Korea. The three-person panel of the National Constitutional Committee questioned Livingstone, as well as witnesses against him.
They insisted on keeping the hearing closed to the public, despite Livingstone’s request it be open. He had vowed to fight any expulsion in a legal action.
In an LBC London radio interview on Wednesday, Livingstone said that the only reason he had not been expelled was because the party’s lawyer must have told them they didn’t have a chance if it went to court.
Livingstone was represented in the hearing by Michael Mansfield, the high-profile human rights lawyer known for overturning miscarriages of justice.
Israel lobby fury
Labour Friends of Israel reacted with fury on Tuesday night, saying it was disgraceful that “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party” had allowed Livingstone to remain a member and had decided his “behavior is acceptable.”
Corbyn himself reacted by criticizing Livingstone’s accurate historical comments as causing “deep offense and hurt to the Jewish community,” and saying Livingstone could face further disciplinary action.
This was not enough for Labour Friends of Israel though, which retorted on Wednesday that Corbyn’s statement had “failed to mention anti-Semitism,” and demanded he call on Labour’s ruling body to “review the inappropriate sentence delivered last night.”
Labour Friends of Israel was shown by an undercover Al Jazeera documentary in January to be working in close financial and logistical coordination with the Israeli embassy.
Its leader, Labour lawmaker Joan Ryan, was also shown fabricating an accusation of anti-Semitism against a party member who challenged her group’s policies with respect to Israeli settlements.
The Jewish Labour Movement, which was also shown in the documentary to be working closely with the Israeli embassy, has led much of the campaign to boot Livingstone out of the party.
Its chair, Jeremy Newmark, has vowed to take the matter to the party’s conference in September.
Newmark has been a leading voice calling for Livingstone to be expelled. He was one of the witnesses at the hearing against Livingstone, reportedly submitting a 170-page dossier.
A veteran Israel lobby activist, Newmark has a history of lying, with a tribunal judge in 2013 calling his evidence in a failed case about supposed “institutional anti-Semitism” in the University and College Union “untrue” and “preposterous.”
Newmark’s campaign against unions that dare express solidarity with Palestine continued. He told an Israeli newspaper in 2012 that he was “liaising closely with the government of Israel” in a similar lawsuit against public sector union Unison.
Newmark’s close connection to the Israeli embassy begs the question of whether they are working together on the campaign to oust Livingstone from Labour.