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Livingstone departure: Labour’s cynical totem

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Ken Livingstone has now resigned from the Labour party. So what? His departure will not lance the boil of Labour party antisemitism.

First, Livingstone has still not resiled from his claim that Hitler supported Zionism, nor has he admitted to antisemitism; even today he has doubled down on his position.

He used the standard excuse that he was resigning simply because he had become a “distraction” to Labour’s opposition to the government. He was “truly sorry” only for the “offence and upset in the Jewish community” which he had caused by the way he made a mere “historical argument”.

“I do not accept the allegation that I have brought the Labour party into disrepute – nor that I am in any way guilty of antisemitism. I abhor antisemitism, I have fought it all my life and will continue to do so”, he declared.

It is likely, however, that he jumped before he was pushed. He probably realised that the calls for him to be removed from the party had become impossible to ignore.

But the fact is that the party did not throw him out for his bigoted, egregious and grotesquely anti-Jewish misreading of history. He has left the party on his own terms, and with the issue of Labour’s tolerance of gross antisemitism in its ranks still unresolved.

The party wanted to make an example of Livingstone. It wanted him gone so it could say it was now dealing properly with its own antisemitism. But it is not.

For the problem was never Ken Livingstone. He was merely its most spectacular example.

The bigger problem is the party leader Jeremy Corbyn himself, who said he was “saddened” by Livingstone’s departure. When the stream of examples of party members’ antisemitism reached boiling point a few weeks ago, the admission was dragged out of Corbyn that there was a problem of antisemitism in some sections of the party. But not only does he refuse to take appropriately condign action against members who thus offend but he also continues to deliver what appear to be calculated insults to the Jewish community.

For example, he is still pushing a peerage for Martha Osamor, a Labour activist who helped sign a letter defending Labour party members – including Livingstone – who had been suspended for comments about Jews, Zionism and the Holocaust.

The problem is yet deeper and wider than Corbyn. With some heroic exceptions, antisemitism is endemic not just within the Labour party but throughout progressive politics.

The core of the problem is twofold. First, there’s the profound, obsessive and pathological hatred of Israel and Zionism by liberal society – which unwittingly illustrates the problem that it has by denying there’s any connection between anti-Israelism and anti-Judaism.

And second, there’s the fact that a disproportionate amount of Labour antisemitism is coming from Muslims in the party. Anyone care to imagine the reaction if Labour expelled a large number of Muslims? Quite. You can’t even mention this inconvenient fact of widespread Muslim antisemitism without shrieks of Islamophobia from those seeking to silence those who draw attention to it.

So what are the chances of liberal Britain addressing either of these issues with honesty and integrity in order to tackle antisemitism on the left? Zero. Livingstone is but the totemic sacrifice, the fall-guy for the bigotry of the left. The gesture should fool no-one.

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