A British Labour Party decision to suspend rather than expel former London mayor Ken Livingstone for claiming Hitler initially supported Zionism and other allegedly anti-Semitic comments may not mark the party’s last word on the affair, its leader Jeremy Corbyn indicated Wednesday.
Tuesday’s decision by a Labour disciplinary committee to merely suspend rather than expel the inflammatory politician was castigated as “incomprehensible” by Labour’s deputy leader, slammed by other MPs and the current London mayor, and protested by British Jewish leaders including the chief rabbi.
Corbyn — a long-time ally of Livingstone and a bitter critic of Israel’s policies regarding the Palestinians who once referred to Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” — declared Wednesday that the matter was not closed, and would now be discussed by the party’s national leadership.
“Many people are understandably upset that he [Livingstone] has continued to make offensive remarks which could open him to further disciplinary action,” Corbyn said in a statement. “Ken’s subsequent comments and actions will now be considered by the National Executive Committee after representations from party members.”
The disciplinary committee suspended Livingstone from holding office for a year for comments about Hitler supporting Zionism that it found “grossly detrimental” to the party.
A year ago, the veteran leftist claimed that Adolf Hitler was initially a supporter of Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews.”
Last week, Livingstone caused fresh uproar by claiming that German Zionists received assistance from the SS and were close collaborators of the Nazi regime.
After the disciplinary committee’s verdict, Livingstone refused to apologize for his remarks and on Wednesday, he announced on Facebook that he would be challenging the decision, arguing that the disciplinary process was “not in accord with natural justice.”
In unusually harsh comments for his close politically ally, Corbyn said, “Ken Livingstone’s comments have been grossly insensitive, and he has caused deep offence and hurt to the Jewish community.”
“It is deeply disappointing that, despite his long record of standing up to racism, Ken has failed to acknowledge or apologize for the hurt he has caused,” Corbyn noted. “Many people are understandably upset that he has continued to make offensive remarks which could open him to further disciplinary action.”
“Since initiating the disciplinary process, I have not interfered with it and respect the independence of the party’s disciplinary bodies. But Ken’s subsequent comments and actions will now be considered by the National Executive Committee after representations from party members.”
More than 30 left-wing Jews had written to the party’s National Executive Committee not to take action against Livingstone, saying, “as Jews, we are appalled that such a serious issue as antisemitism is being used in this cynical and manipulative way.”
However, mainstream Jewish groups and some Labour parliamentarians slammed the suspension decision for not going far enough, with the party’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, labelling it “incomprehensible” that Livingstone was not expelled.
The conservative Daily Telegraph, which makes no bones about its dislike for Corbyn’s Labour, published a collection of tweets by Labour MPs who were critical of the suspension decision.
Labour peer Lord Levy told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that he was “very upset with the party’s attitude,” adding, “I do not believe there has been a zero tolerance policy towards anti-Semitism.”
Labour’s shadow attorney general Shami Chakrabarti, who authored a controversial probe (branded a whitewash by UK Jewish leaders) into anti-Semitism within Labour last year, was quoted by the Daily Telegraph saying, “Ken Livingstone was fairly and rightly found guilty of bringing the Labour Party into disrepute. The punishment of suspension was thought inadequate by some members of both the Labour Party and the Jewish community that Livingstone has so offended.”
“However, his remarks since yesterday’s decision have overtaken those arguments. I am horrified by Ken Livingstone’s lack of contrition and repeated offence which could be potential grounds for further investigation by the party.
“In the meantime I can only implore Mr Livingstone to maintain a silence and to please stop further damaging community relations, the party to which he has given so much of his life and himself.”
Ken Livingstone not expelled from Labour Party. Impossible for many British Jews to consider voting Labour under Corbyn's leadership.
— Danny Cohen (@DannyCohen) April 4, 2017
Danny Cohen, former Director of BBC Television, tweeted that Holocaust deniers would celebrate the Ken Livingstone decision.
“Impossible for many British Jews to consider voting Labour under Corbyn’s leadership,” he wrote.