Prominent UK journalist: Anti-Semitism in Labour a chronic condition, not just a ‘problem’

Nick Cohen says party faces almost insurmountable task of rooting out anti-Semitism; 83 Jewish supporters of Labour slam ‘wider campaign’ against leadership

Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is pictured as he leaves his home in London on April 29, 2016. (AFP/Leon Neal)
Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is pictured as he leaves his home in London on April 29, 2016. (AFP/Leon Neal)

A prominent British journalist said Saturday that the UK Labour party did not have a “problem with anti-Semitism” — amid an intense row involving the suspension of several party members for alleged anti-Semitic comments, including most recently Ken Livingstone — rather that the party, and more generally, the Left, had a “chronic condition.”

In a column in The Guardian, Nick Cohen, a die-hard atheist who now identifies as Jewish (despite not being Jewish, at least according to the principles of matrilineal descent), wrote: “The Labour party does not have a ‘problem with antisemitism’ it can isolate and treat, like a patient asking a doctor for a course of antibiotics. The party and much of the wider liberal-left have a chronic condition.”

Cohen, profiled by the Times of Israel last month, charged that the Labour party’s task of rooting out anti-Semitism would be almost insurmountable given its deep-seated hold.

“Challenging prejudices on the left wing is going to be all the more difficult because, incredibly, the British left in the second decade of the 21st century is led by men steeped in the worst traditions of the 20th,” he wrote.

“When [Labour leader] Jeremy Corbyn defended the Islamist likes of [head of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel] Raed Salah, who say that Jews dine on the blood of Christian children, he was continuing a tradition of communist accommodation with antisemitism that goes back to Stalin’s purges of Soviet Jews in the late 1940s,” Cohen added.

British journalist Nick Cohen. (YouTube screen capture)
British journalist Nick Cohen. (YouTube screen capture)

If Labour “is to change, its leaders will either have to change their minds or be thrown out of office…The tasks facing Labour moderates seem impossible. They have to be attempted, however, for moral as much as electoral reasons,” Cohen wrote.

He further lamented the state of the Labour party and the insecurity of British Jews across the country.

“Go to any British synagogue or Jewish school and you will see police officers and volunteers guarding them. I do not want to tempt fate, but if British Jews were murdered, the leader of the Labour party would not be welcome at their memorial. The mourners would point to the exit and ask him to leave,” Cohen wrote.

Corbyn called on Friday for an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism within the Labor party, first denying there was a problem. This came a day after former mayor and veteran Labour politician Livingstone said Adolf Hitler was a supporter of Zionism before he “went mad” and killed six million Jews during World War II.

Livingstone’s comments sparked an uproar, prompting his suspension from the party and the condemnation of a large number of Labour MPs, some of whom called for him to be expelled.

“He’s destroying the Labour Party,” Times journalist Matthew Syed said of Livingstone on Sky News on Saturday night.

After doubling down on his comments Friday, Livingstone on Saturday further refused to apologize directly and defended his comments by charging that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu essentially said the same thing several months ago

Ken Livingstone speaking on April 30, 2016 to London radio station LBC (screen capture: Twitter)
Ken Livingstone speaking on April 30, 2016 to London radio station LBC (screen capture: Twitter)

“How can I have hurt and offended the Jewish community when the prime minister of Israel said exactly the same thing?” Livingstone said in an interview with LBC radio station. He cited comments made by Netanyahu last October suggesting that Hitler had not initially intended to annihilate the Jews, only expel them from Europe, and that the idea of extermination came from Jerusalem’s then-grand mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian nationalist widely acknowledged as a fervent Jew-hater.

Said Livingstone, “The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, is addressing the World Zionistic Congress. This is the sentence he says, ‘Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews, but only to expel them.'”

“If the prime minister of Israel can say, two days before, exactly what I said, it can’t mean that I’m anti-Semitic — and he’s certainly not anti-Semitic,” alleged Livingstone, giving an incorrect timeline of Netanyahu’s statements and falsely implying that Netanyahu had suggested Hitler supported Zionism.

Livingstone said he would “invite the prime minister of Israel to come over and defend me, as he clearly agrees with what I said,” according to The Telegraph.

Netanyahu walked back the controversial comments at the time, amid intense criticism in Israel and abroad. In a lengthy Facebook post, he said he wished to “clarify [his] remarks about the connection between the Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini and the Nazis.” He said that he “did not mean to claim that in his conversation with Hitler in November 1941 the mufti convinced him to adopt the Final Solution. The Nazis decided on that by themselves… The decision to move from a policy of deporting Jews to the Final Solution was made by the Nazis and was not dependent on outside influence. The Nazis saw in the mufti a collaborator, but they did not need him to decide on the systematic destruction of European Jewry, which began in June 1941.”

British historian and journalist Andrew Roberts wrote Thursday that Livingstone knew full well that Hitler was no Zionist and that his remarks were intentionally made to offend as many Jews as possible.

“The sole reason Ken Livingstone brought up the Fuhrer in his interview was to be as vicious and loathsome as he possibly could to any Jews listening, rather than genuinely intending to make some valid historical point about the migration policies of the putative Third Reich in the 1930s,” Roberts wrote in an article on CapX, adding “he must know perfectly well that the very insertion of the word ‘Hitler’ in the context of a debate over anti-Semitism would create precisely the effect that it has.

“It was therefore a totally cold-blooded attempt to offend the maximum amount of Jews to the maximum extent,” Roberts wrote.

In a letter published by the Guardian, 83 Jewish members and supporters of the Labour party rejected assertions that the Labour party had an anti-Semitism problem and said the accusations were “part of a wider campaign against the Labour leadership, and they have been timed particularly to do damage to the Labour party and its prospects in elections in the coming week.”

“As Jews, we are appalled that a serious issue is being used in this cynical and manipulative way, diverting attention from much more widespread examples of Islamophobia and xenophobia in the Conservative and other parties,” they wrote, adding “we dissociate ourselves from the misleading attacks on Labour from some members of the Jewish community.”

Labour on Thursday suspended Livingstone after he claimed Hitler was initially a supporter of Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews,” and charged that for decades in the UK there has been a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticizes Israeli policy as anti-Semitic.”

Naz Shah with former London mayor Ken Livingstone in Bradford, April 2015, before her election as a Labour MP. (Wikimedia Commons,, CC BY-SA 4.0)
Naz Shah with former London mayor Ken Livingstone in Bradford, April 2015, before her election as a Labour MP. (Wikimedia Commons,, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The Livingstone controversy erupted a day after Corbyn, a bitter critic of Israel who has referred to Hamas and Hezbollah representatives as “friends,” reluctantly suspended MP Naz Shah, who had called for the dismantling of Israel, compared Israelis to Hitler and posted pro-Hamas tweets.

Senior UK Labour Party lawmakers have called on Corbyn to take firmer action against anti-Semitism among its members, in light of the anti-Semitic remarks by Livingstone, MP Shah, and others.

At least 39 members of the Labour Party’s 230 members of Parliament have criticized Corbyn’s handling of the scandal, according to The Telegraph, which has included the party leader’s suggestion that the crisis was created by “those who are nervous of the strength of the Labour Party at local level.”

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