Lawmakers and members from Britain’s Labour party denounced a party decision to suspend, but not expel, former London mayor Ken Livingstone over comments he made saying Nazi leader Adolf Hitler supported Zionism, with the opposition party’s own deputy chief calling the move “incomprehensible.”
A Labour panel decided on Tuesday to suspend Livingstone for a year, calling his remarks “grossly detrimental” to the party.
The decision to not expel Livingstone was roundly condemned by the Jewish community, led by Britain’s chief rabbi, and Labour lawmakers also criticized the move, calling for the party to show zero tolerance for anti-Semitism.
Deputy Labour leader Tom Watson said in a statement that he found it “incomprehensible that our elected lay members on the disciplinary panel found Ken Livingstone guilty of such serious charges and then concluded that he can remain a member of the Labour Party. ”
“I am ashamed that we have allowed Mr. Livingstone to cause such distress.”
Watson warned that Livingstone’s use of “inflammatory language to dismiss the fully justified outrage of the Jewish community and others will incite further distortions of the Holocaust in our public discourse.”
Livingstone’s punishment came in response to comments he made a year ago claiming that Hitler was initially a supporter of Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews.”
The comments were made as the party was in the midst of a roiling scandal involving a series of gaffes deemed anti-Zionist and even anti-Semitic.
Livingstone, a member of the party’s National Executive, denied equating Zionism with Nazism, and charged that for decades in the UK there had been a “well-orchestrated campaign by the Israel lobby to smear anybody who criticizes Israel policy as anti-Semitic.”
Last week, he caused fresh uproar by claiming that German Zionists received assistance from the SS and were close collaborators of the Nazi regime.
Statement on Livingstone disciplinary. pic.twitter.com/HPnHrpdITP
— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) April 5, 2017
Current London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is a member of the party, said he was “deeply disappointed” with the decision and that there should be “no place for anti-Semitism in the Labour Party or anywhere else.”
“As the Labour Party it is our duty to lead by example and demonstrate that we take a zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism wherever we find it. Sadly this give the impression we are not fulfilling that duty.”
MP Michael Dugher for Barnsley East, who is vice-chairman of Labour Friends of Israel, responded saying “Labour have spent 12 months investigating what to every sensible person is an open-and-shut case. This looks like an embarrassing fudge. The Jewish Board of Deputies said it was anti-Semitism, as did the Holocaust Education Trust, the Jewish Labour Movement and the chief rabbi.”
“Is the party really saying it knows more about anti-Semitism than the chief rabbi? The current reluctance of the party to apparently take swift and severe action against Livingstone does us no credit whatsoever. Livingstone should be kicked out for good. Years of supposed long service does not entitle you to a free pass on antisemitism.”
Yvette Cooper, Labour MP for Normanton, Pontefract, Castleford & Knottingley, who in the past was a candidate for the party leadership, said the movement must review the decision to not expel Livingstone.
“It’s not enough to say the words zero tolerance on antisemitism – Labour has to put them into practice,” she said. “Shameful decision today. If our rules are weak enough to allow today’s decision then our rules and enforcement codes aren’t strong enough and must change urgently.”
Luciana Berger, Co-operative MP for Liverpool Wavertree, who has faced anti-Semitic abuse online, slammed the development.
“A new low for my party this evening,” she tweeted. “Appalling decision. Why is antisemitism being treated differently from any other form of racism?”
“This is not a serious sanction for the serious damage that has been done to Labour,” Wes Streeting, MP for Ilford North, told The Independent newspaper. “It makes a mockery of the claim we take a zero- tolerance approach to anti-Semitism and people who defend anti-Semitism.”
Labour MPs Lisa Nandy, Tulip Siddiq, John Woodcook, Stella Creasy also lamented Livingstone’s continued presence in the party.
The Jewish Labour Movement said in a statement that a “one year suspension is insufficient for a party the claims zero tolerance on anti-Semitism. This is a betrayal of our party’s values. One year suspension allows for a revolving door for repeat offenders.”
Jewish Labour MP Ruth Smeeth, for Stoke-on-Trent North & Kidsgrove, declared: “Ken Livingstone’s actions are despicable and dangerous. Today’s outcome has shamed and degraded my party. I am utterly disgusted.”
Livingstone, who had expected to be expelled from the party and had planned to fight expulsion through a judicial review, seemed pleased with the verdict, calling it “pretty fair,” the Guardian newspaper reported Tuesday.
“Have I said anything that wasn’t true? All the Jewish activists who spoke on my behalf yesterday, all actually confirmed what I said was true.”