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What is Ken Livingstone Up to (part II)?
Added by David Hirsh on March 21, 2006 02:02:45 PM.
What is Ken Livingstone Up to (part II)?See here for "What is Ken Livingstone Up To?" And now the sequel:

It seems that Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, has made a political judgment that it is good for his public image and electoral prospects if he is employs low-level racist abuse against Jews every now and then.

Today at one of his regular press conferences, Ken Livingstone was discussing plans to regenerate Stratford in East London. He said the following about Simon and David Ruben, well known property developers that are involved in the project:

"[P]erhaps they're not happy, perhaps they could always go back to Iran and see if they do better under the Ayatollahs.."

The Ruben Brothers are from India and are of Iraqi Jewish descent.

Livingstone has been immersed in anti-racist politics for his entire adult life. Why did Livingstone use one of the oldest and most cliched racist put-downs in existence against these two "foreigners"?

Perhaps it was a moment of madness, a terrible mistake, a crazy slip? But surely not. Livingstone was found guilty a couple of weeks ago by the adjudication tribunal that was set up by Parliament to regulate standards in public life of having been "offensive" and "insensitive" when he employed low-level racist abuse against a Jewish journalist. Livingstone is currently appealing this finding. Lightening doesn't strike twice. There must be another reason why he thinks that it is OK to employ low-level racist abuse against Jews.

Livingstone made a fool of himself late at night after a party by persisting with his clever 'Nazi war criminal' analogy for an Associated Press journalist - even when he understood that the journalist was Jewish and was offended. But the interesting part of the story was that he made a polical decision to stick by his offensive nonsense rather than back down quietly. He tried to turn it into a story about Israel/Palestine and the evil Zionists coming after the plucky man of the people.

"For far too long the accusation of anti-semitism", Livingstone wrote, "has been used against anyone who is critical of the policies of the Israeli government, as I have been."

As though the "Zionist" Board of Deputies has the power to influence the independent tribunal that Parliament had set up to keep an eye on standards in public life.

Livingstone does more than "criticise the policies of the Israeli government". For thirty years now, he has been part of a movement in the UK that seeks to demonize Israel as a pariah state and that seeks to hold "the Zionists" responsible for much that goes wrong in the world.

Livingstone is part of a political project that aims to make the visceral loathing of Israel respectable in British society and on the British left. This is not the same thing as criticising Israeli policy or actions. He refuses to entertain the possibility that a political culture in which the loathing and demonization of Israel is successfully normalized provides fertile ground for the growth of an antisemitic movement.

This is why Livingstone is happy to treat the Jew-hating Qaradawi as an honoured guest. This is why he is happy to employ low-level racist abuse against a Jewish journalist. This is why Livingstone chose to make such a big issue out of this story rather than back down quickly. This is why he reacted with a tirade against Sharon to claims that his own conduct was offensive. This is why he opposes the suicide bombing of buses in London but makes excuses for the suicide bombing of buses in Tel Aviv.

But his snide insults to Finegold and to the Rueben brothers had, on the face of it, nothing to do with Israel or with "Zionism". It was Livingstone that saw a connection between accusing a Jew of being a Nazi and the Israel/Palestine conflict.

And I will leave people to do their own Freudian analysis of how Livingstone comes to connect, in his own mind, two "foreign" dark-skinned Jewish capitalists with Iran, the state whose President thinks that the Holocaust was a myth invented by the Jews, who wants nuclear weapons, and who wants to wipe Israel off the map.

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